Tuesday, 24 November 2009


This was a huge bonus. I got invited to a small gathering at a new bar in Shibuya called Craftheads. It's the second outlet belonging to Koji Nomura (the first one being the far more remote Sal's in Saginuma).

I like the way Koji has taken a fairly basic space and let function pretty much define the way he has filled it. But by using solid, chunky furniture and letting his taps and bourbon collection dominate the bar he has actually created a surprisingly inviting atmosphere. See http://www.craftheads.jp/craftheads/Welcome.html.

As well as the owner Koji (a.k.a. Michael) were beer writers Tim Eustace and Bryan Harrell, Kjetil Jikuin of Nøgne-Ø and Eigo Sato of Tamamura Honten (brewers of Shiga Kogen beer).

Koji has cultivated such good relations with US brewers that he can stock beers on tap and in bottles that are rare in the cities they originate in, let alone in another country. The bar is pretty much a home away from home for breweries like Three Floyds, Bear Republic, Stone and Allagash. All official imports - not grey market.

Koji had heard about the fuss created when Greg Koch of Stone learned of grey market imports of Stone into New Zealand and isn't short of an opinion. I'll leave readers to guess the nature of those opinions.

Kjetil didn't arrive empty handed. He provided a very early, uncarbonated sample of a radical new Nøgne-Ø beer called Red Horizon. It was fermented slowly, at low temperatures using a sake yeast to no less than 17%ABV. You'd swear it had been fortified. With a little age and a little carbonation this is going to be an instant classic.

Kjetil also hinted at some other upcoming Nøgne-Ø releases, such as an Imperial Dunkelwit(!), Beetroot Ale and a collaboration with Mikkeller and Brewdog. And sake brewing will begin soon.

I won't bore you with more details of what was said and drunk. Here is a picture of Kjetil, Sato-san and Koji discussing the technicalities of eco-kegs. What a pity that in a city of 37 million people the public transport shuts down so early.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Popeye, Maltan and smoke

First chance I got I visited Popeye in Ryogoku. While more places are opening up Popeye seems to retain its place as the natural home of craft beer around here. There were a few changes - a single, bilingual menu and the "Hops Heart" which is an ultra-late hopping device like the Randall. But the concept, the friendly well-dressed staff, the extraordinary beer list and the uncompromising prices are still unchanged. I got a congratulations on Hashigo Zake's opening from the legendary Aoki-san and it was a relief to hear the name Hashigo Zake get the laughs that it was meant to. I had a pint of Toshi's IPA (7%! and outrageously rich), two glasses from the Hops Heart (one passing through Centennial that smelt like a peach and custard danish and one Simcoe which was surprisingly restrained by comparison) and an Ozenoyukidoke IPA (always good).

Next it was a quick feed at an Izakaya and a reminder of the bad old days - cigarette smoke. While other countries resort to legislation to liberate our lungs, the Japanese government (50% shareholder in Japan Tobacco) all but make smoking compulsory by forcing smokers indoors.

Amends were made by a quick stop at Maltan in Kanda. It's an atmospheric underground bar with a good mix of tap and bottled beer. And particularly enjoyable when you come across it by chance.

Friday, 20 November 2009

Pilgrimage to Numazu

A trip to Tokyo would hardly be worthwhile without a visit to the Baird Brewery in Numazu. Bryan gave me a thorough tour which also gave me a chance to say hello to legendary home brewer Chris Poel. Not that Chris can really claim to be a home brewer any more.

It's a surprise how small the brewery still is considering how many different beers are made and how far they are now reaching. But Bryan insisted that they could in theory quadruple production before having to expand. Having said that he did foresee a new brewery becoming necessary in two years.

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Lean Two

Nothing like custom made furniture to really make a space. Thanks Florian.