Homebrew Resources

Homebrewing in Japan is in very strange place legally. The act of
making your own beer is perfectly legal. However, it is illegal to
brew over 1% alcohol by volume. While the police aren’t kicking down
doors and testing beers for violations, it is certainly up to personal
discretion if someone wants to risk it. If you do, here are a few
places to start.

Sakeland: I got most of my equipment and the supplies for my first
batch here. The website’s organization is a little wonky, and there is
not a lot of English going around. Anybody with a basic level of
Japanese can make it work, but be prepared to look up some rather high
level words. (fermentation!) They offer free shipping and free cash on
delivery on orders of 15,000 yen or more, which is really nice if you
don’t have a credit card. I was actually very impressed with the speed
and quality of service. I placed my order the day before a midweek
holiday, and everything shipped on the holiday. I had my supplies
within 48 hours, which is impressive for any internet mail order
company.

Advanced Brewing: Here you have a better selection and layout than
Sakeland. They offer liquid yeast, as well as more varieties of hops.
They also list a few things in English, which can be nice. You can
even specify specific amounts of hops, which allows you to forgo
owning a scale. (I know, I really should just get a cooking scale, but
as large as my apartment may be by Japanese standards space is still
at a premium. This is especially true in my kitchen.) They also offer a newsletter in Japanese, with homebrew meetups, classes, and information on new items. The downside to using Advanced Brewing is their lack of alacrity in shipping. I ordered the
supplies for my second batch (an American Wheat) here, and it took a
good two weeks to ship. This is fine if you plan ahead
sufficiently, but it is worth noting.

I have found two American suppliers that ship internationally.
Hops Direct has a wide variety of hops available, and More Beer, which offers a wide variety of home brew supplies and equipment. I have yet to order from either of them, but it is very nice to have the option. Both have excellent selections, and I intend to make use of these sites for interesting hops as I retool my IPA this
fall.

As far as buying things in an actual store, I have heard of and on
occasion seen brew supplies at Tokyu Hands. The last few times I have
looked though, I didn’t find anything. It is possible that things were
moved around, or sold out. Even so, the mail order suppliers are a
little cheaper and offer a much wider variety.

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Purple Mountain IPA

Most beer drinkers start with the easy drinking basic lager, things like Coors and Asahi.  I know I did.   My conversion into a lover of hop forward beers was a slow one. I was in my mid-twenties when well hopped and wonderfully bitter beers went from “terrible” to “amazing”. I credit Breckenridge Brewery’s Trademark Pale Ale for part of this transformation. It was a good doorway into the floral character of  a proper West Coast India Pale Ale. From that humble, yet delicious, beginning  I have graduated to a heartfelt love of massively hopped beers from all over the world.

Sadly, Japan has not quite caught up with my tastes. Those mass produced lagers are still the king of the beer world here, and the craft brewers have been slow in introducing more hop forward options. In a way, this makes a lot of sense. The national palate here tends to resist very flavorful things. While Japanese cuisine is wonderful, it does downplay loud, aggressive flavors. Harmony is the name of the game here.

Considering my love of India Pale Ales and their rarity here, my first home brew effort was obvious. I wanted some hops in my life, and if Japan was not going to provide them, than I would have to. I named the brew after Mt. Haruna, a local volcanic peak that glows purple during summer sunsets. The recipe I used was a modified Dogfishhead 60 Minute IPA clone. Dogfishhead is a very well known East Coast brewer, and their 60 Minute IPA introduced the idea of “continuous hopping.” That is, adding a little bit of hops at a time continuously, over the course of boiling the word. This helps create a nice flavor pattern, with plenty of bitterness but also lots of that floral character I like so much.  I could not obtain all the hop varieties in the original recipe so I swapped in some different, lower alpha acid varieties. This was also partly to tone down the overall bitterness. I knew I would be sharing the beer locally, and wanted it to be sort of an intro level IPA.

Purple Mountain IPA 1.0

3628 g dry light malt extract

Continuously hopped:

37 g Nugget

28 g Northern Brewers

28 g Cascade

454 grams of caramel malt specialty grains

Safale US05 dry American Ale Yeast

Dry Hop a week with 42.5 g Cascade

This first effort came out drinkable, but with its own set of problems. One, the ABV (Alcohol By Volume)  came in a bit high, high enough to be noticeable in the finished product. That is fine if you are making whiskey, but is something that will need to be rectified in the next batch. I kept all the hop amounts consistent from the clone recipe to my own, but changed to less bitter hop strains. This lead to a beer that was out of balance. The best IPAs are balanced, with a floral nose, a bitter bite, and than a nice sweet malt backbone to keep everything in line. By lowering the bitterness of the hops and not scaling back the malt as well, I was left with a beer that was a tad overwhelming with its sweetness. I think in some ways it is more like a traditional English IPA, and not the American version that I was aiming for.

I learned plenty on this first brew. I am not entirely happy with how it came out, but Purple Mountain IPA 1.0 is certainly drinkable, and even occasionally delicious. My plans for 2.0 are to scale back the malt a bit, and scale up the hops. I have found some websites that deliver hops internationally, so I will be able to broaden my horizons a bit beyond the six varieties available at the Japan based brewshop I used. One line I am interested in pursuing is a more citrus character, using some of the hop varieties in Lauganitas Sucks, which I hear is a very unique brew indeed. Though that will have to wait for fall. Japanese apartments lack insulation, and it can be very difficult keeping the temperature steady enough for a proper fermentation.

Nihonkai Club

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Nestled in the tip of the Noto Peninsula in Ishikawa Prefecture, Nihonkai Club is a very remote brewpub. The excellent atmosphere, fantastic menu, and good beer make it a worthy destination nonetheless. Nihonkai club brews in the Czech and German tradition, and their standard rotation offers up pilsner, weizen and dark lager. The beer is solid, and certainly quaffable, if sometimes unexciting. Coming from a western American background, I will admit that I have been rather spoiled in regards to a huge selection of fine craft beers. That said, Nihonkai club puts in a solid effort, and the dark lager is of particular note. Its crisp, malty, and delicious. None of their beers disappoint.
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The real draw for Nihonkai Club goes beyond the beer to the amazing ambiance of the restaurant. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Sea of Japan, the view and sense of place is wonderful. Around the grounds there is a huge roller slide that leads down to the water, and a small playground for the kids. The slide is a lot of fun for all ages, both pre- and post beer. Though friction can be a real problem for those without the foresight to bring along some cardboard

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Once you go into the rustic lodge style building you will find the menu emphasizes local products, especially the bounty of the nearby seas. My personal favorite menu item is the Kebab plate, which is a massive plate of heavily seasoned kebab meat and a huge naan to go with it. It is very hard to find a meal that is this large and satisfying in Japan, especially at a reasonable price. The more exotic parts of the menu feature emu, though if you would rather just say hi to these dinoesque  birds you can walk around to the side and do so. Just be careful of your fingers!

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Access to Nihonkai Club is difficult. Driving is by far the best option. Kanazawa is the closest major city and has plenty of hotels. It also has a many sight seeing opportunities of its own. Nihonkai Club beer can be pretty hard to find. I have seen Nihonkai Club on tap at Devil Craft once, and it is available mail order from the website. Though as always it is best enjoyed while tucking into some kebabs and looking out over the Japan Sea.

Welcome

Welcome to G-Biiru, a weekly look at the production, and consumption, of beer in Japan. In Japan, craft beer is sometimes called 地ビール, ji biiru, which translates as local beer. Luckily for lovers of quality suds, the craft industry here is rapidly growing, and locally produced beers are becoming more and more available nationwide. While larger cities like Tokyo, Yokohama, and Osaka are obvious destinations for both American and Japanese beers, the rest of the country is slowly getting in on the action too. This blog will examine and review craft beers and breweries from all over Japan, international beers from breweries large and small, and  my own home brewing efforts. Please join me on a journey in search of amazing beer, in Japan.