Japanese beer is usually thought of as just the ‘big three’: Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo. While these are great when ice cold on a scorching day, they aren’t exactly the most interesting of brews. However, right now there is something of a craft beer revolution going on. While it is impossible to highlight all here, below you can find some of our picks for craft and brew pubs in Tokyo and Yokohama.
This place gets first billing simply because it is my favourite. It’s not a whole lot to look at – more liquor store/bottle shop than bar – but what a selection it has. The beer is of the west coast variety – Ballast point, Lagunitas, Stone – and while there are dozens of bottles to choose from for at around 500 JPY , they also have a few on tap (the number of running taps is dependent on how many customers are in). They guys working there are incredibly knowledgable and friendly. Have a couple beers on their roof-top veranda and then take a few bottles home when you’re done.
Don’t let the fact that this is a British Pub put you off: this is no Hub Pub or OXO. British owned, The Full Monty has twelve taps including beers from the US and UK, but what sets them apart is probably their cider collection. Sometimes called ‘hard cider’ or ‘alcoholic cider’, The Full Monty has at least five on draft with plenty more by the bottle from the UK, France, US, Germany, Spain and New Zealand (though if they have it in stock, I can highly recommend the Weston’s Old Rosie). But be warned, some of it can be deceptively lethal!
Proof that size isn’t everything, El Nubichinom is said to be Japan’s oldest craft beer bar and, with room for seven customers at a push, it’s probably one of the smallest. Situated amongst hostess bars and massage parlors, it’s not in the plushest of areas, however thanks to its unusual opening times (closed by 9:30pm) you aren’t likely to get a cross over of clientele. What you are likely to get in this standing only bar is a selection of six Japanese craft beers from knowledgeable host Master Kaji, served in aroma inducing bloom glasses.
Coming from the guy who brought you the Goodbeer online retailer, Goodbeer Faucets is a shiny chrome and concrete bar which really knocks what your preconception of what a craft beer bar should look like. It has 40 different taps of draft and three ale hand pumps on the go serving beer predominantly from the US and Japan as well as their own brews. Happy hour sees 200 JPY off a pint.
Drinking craft beer can be an expensive game. Not so at Craft Beer Market. Here you can find up to 30 different craft beers at just 780 JPY for a US pint or 480 for a glass. Of course at these prices there isn’t much in the way of imported beers, but in fairness the Japanese craft beers they do serve – including weizens, IPAs, seasonal beers, stouts, and even barley wine – are all top notch. With locations all over the city, the food is raved about and menus come in English, so it makes it a great place to pop in for after work.
Shinshu Osake Mura (literally ‘alcohol village’) is a paean to all things Nagano. Fortunately Nagano has some of the best craft beers in the country. Unlike Goodbeer Faucets and Craft Beer Market, this is by no means one of the craft beer behemoths (and strictly speaking it is actually a sake bar). However, what it lacks in diversity it makes up for in a selection of great Nagano beers in cans and bottles – from Shiga Kogen to Oh!La!Ho! Brewing to Hotaka Beer. While these beers aren’t exactly rarities, they can all be picked enjoyed at wholesale prices, most of which are cheaper than you can find in the shops. If it’s in season try to find the Apple Hop by Minami Shinshu Beer. Great stuff.