There are many things tasty about Japan. In Nagoya alone, we have spicy tebasaki, rich miso, and crispy hitsumabushi. But let’s face it, Japanese beer is not precisely flavorsome. Those wanting to interject a little piquancy to their beer are forced in the direction of a Red Eye, a beer with tomato juice in it, which, let’s face it, is just plain wrong.
Fortunately, for those of you living in and around Nagoya, you may have discovered that there has been a craft beer revolution going on, with places springing up all over. Here is the JIS guide to the places you should be hitting up to get your beery fix.
Hopbuds is perhaps my favorite craft beer place in all of the city. Run by husband and wife team Jamie and Kayoko, this place claims (with good reason) to have the largest craft beer selection in the city, with around 120 bottles to choose from. Focusing primarily on America’s west coast, they also do a fine line in Japanese brews, particularly Shiga Kogen, Baird and Shonan Beer, the latter of whom Hopbuds (along with some other Nagoya brewers) teamed up with in 2017 to create Blessing in Disguise, a triple IPA that, at 10%, I almost reconsidered having a third. Almost.
Being more of a bottle shop than a bar (although they do have two taps, and you are very much encouraged to drink on the premises before taking home a few bottles) means that they are not restricted quite so much by taxes, and thus are a fair a bit cheaper than other places. They also have a great community around them and put on events from time to time. Keep an eye out on their Facebook page for details of what is coming up.
Part of the Okadaya Liquors empire that also includes craft beer pubs Keg and Grillman, Y Market Brewing is a stylish bar that sells a variety of ales and beers, all of which you can see brewing in the ground floor brewery as you walk up to the bar itself. The décor is bright and edgy with nods towards contemporary Scandinavian design, yet adorned with Mexican paraphernalia that matches the cuisine, an extensive tapas selection as well as nachos and quesadillas (with perhaps the pick of the bunch being the chicken, gorgonzola and honey). Fortunately, the food and cocktail menu is in English, so if you struggle with the local lingo, you can order your grub safely.
On the many times that I have visited, the beer menu has been entirely different, and I have tried all manner of IPAs and lagers, each excellent. If there is one complaint, it’s that their beers tend to aim towards the Japanese palate (i.e., a little on the weak side) and with a reliance on the citra hop, they can get a little samey.
For a good night out I recommend their BBQ terrace which does an excellent course menu and 3 hours of pour-yourself craft beer nomihoudai.
Being in Fushimi, over by the Bank of Brazil, Brick Lane is a favorite for many tourists staying at the Hilton, but it’s also a big hit with both Nagoya’s Japanese and ex-pat beer-loving community. Another husband and wife team (which is not the only connection with Hopbuds as the two bars are incredibly supportive of each other, and you are likely to find the owners of each frequenting the others’ place with regularity) they have created a funky spot, with a clean, uncluttered appearance and an airy feel and, most conveniently, are English speakers (well, they have have to be. They spend so much time in America checking out the beer!)
They have nine taps with a mix of US west coast and Japanese beers and quite often throw in a cider or two, which gets me every time. The beer menu is updated every day, information on which they post on their Facebook page, so you know what to expect, and on occasion, they do low price value offers, so keep an eye out for that.
Another firm selling point is their burger selection, with some real eclectic choices. The last time I was there, I went for the Chicago Pizza Burger. As fantastic as it sounds!
The newest beer bottle shop on the block, Used Like New Beer opened up a few months ago in Nishi-ku, not far from Nagoya Station, Nortitake Gardens and the Freebell Apartments. As it’s still pretty new it retains a bit of a ramshackle, homemade feel, but in a very positive, friendly way – for some reason it always reminds me of a quaint bistro in the French countryside, but that’s just me, I guess.
ULNB is the brainchild of the guys at Brick Lane, which means that you are guaranteed to get an excellent selection every time you come in. With one or two taps on and three beer fridges, the choice isn’t quite as extensive as in Hopbuds, but it more than makes up for it in the quality of beers it serves, such as the Saigon Passion pictured above. That was the bomb!
As well as the great beer they also have excellent sandwiches, made with homemade bread, that are stuffed to a ridiculous level (it’s well worth checking out their Instagram page to see what I mean). And it’s also a very friendly place, with all English-speaking staff, and some cool people popping in and chatting at the standing bar, enjoying some great beer.
One of the Okadaya Liquors craft pubs, Keg is relatively small but minimalistically stylish. They have 13 taps which, when one runs out, it is replaced by a new beer, so there will always be something different on the menu. The food choice is as interesting as their beer selection, with the rum gyoza a personal favorite.
Another Okadaya Liquors pub, Craft Beer & Wine Grillman has ten taps of Japanese beer as well as Japanese wine. Choose your favorite to accompany one of their steaks or 100% beef burgers.
Tap Room is close to 7 Days Brew near Nagoya Station; they have a decent array of craft beers on tap and a cheap food menu. The front of the bar opens, and there are some high chairs at the bar that are a very nice place to sit on a comfortable evening.
Out in Kamimaezu, a stone’s throw from Hopbuds, this is part of the burgeoning Trunk chain that coffee drinkers will know as a watchword for excellence, and the beers are no difference. They generally have about six taps on the go, half of which you can almost guarantee that you’ve never had before, such is the eclecticness of the selection.
The seating arrangements aren’t exactly the greatest – more pop in for a coffee than lounge around with a beer – but the top floor is comfortable enough, and the beer selection more than makes up for it.
**** Disclaimer: 7 Days Brew has become 7 Days Kitchen since this article was written and I haven’t been in, so the details below may have changed ******
7 Days Brew is smack bang in the middle of Meieki, right across from the Meitetsu building, and has a pared back wooden décor. Unusually for a craft beer pub there is a smoking section on the third floor. It is slightly more pricey than the others, but it more than makes up for it with its excellent beer selection that is so up to date that the menu will have today’s date on the top.
There are three floors, including a standing section in the basement (with no table charge), but I usually hang out on the second floor where you can chat to the barstaff who do an amazing job of matching your beer to your tastes. If you are hungry they have a wide selection of grilled meats, nabe in the winter, and in summer they grill fantastic jerk chicken right outside on the street. If you just want something to pick on, I highly recommend the octopus and avocado. Much better than it sounds…
Image by Hopbuds (Own work), via facebook.com (With Permission)
Image by Mark Guthrie (Own work)
Image by Brick Lane (Own work), via facebook.com (With Permission)