Craft Beer in Japan, My Adventures and Failures

My exploration of Japanese craft beer was mostly a failure. In total I tried three Japanese IPAs and beers from a total of four different Japanese breweries. I visited only one brewery. I didn’t have the patience to search for the craft beer bars even though I knew exactly where they are. This is because getting around Tokyo can be a huge pain. In the end I drank more sake than beer in Japan and I would suggest you do the same.

I’m not sure the exact age of craft beer in Japan but it is clear that it is still very young or at least hasn’t gotten to be very popular. Most bars still heavily feature the big beer brands that you have probably seen in the United States (Asahi and Kirin). Like big beer brands around the world they are in the pilsner style. Though they aren’t bad, they are a bit boring for the IPA fan (me) or the stout and porter fan (my husband). Every restaurant that serves alcohol has plenty of Asahi, Kirin, and Sake.

The first full day in Japan I got to visit a small brewery on Tokyo Bay called T.Y. Harbor Brewery. This brewery is on a small island on Tokyo Bay that you have to take a few train lines to get to from either side. It is located at 〒140-0002 Tokyo, Shinagawa, Higashishinagawa, 2−1−3. They are open for lunch and dinner and if you arrive in between meals they will only serve you beer (perfectly fine for us). They are small enough that I got to speak with one of the owners there a little bit.

T.Y. Harbor Brewery Taps.

T.Y. Harbor Brewery Taps.

4oz tasters are not available like you might find in the USA so I only got to try the IPA and a small taste of a beer made with cherry blossoms. My husband got to try an Imperial Stout. The IPA was a different flavor than I typically expect in San Diego. It tends towards the tropical fruit and caramel malts, giving it a light sweetness. It was probably the best IPA I tried in Japan. Hy husband described the stout as having lots of coffee and roasted malts flavors.

T.Y. Harbor IPA.

T.Y. Harbor IPA.

The beers here cost about 800 yen (around $8) for 420ml. 500ml would be a pint but they compensate for the fact that the head of the beer typically means you don’t get a full pint of beer. From what I read online this is similar to the price at other major craft beer bars in Japan. Before I left I got to try a seasonal beer brewed with cherry blossoms. It was light on alcohol and color with a nice cherry flavor and some flavors similar to drinking tea.

I also got to buy an IPA from a convenience store somewhere. It was an IPA from Aooni brewing in Japan. It tasted like it was on the lighter end and seemed to have the same tropical fruit hops as the one from T.Y. Harbor Brewery above.

Aooni IPA can.

Aooni IPA can.

I then had another Japanese IPA I bought when I was in Manila, Philippines. It was an Imperial IPA from Baird Beer called Surugu Bay. It had a flavor heavy towards the malts and possibly rye with some seriously strong grapefruit flavor. It seemed different from the Nelson hops you typically taste and more like eating actual grapefruit (including the part of the flavor I could never enjoy).

Surugu Bay Imperial IPA.

Baird Beer Surugu Bay Imperial IPA.

Also at one point in The Philippines I found beer from Kiuchi brewing. I tried an interesting 7% beer made from Red Rice that had a nice fruity flavor without a strong alcohol taste. As far as I could tell the brewery didn’t make any IPA that I found.

If you do decide to visit Japan to try local craft breweries, I would suggest venturing outside of Tokyo. Hopefully Tokyo’s confusing street configuration doesn’t exist as much once you leave Tokyo. I didn’t ever get outside of Tokyo except when I was at Narita airport. Otherwise, I would try taking a taxi to one of the bars if you get confused. I don’t know how well the drivers know their way around but it isn’t too expensive for short trips that it might be worth it.

For most casual craft beer fans who can appreciate good sake, I would suggest you instead enjoy Japan’s rich selections of sake and possibly some single malt whiskey (though they are very expensive).


I am currently in Tokyo and The Philippines

You may notice that I haven’t been posting things too much lately. I took a break and am traveling to Tokyo and The Philippines with my husband as a honeymoon. It is possible that I might end up writing blogs as I go and posting them from the app on my phone. But I am going to assume that my data connection will be horrible and will most likely wait until I get back to post anything.

With any luck, I will get a chance to try some craft beers in Japan (also known as 地ビール (jibiiru)) and let my readers know if any of the Japanese IPAs stack up to the IPAs I am used to in the USA. I also hope to sample the craft beers in The Philippines, although the craft beer scene is not as developed as Japan’s so I probably will not be able to get much craft beer while I am there. Plus the cost of craft beers in The Philippines, I’ve read it might be 10x as much as the mass produced beers, might prevent me from writing about many things. I am also quite the cheap-ass and would rather drink four or five San Miguel beers if the craft beers are that much more expensive. After all, they aren’t horrible, they are just pilsners.

Please keep an eye out around March 17 and 18 of 2014 for some beer posts from my travels. One way or another I will try to share with you some juicy stories, even if they don’t involve delicious IPAs. Perhaps a crazy night of drinking San Miguel beers in The Philippines will be more interesting to read about than the local craft beers.

Alesmith Jamaican Blue Mountain Speedway Stout

Alesmith’s Speedway Stout has been one of the premier Imperial Stouts in San Diego for some time. The coffee-forward versions have been previously mostly relegated to special tasting flights and special releases (like the Vietnamese Coffee Speedway that shows up here and there on tap). This Jamaican Coffee version of the Speedway Stout is a special release that will have limited availability in bottles and otherwise be available only at the tasting room on tap.

Alesmith is releasing bottles of the Jamaican Speedway on March 3rd and then having a release party on March 8th. When I stopped by today they had a small amount available only on tasters. I was quite impressed by this new beer. The coffee was very strong on the nose, making me want a cuppa. It had a rich coffee flavor that I really enjoyed. At the same time on tap Alesmith had a special cask version of their Robust Porter with cacao nibs. I got a taster of this and really liked how it was smoothed out by the cask and the chocolate flavors came through nicely. They also still have the bourbon barrel aged wee heavy available, which is worth trying if you haven’t.

I will have to miss the bottle release and release party for the Jamaican Speedway but I hope you get to taste this delicious beer before it is gone. I expect it will be a hit and will show up again later but it is always more fun to try it when it is first available.

Sublime Tavern in Del Mar, Great Food and Exhaustive Beer Selection

As a sign that I have become too hooked on craft beer, or maybe just lazy when it comes to visiting breweries lately, I tend to go straight to The Westcoaster (San Diego’s Craft Beer Magazine) whenever I am looking for some place to eat. Wanting to find a place in Del Mar to meet a friend? Check The Westcoaster and find an interesting place like Sublime Tavern.

A little off the beaten path and further inland than you might expect to go in Del Mar lies Sublime Tavern. It isn’t where all the other Del Mar restaurants are, but instead is a few miles inland from the 5 freeway in what looks like an office building. Thankfully, once you make your way inside you easily forget its outer appearance and find yourself drawn in by the beer selection and food options.

The server seemed to have a decent knowledge of his beers. I was more interested that the bartender came out to deliver things himself. His enthusiasm and knowledge of his beer styles was quite impressive. My husband was trying to decide on a stout to order and he was quickly informed that the Old Rasputin on the menu was on nitro (a huge plus for an imperial stout) and that the Yeti (Great Divide’s Imperial Stout) was aged in oak barrels. This was not your typical presentation of beers by any means. He ended up with the Old Rasputin and quite enjoyed it.

I was also quite impressed that they served most of the stronger beers in 11oz pours, in contrast to most newer beer bars that serve pints of everything including Alesmith’s 12% Speedway Stout. IPA wise there were a number of available offerings, though I started with a Belgian Session IPA from Belching Beaver called Ivan The Terrible. I finished off with an Ommegang beer called Chocolate Indulgence, a delicious dark Belgian style beer with just a hint of chocolate to the taste.

Other memorable beers on tap included a special Mayan recipe beer from Dogfish Head that was an interesting twist on the traditional Saison thanks to the introduction of cacao nibs that I tried a small taste of. There was also an Oak Aged version of Stone’s Double Bastard that I didn’t get to taste. Like any other restaurant with a large tap list, the beers will likely rotate fairly regularly but if they continue to keep this variety I will likely be back. Price wise, the beers ranged from $6 to a little over $8 for some of the specialty brews. The prices were largely in line with what I would expect at similar restaurants.

On the food end, my husband ordered a pizza called Sublime Pizza that tasted very similar to the Mac N’ Cheese I was sad to have not ordered that evening. Since I had been overdosing on carbs earlier in the day I went for a single sausage from a sausage platter that normally came with two with a side of garlic roasted kale ordered separately. The sausage was delicious and came with some tasty grilled peppers. The kale was a good sized serving with nice big chunks of roasted garlic here and there. Both were just what I was looking for.

Considering the lack of breweries in the area and beer pubs in general, Sublime Tavern was a welcome find. You can’t go wrong with their beer selection or food if you are looking for craft beer in Del Mar.

Green Flash Ristretto Black Lager, Delicious Coffee and Chocolate Flavors

It was just last week that Green Flash released their Black IPA, a wickedly bitter brew. This week they released the Ristretto Black Lager, the perfect balance to the Black IPA. I saw no mention of celebrating Black History Month on Green Flash’s Facebook page but that might have also been a consideration for the timing of these releases. I was expecting a bitter brew from the Black Lager but instead I was greeted with a deliciously smooth brew that is less bitter than the Double Stout.

Green Flash Black Lager 01

The Black Lager has a strong coffee flavor that is complemented nicely by some chocolate and roasted malts. This is certainly on the sweet side so it won’t be for everyone but it is a great option for those who find most Green Flash beers to be too bitter. It is certainly on the low end of the IBUs, maybe around 30 or 40. With it I got to try the cask they had available, the West Coast IPA with Simcoe added. This was a refreshing beer because the cask and added hops really put the hops on the front of the flavors. I only had an 8oz of this one though because I had to experience more of the Black Lager. Overall, I was quite impressed by this one and will likely be back to have a few more of these before they run through it all.

Black Lager (left) Cask IPA (right).

Black Lager (left) Cask IPA (right).

Lagunitas DayTime Ale Session IPA

Lagunitas might not call this a Session IPA on the bottle, and I don’t blame them, but for hop-heads out there that is pretty much what it is. Session beers are anything under 5% in alcohol. Session IPAs are made by dry-hopping these lighter beers like you would with a stronger brew. This hits all of those parts nicely, coming in at a light 4.8% and 54IBU, this beer pours lighter than a pilsner and yet has all the delicious hop flavors I’ve come to crave.

Lagunitas Daytime Ale


All the dry-hopping gives this a delicious hop aroma that might make you think you are going to get an IPA. When I first tasted this, I thought it was a bit too much pine in the flavor. Over time I came to taste the tropical fruit and citrus flavors that I love so much. Though they don’t tell you the hops used here I expect it has mosaic hops in there somewhere. This is one of the first Session IPAs to hit six packs in San Diego and it blows away almost all of the competition. I still prefer the Modern Times Hoppy Wheat but it is different enough that I can enjoy both of these on regular rotation. With Stone’s own Session IPA set to release soon it has some serious competition.

Helms Brewing Company

To start off I want to mention that I did get my flight for no charge thanks to the generosity of the server. This is not going to impact my views as you will see here. Helms is an interesting brewery that most people probably haven’t been to before. Despite having an idea before where it was I was a bit surprised when I actually arrived at the brewery. A number of breweries I have been to were a bit out of the way but this one is pretty obscure and might confuse a few people the first time you go. Thankfully, the beers are so good that you won’t mind a little side trip to get there.

Helms from the Outside.

Helms from the Outside.

There were more beers on tap than I got to review here but I had already stopped by another brewery before and didn’t have the stomach or the interest to try everything. I include a picture of the rest of the offerings in case you like different styles.


Captain’s Pale ale  

I was quite impressed by this one. It is a bit stronger than I might have liked for a pale ale (it isn’t a session like I have been searching for.) Still, it has some nice citrus flavors and has a nice balance despite the malts that are there like we typically see in an American Pale Ale. The tropical fruit flavors come forward nicely.

Wicked as Sin Rye IPA
This IPA hit the spot quite nicely. It has some amazing hop flavors with the Citra and mosaic hops. The rye balances it out nicely. This might be a new favorite of mine. I left the brewery with a 22oz bottle to enjoy later. The rye makes it taste somewhat similar to the blazing world from modern times and gives it a nice contrast to the hops. This is one of those IPAs that might interest your friends who hate IPAs, or in my case my husband. Though he typically hates all IPAs, he said this one was “not bad.”


Left to right, Imperial Stout, Imperial Porter, RIPA, IPA, Pale Ale,

Hop the RIPA
Though typically RIPA might stand for rye, this one stands for red. It has an interesting flavor but weighs heavy towards the malts. The flavors are based on an Irish red style, though for me it was a little too malty. The flavor is a bit on the syrupy side and sadly the hops don’t come through as much as I would like.
Beerucchino Imperial Coffee Porter
True to its name, this is a beer for coffee lovers. It has a nice smooth coffee flavor at the forefront with a light chocolate flavor on the back end. I wasn’t able to taste the pepper and almond wood that it says are in here but they might account for some of the mellow flavors it has. This beer really goes down easy despite its ABV of 7.2%
Chocolate night Imperial Stout
Hard to say what I don’t like here. The chocolate isn’t very prominent and the vanilla seems a little sour. Perhaps the malts were what got to me but I didn’t find that it had the flavors I like out of an imperial stout. Though my husband was quick to devour this one and thought it was nice because it wasn’t too bitter, I didn’t find the flavors hit the right spots.
Overall, I was quite impressed by the lineup and look forward to seeing some of these beers in a six-pack sometime in the future, especially the Pale Ale, Rye IPA, and Beerucchino. The Wicked As Sin has the types of hops I have come to love lately and would be worth picking up if you see it in stores near you.

Green Flash Black IPA 2014

When Green Flash came out with the Black IPA a while ago I wasn’t familiar with the style and it seemed a bit strange. I probably had a small amount of it at first but forgot it was there. Now in 2014, Green Flash decided to start the year off with 22oz bottles of the beers from the Hop Odyssey series. Black IPA is the first such beer and it is a bitter brew.

Green Flash Black IPA 2014 01

It pours black as stout but lacks any of the sweet coffee or chocolate flavors that might bring some people to like stouts. My first thought upon tasting this beer was “Wow that is bitter!” Other people I talked to at the brewery didn’t find it particularly bitter so perhaps the roasted malt flavors that I tasted came off to me as bitter. I would expect that this beer is probably a minimum of 80IBU and perhaps even up there into 90IBU. I couldn’t immediately tell what hops I tasted but my best guess is that they used the New Zealand hops that Green Flash uses for the Green Bullet. Before I left I picked up a 22oz bottle so I’ll see if I like it more in the bottle. This isn’t a bad beer but it didn’t immediately grab me. I think it could have benefited from some chocolate flavors.

Green Flash Black IPA 2014 02

Ballast Point Spirits Tasting

Though this is a beer blog, when breweries decide to expand into spirits I can’t help but cover their endeavors. Ballast Point recently started spirit tasting but with some restrictions. In order to taste these delicious spirits you must pay for a tour and then go back and taste. Each taster is 1/4 an ounce and served in a glass that makes it possible to get a good idea of each drink from that small amount. For now the spirit tasting is only available at the Old Grove location in Scripps Ranch. You have to stop by on the same day as the tour to sign up and pay for everyone you expect to join you. They charge $10 for the tour and tasting combined. 

The unique taster glass used for the spirit tasting.

The unique taster glass used for the spirit tasting.

The tasting lets you experience the vodka, gin, two kinds of rum, moonshine, and bourbon. Ballast Point spirits are different from what you might find in the stores otherwise because the vodka and gin are both distilled and then reduced to the percentage you taste. Most vodkas are not distilled by the companies but made using mass produced ethanol. This gives them a delicious smooth flavor that you don’t usually see with these. 

Ballast Point Spirits 02

The vodka was not my thing, though it was a bit smoother than others I have had in the past. The gin is infused with their own selection of botanicals and gives it a delicious flavor heavy on the floral side. The clear rum was not really my thing, a bit too mellow for my tastes. It has a sweet flavor that comes from the sugar cane they use as the base. This is used instead of molasses that most rums are made from. The aged rum was a delicious smooth drink aged in American Oak barrels. It has many similar flavor characteristics that you might be familiar with in bourbon and whiskey. The moonshine was a bit on the sweet side and pretty similar to the white rum. We ended with a flavor of the Devil’s Share Bourbon, a rare commodity that you probably won’t be able to buy outside of this tasting tour. Keep an eye on their facebook if you are interested in catching the next release of whiskey. Until then, I would suggest you stick with the aged rum if you are into that style of drink. 


Karl Strauss Light and Hoppy Beers

Tonight I decided to stop by Karl Strauss in Downtown San Diego to see what they had on for Cask Night. I was excited when I saw that the cask beer was a mosaic session IPA. I always enjoy trying beers with single hops because it is a great way to familiarize myself with specific hop flavors. In this case, the mosaic hops were delicious and had a nice crisp grapefruit flavor that really gave some nice flavor to this beer.

Pint of Mosaic Hop Session IPA on Cask.

Pint of Mosaic Hop Session IPA on Cask.

After devouring this delicious cask, I went for the pale ale because I have been exploring local pale ales lately. I’ve already become quite familiar with most of the IPAs that Karl Strauss brews so I wanted to see if I could try something I might have overlooked before. I was pleasantly surprised with the flavors from the pale ale though it was still slightly more malty than I might have preferred. The hops give it a delicious amount of citrus bite that you can really feel in the mouth. Some of the hops go a little heavy on the piney flavors for my tastes though and so I wasn’t completely blown away. Still, it is one of the better San Diego pale ales out there.

Pint of Pintail Pale Ale.

Pint of Pintail Pale Ale.

If you are in the mood for something stronger, the Tower 10 IPA is always a great west coast IPA and they occasionally have some delicious double IPAs on tap as well.