When it comes to craft beer in Japan, I will admit that I was somewhat ignorant as to just how popular it was in the country. I knew that Japan had a burgeoning craft beer scene, and beers from breweries such as Yo-Ho, Kiuchi, Coedo, Echigo and Baird are becoming relatively easy to find in Australia these days. What I didn’t expect when I got to Japan was the sheer variety of craft beers that were available from breweries across the country, and the large number of craft beer bars that existed, especially in Osaka and Tokyo.
What a lot of people don’t realise is that calling sake (or nihonshu as it’s correctly called) “rice wine” is actually quite misleading – it has more in common with beer than in does with wine as regards the brewing process and as a result, many of the traditional sake producers have, with the explosion in the popularity of craft beer in Japan, expanded into this field.
This holiday wasn’t one where I put a big focus on going out to craft beer bars – it was about food and culture, and my wife isn’t a beer drinker. Regardless, I was able to check out a few of the craft beer bars in Tokyo, and got to try quite a few other beers at the various places that I went to eat at. I might have only scraped the surface of what Tokyo, and Japan had to offer as far as craft beer bars go, but what a surface it was. This list is far from extensive, but here’s a run-down of the places that I was able to visit while I was in Tokyo.
Craft Beer Market
Craft Beer Market have 4 outlets (with a 5th opening in the second half of 2014) and caused quite the stir when the first one opened near Toranomon station in 2011 due to the fact that the beers were priced very competitively – undercutting the competition nearby that were selling mass market beers at a higher price.
I went to the the Jinbocho outlet and was very impressed with what I saw. 30 beers on tap, all priced at ¥480 for a small glass or ¥780 for a pint (a US pint not an imperial pint unfortunately). It’s mostly Japanese craft beers on the taps which are well organised into style of beer on the menu. The place was full of locals and very busy and my wife and I had to wait about 15 minutes for a table. It turns out that all of the venues can get quite busy and that bookings are recommended. A few people were knocked back after we had been seated.
I was in Japan during sakura (cherry blossom) season and tried a sakura beer from Johana Beer which was deliciously fragrant and very unique.
There is a very decent selection of food on offer too. We visited after dinner so didn’t eat anything more than the complimentary snacks that were given to us however most people in the venue were eating as well as drinking, and there were roast chickens visible on rotisseries in the open kitchen behind the bar.
Craft Beer Market
2 Chome-11-15 Kanda Jinbōchō
1 Chome-23-3 Nishishinbashi
2 Chome-9-1 Kanda Tsukasamachi
1 Chome-5 Nihonbashimuromachi
Devil Craft has not only a great selection of Japanese Craft beers but, like many of the other craft beer pubs that I went to in Tokyo, a decent selection of US craft beers too. Devil Craft is set over 2 levels and is very small, with, when I was there, a mix of Japanese patrons and Western expats. Opened in 2011, the owners are Americans John Chambers, Jason Koehler and Mike Grant and along with craft beer, they brought their love of Chicago style deep dish pizza to the venue too. I didn’t eat any as I already had dinner planned elsewhere however the pizzas that did come out smelled very enticing.
The second Devil Craft, which opened recently in Hamamatsuchō is a larger venue, and plans are underway for the team there to start brewing their own beers on site.
4 Chome-2-3 Nihonbashimuromachi
Risewell Building 1F
2 Chome-13-12 Hamamatsuchō
Craftheads was a chance discovery by me while on the way to another spot for some milk tea. Down a basement on a side street, Craftheads doesn’t just focus on craft beer, with a decent selection of taps and bottles from Japan and the US, but also has an extensive selection of bourbon. The place has a very cool fitout and wouldn’t be out of place in Brooklyln, Shoreditch or Fitzroy with alternative looking staff and hip-hop tunes to match.
The 20 taps are evenly split between Japanese and US beer and patrons are encouraged to sample beers, with a choice of either 250ml or 350ml glasses. I was very happy to find Three Floyds beer here which is very hard to find outside of the US. The US theme continues to the food, with pizzas, burgers and Japanese/American dude food fusion being what was on offer.
Of all of the craft beer bars that I went to in Tokyo, this was the one that I least wanted to leave. It had a really great vibe about it.
1 Chome-13-10 Jinnan
Beer Cuisine Goshiki
Beer Cuisine Goshiki is not a craft beer bar per-se. Walking down a set of stairs into the basement of a building that doesn’t look like it has anything interesting going on leads to what looks like a polished Izakaya serving a mixture of Japanese and European dishes. What I came down here though was of course, the beer – Beer Cuisine Goshiki is the only place in Tokyo that has all 5 beers from Coedo Brewery on tap. You can get a tasting paddle too which makes the decision as to which one to drink rather easy.
Beer Cuisine Goshiki
6 Chome-1-6 Roppongi
Another chance discovery was Brew Dog Roppongi, the new Japanese outpost of Scottish brewer Brew Dog’s every growing brewpub empire.
I’m a big fan of Brew Dog’s beers and there are always a few that find their way down to Australian shores however there are many that don’t. On the 20 taps are a mixture of Brew Dog beer and other craft beers from Japan and abroad. After sampling the beers in the tasting paddle I moved on to 2 of the specialty beers, the #Mashtag and the Cocoa Psycho. Both were great, but the Cocoa Psycho was definitely the highlight.
Being Roppongi, the crowd was an even mix of Western expats and Japanese people and it really did feel like a Japanese/Scottish hybrid kind of place. There was a range of pub type food on offer combining Japanese and UK Gastropub type dishes and the cheeseboard that my wife and I got hit the spot at the end of a long night. Not the cheapest place for craft beer in Tokyo, but the only place to find some of the speciality Brew Dog beers in the city.
5 Chome-3-2 Roppongi
Best Of The Rest
As I mentioned earlier and as is clear if you’ve made it to this point is that I only got to visit a handful of the craft beer pubs that Tokyo has to offer. If I was going back there, these would be the other places on my list.
Over 70 craft beers on tap, mostly Japanese. This place has been around for a while and has a reputation as being one of the best bars in town for craft beer.
2 Chome-18-7 Ryōgoku
Over 40 craft beers on tap, mostly from Japan, USA, Germany and Belgium with a lot of “one offs” that can’t be found elsewhere.
1 Chome-29-1 Shōtō
I’m a big fan of the beers that Baird Brewing Company produces. Their core range can be found in Australia quite easily these days however I’d be visiting Nakameguro Taproom, which is their own venue, to try some of the seasonal and speciality beers that can’t be found outside of Japan.
2 Chome−1−1 Kamimeguro
30 beers on tap, mostly Japanese beers along with some foreign beers, including some one off collaborations from Dieu du Ciel as well as other rare brews you won’t find elsewhere.
2 Chome-9 Kitazawa
21 local and international craft beers on tap, as well as plans to start brewing their own beers.
5 Chome-26-5 Sendagaya
Ant ‘N Bee
20 craft beers on tap, almost exclusively Japanese.
Ant ‘N Bee
5 Chome-1-5 Roppongi
Two Dogs Taproom
21 taps with a mixture of beers from Japan, the USA, and the UK. Looks to be a good place to watch sport on TV too.
Two Dogs Taproom
3 Chome-15-24 Roppongi