Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Craftsman Yokohama


[Apparently, they now allow smoking inside, so another reason for some not to go here]

Seems that Craftsman is becoming a fast growing chain recently. They have fairly recently opened new bar/restaurants in Kichijoji and Yokohama. There will be a post on the Kichijoji branch fairly soon, but as I was in Yokohama for football, I thought I would pop in to the Yokohama one and get it on here. This was my first Craftsman experience and I had heard that people rate these places quite highly. My own experience was a little disappointing to be honest, but I'll go into that further down. First, the information that you need to know.

- Very close to Yokohama station and pretty near Thrash Zone. This area is full of eating and drinking places and was very busy on a Saturday evening. I'd recommend making a reservation if you want to go here. Seems like it stays open very late though, so you'll probably have better luck visiting later. Classy looking place with a few seats round tables at the front of the bar and quite a few counters spread around the rest of the place. It's on the second floor and there are a couple of entrances, so just look for the Craftsman logo on the outside of the building and go up via the stairs or in the lift.
- 31 taps, of which three are macro lagers, one is a hand pump and the rest are mainly Japanese craft keg beer with a few imports thrown in. Big bottle list, but the prices are pretty expensive. Beers generally served in two sizes 'small' and 'large'. Couldn't see any volume listed anywhere but it seemed like the usual US pint and half. Small was ¥530 and large ¥830. Some beers (mainly imports) were served in one size, somewhere between small and large and priced at ¥830. There is a beer flight of three 150ml glasses for ¥1100 which doesn't seem that great value to be honest. Slightly worryingly, the prices listed on their website are lower than the prices in store and they haven't been open that long. And, tax is added at the end.
- Have heard great things about the food in these places and it did seem to be something that they care about. The theme here is Mex-Italian which is a new one on me, but I think this is more meant to describe the fact that they serve two types of cuisine rather than a new hybrid style. One major problem for me was that there was hidden meat in pretty much everything. Mushroom quesadillas (with bacon, not mentioned on the menu), Margherita pizza (with squid in the tomato sauce! Thankfully the staff member warned us). They were not able to remove meat from any of the dishes, which was a shame. I was pretty much left with only being able to eat a courgette pizza and some Belgian frites. Which were nice, but it would have been nice to have had some choice.

I really wished I had been to one of the other branches first as I was left with a pretty negative feeling. I will have to visit Craft & Romance as I've heard they care a lot more about the beer there. Things could be really good here I think and it seems like we might be in the minority with our negative experience. Maybe check out the ratebeer ratings if you want to hear the other side of the story. I don't mind about the food thing. This is Japan after all, so I shouldn't expect there to be a great vegetarian selection everywhere. But what is much more worrying for a craft beer bar are the beer problems. I don't like to moan about pours, but they seemed to be pretty much random sizes. We ordered the same beer and there was a significant difference in the amount we got. My first assumption was that the keg had blown, but I was wrong. Sitting in front of the bar I noticed a lot of pouring, then scraping out head then pouring again, the pouring from one glass to another through a sieve type thing. Beer were coming out with 50% head, some glasses part empty. I just don't think it really gels with the image they are portraying. And the thing that I have been mentioning before about the general quality of the beers on taps in places declining recently was very much on show here. There are now a huge amount of craft beer bars around so I guess the good stuff is getting spread very thin. To be honest, after my first beer, I couldn't find three others I wanted to make up a tasting set. When a place has 31 taps, that's not a good sign. So, I don't know really. I don't like to be negative, but I can't see why I would ever go back unless they sort out these beer things. After all, this is a beer bar riding the craft beer boom and whilst it is cheaper than some other places, it's not really so cheap when you consider the quality of what is being delivered to you. Like I said, our experience seems very different from other people's but if the experience has worsened so much in three months, I'd imagine they might have a tough road ahead of them.

Japanese breweries recently seen on tap:
Tainai Kogen
Yakurai
Coedo
Oh La Ho
Mojiko
Baird
Shonan
Shiga Kogen
Minoh
TY Harbor
Yo-Ho
Yokohama

Opening Hours:
Monday-Thursday, 17:00-02:00
Friday, Saturday & Holidays, 11:30-03:00
Sunday, 11:30-00:00

Location/Map:
鶴屋町 2-16-4 2F, Kanagawa-ku, Yokohama



Telephone: 
050-7542-6189
 

Links:
Facebook
Website
Ratebeer entry

Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Niigata intermission part 3: Nuttari

(This post was previously part of a Niigata round up with three places in one. They have now been split into separate entries. The other parts are part 1 and part 2)


Thanks to Mark for messaging us shortly before we arrived in Niigata and telling us we should check out Nuttari. I don't think he's been there, but he's very much on top of the Japanese beer world. Check out his book that I mentioned in this previous post. It's always fun to go to a local brewpub and we managed to squeeze it in before the game. I think this is the only brewery in Niigata city. I could well be wrong though. Certainly the only brewpub anyway.

- Not so far from the station, maybe a 15-20 minute walk. The bar is what looks like a small portacabin tacked on to the front of the brewery. But it's a fun place. Limited seating and space. I'd say the capacity is probably around 25 at a push. Big glass windows so if you have walked here quickly on a sunny day you are going to sweat a fair bit (I did).
- Three taps of their own beer,  (I think they only make three beers at the moment, so you can get 100% of their beers in one visit). The beers were Weizen, Pale and IPA. They were ¥600 for a decent sized glass (in the region of 350-400ml) or you can get a tasting flight of three beers and some bread sticks for ¥1000. Good value!

Once again, everyone here was very friendly. Niigata seemed to be that way, even for away fans. Think they are quite new and maybe their beers are a work in progress, but I really liked their IPA. If you are in town it's definitely worth checking them out. Their opening hours are very short though, so maybe plan this stop first.

Japanese breweries on tap:
Nuttari

Opening Hours:
Thursday & Friday, 17:30-20:30
Saturday, 13:30-20:30
Closed Sunday-Wednesday

Location/Map:
沼垂東 1-6-1, Chuo-ku, Niigata



Telephone:
025-383-8720

Links:
Website
Facebook
Ratebeer entry

Niigata intermission part 2: Craft Beer Kan

(This post was previously part of a Niigata round up with three places in one. They have now been split into separate entries. The other parts are part 1 and part 3


This is a relatively new place that has opened up very conveniently on the outside of Niigata station. Perfect to spend your last or first few hours in Niigata.

- Kind of station bar feel to it. Not much seating and not much room inside. In times of pleasant weather there are a few benches outside and it was pretty nice sitting there watching the world go by. So, limited seating but I think it's more of a drop-in place rather than somewhere you would have  long session.
- Perhaps contrary to what I said above might suggest, it has the biggest tap list in Niigata. There are 40 taps, and probably slightly over thirty of these are Japanese craft beer with an emphasis on local stuff. The rest were imports (apart from one stray tap of Asahi). Pricing for Japanese beers is ¥500 for a half and ¥900 for the pint. The imports are ¥700 a half and ¥1300 a pint. There is also a limited bottle selection. Japanese bottles are ¥700 and import bottles and cans range from ¥900-¥1100.
- Payment is made through the kind of ticket machine you might expect to find in a ramen shop. Initially confusing, but afterwards quite fun. Staff seemed pretty understanding and helpful so obviously have a fair bit of experience of people having trouble with the machine. Locals also seem very friendly and are keen to speak to out-of-towners. One wanted us to change our train time and stay longer.

This was the perfect place to finish our trip. Given the proximity to the station it's ideal for filling however much time you have before you depart. It was a fun place so I'd suggest leaving yourself more time than you think you need. But I guess maybe if it was freezing cold it wouldn't be so much fun. It's covered though, so rain isn't a problem. I like the fact that there is a focus on local stuff. What's the point of traveling if you don't enjoy the local stuff? Should also mention that they have another branch in Furumachi. We didn't make it there as they were closed on Sunday so can't tell you about it, but here's their facebook page.

Japanese breweries recently seen on tap:
Tainai Kogen
Echigo
Swan Lake
Baird
Shiga Kogen
Daisen
10 Ants
Hideji
Sankt Gallen
Hitachino Nest
(and many more)

Opening Hours:
Daily, 12:00-23:00

Location/Map:
花園 1-1-1, Chuo-ku, Niigata

Really no need for a map this time. It's on the first floor (ground floor) in the station facing out on the South side. 

Telephone:
025-278-7622

Links:
Facebook
Ratebeer entry

Niigata intermission part 1: Beer Trip Olive & Olive Another Pint

(This post was previously part of a Niigata round up with three places in one. They have now been split into separate entries. The other parts are part 2 and part 3)

I was recently in Niigata for football and visited a few nice beer places. I was torn on whether to put them on here, but it seemed like I might as well put on places I visit even if they are a little way from Tokyo. I guess Niigata is only two hours away by Shinkansen. I haven't posted about anywhere in Kansai as I feel that there is so much there that it deserves its own blog and there's no way that I could cover it in enough depth. Anyone fancy doing that? But Niigata is still a relatively small scene, so is much easier to sum up in a single post. There are a few other places in town, but we didn't visit them, either due to them being a bit out of the way or them having crazy cover charges not conducive to popping in for a quick drink.
If you are interested, the area is famous for producing sake so there is a lot of interesting nihonshu around too. There is a place just across the station car dropping off point from Craft Beer Kan on the second floor called Ponshukan that has an amazing wall of sake serving machines where you can buy tokens and sample many different types in relatively small measures. I am clueless but enthusiastic about sake, so this was pretty much perfect for me.
Niigata was a very welcoming place and I had a lot of fun there. Thank you very much to Kuwabara-san and his family for meeting us at Olive, helping me out with info and for sending me photos of the two Olive branches. Oh, see what I did there? See you next year Kuwabara-san! Anyway, here is part one of your Niigata round up.



I've put these two together, as they are effectively the same bar, even if they are not physically connected (as far as I know anyway). I believe that Beer Trip Olive (hereafter referred to as BTO), was the original place and they later expanded to open Olive Another Pint (hereafter OAP) . It would certainly make sense given the name I guess. Here are the basics.

- Two bars almost next door (think there is one building between them). BTO has 45 seats spread over three floors and OAP is pretty much the same.
- 12 taps of Japanese craft beer at BTO and 4 taps of imported stuff at OAP. The exciting part, (at least for me anyway) is that you can order from both bars' menus.
- Beer served in two sizes, half and pint which are generally speaking 285-295ml and 480-500ml respectively. Prices for the half range from approximately ¥600-¥770 and for the pint, ¥1000-¥1350, the higher end being imports which were all Firestone Walker when we were there. These prices include tax, but there is a ¥315 cover charge to be added on at the end.

I really liked the feel of these bars. They were certainly somewhere you could settle in and spend a few hours. I feel I was maybe unduly excited by ordering a beer from a different building, but if you go I hope you get the same joy from it that I did. Some people might find the prices a little high, but if you're coming from Tokyo they will seem pretty normal. We'll definitely be going back next time we're in Niigata.

[Please note, according to tabelog, these places allow smoking, but I don't remember noticing]

Japanese breweries recently seen on tap:
Ushitora
Fujizakura Kogen
Swan Lake
Hitachino Nest
Minoh
Coedo
Yokohama

Opening Hours:
Seem to vary, but if you want to play it safe
Daily, 17:00-00:00
Sometimes seems to open at 15:00 though. Best check their facebook posts (links below).

Location/Map:
弁天 3-2-16, Chuo-ku, Niigata



Telephone:
025-241-7457

Links:
Website
Facebook BTO
Facebook OAP
Twitter BTO
Twitter OAP
Ratebeer entry BTO
Ratebeer entry OAP

Sunday, 5 June 2016

Craft Beer Market Otemachi

A brief post on the latest Craft Beer Market, this time in Otemachi. First, the stuff that I always write about Craft Beer Market branches. It has the usual 30 taps of cheap beer in the usual sizes at the usual prices. Most beers are served in two sizes 250ml (¥480) and 473ml (¥780). Barley Wines and stronger beers come in smaller serving sizes at the lower of the two prices. There is a ¥300 cover charge but this is easily covered if you have a few drinks as the prices are pretty cheap. Taplists for all the branches are updated daily on the CBM website. Otemachi naturally has the usual CBM decor, lots of wood and stone, and at lunchtime on a Friday it seemed to be very popular, so get there early or make a booking.
So, what's different? Well, the food this time is Mexican. And there seems to be a lot less table seating here. I guess it's a little smaller than the other branches. Inside there is counter seating for around 20-25 people at the bar and along the wall. The outside is made up of a nice patio with plenty of seating. Not sure how much this will be used in Winter though! The cover charge doesn't seem to be applied at lunchtime. And also recently I've heard that tax is added at the end in the evenings (but not at lunch). I haven't been to one of these in the evening for a while, so I have no personal experience of that. Seems a bit weird though. Oh, and unlike some of the other business area CBMs, this one is open at the weekend, although only on Saturday and actually not on the first Saturday that I tried to visit it.
In conclusion, it seems busier than other branches, the patio is a big plus in more temperate times and the food is Mexican. Think that's the stand out facts for this branch. It's closest to exit C1 of Otemachi station, but beware, Otemachi station has changes between lines that are over 500m, so it might be best to walk from another station if it's more convenient for you. If you've ever been to one of these bars, you'll know what to expect. If you haven't, I think it's best to start with Jimbocho or Koenji as these seem to be a little bit less salaryman heavy. I can't imagine many people would say that a Craft Beer Market is their favourite bar, but they certainly do the job if you're looking for some food and some cheap beers.

Japanese breweries recently seen on tap:
Nihonkai Club
Daisen G
Shiga Kogen
Shonan
Ushi Tora
Coedo
Kyoto
Hideji
Gotemba Kogen
Tainai Kogen
Ise Kadoya

Opening Hours:
Monday-Friday, 11:00-14:00, 17:00-23:30
Saturday, 12:00-23:30
Closed Sunday

Location/Map:
大手町 1-9-2, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo



Telephone:
03-6262-5759

Links:
Facebook
Website
Ratebeer entry

Saturday, 4 June 2016

Vector Beer & Vector Beer Factory

Post by James

Vector Beer


Vector Beer is close to Shinjuku Gyoenmae and pretty close to Shinjuku Sanchome. It has a system which is very similar to Craft Beer Market, i.e. there is a charge to get in (¥350) but the beer is cheap (¥450 for a glass and ¥750 for a US pint). Tax is added on at the end. There are however some differences. The first thing I noticed is that this place is pretty easy to come to on your own as there is a bar counter that seats about eight. There are plenty of tables and a kind of terrace for groups. Vector Beer allows smoking. That said there were no smokers when I was in and they have a good ventilation system. I found this place to be a bit more like a bar that the likes of Craft Beer Market and I was surprised how much I enjoyed going. As well as eight taps of Japanese craft, they had one tap of their own beer (Shinjuku Beer Brewing) which is brewed at their sister shop next door. This beer was a pretty good effort for a Tokyo brewpub and the fact that they are starting to brew their own beers is maybe the reason that I found the staff to be more knowledgeable and more enthusiastic about beer. As well as the sizes mentioned above there was also an "Amazon" size, which comes in a pretty cool glass. ¥2000 gets you a whopping 1.5 litres of anything on tap. The days when I would have gladly have downed a few of these are over, but it did rather add a little something to the bar credentials of the place. They also do a taster sets of three beers (I guessed the sizes to be at least 150ml for each beer) for ¥1000. The food is also a bit different. Ox tongue is their speciality but there is a fairly big food menu. The food seemed a bit more expensive than the beer, but it was pretty good. I really enjoyed this bar and felt compelled to go to their sister shop a mere ten seconds away.

Japanese breweries recently seen on tap:
Baeren
Preston
Hansharo
Iwatekura
Baird
Shinjuku Beer (their own beer)
Hitachino Nest
Minoh
Rokko

Opening Hours:
Saturday-Thursday, Holidays, 17:00-00:00
Friday, 17:00-02:00

Location/Map:
新宿 1-36-5, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo



Telephone:
03-6380-0742

Links:
Facebook
Website

Twitter
Ratebeer entry


Vector Beer Factory


Only ten seconds away from Vector Beer, but a bit of a different feel. There is a big L-shaped counter so this place is even easier to go to on your own. There are tables too though, so fine for groups. The system, pricing and even the Amazon size and taster set are all the same as the original shop (see above). I felt this place had a slightly younger feel to it and there were 16 taps here, so quite a bit more choice. The focus is very much on IPAs here so that is a bit of a difference. All the beers were Japanese when I was in but the very friendly manager told me that they sometimes have an American tap on. I could see the two tanks where they brew their own beer from my counter seat. Only the IPA was on, but the other will be a wheat beer which they aim to have ready by summer. The food menu was completely different too.
I had a very good time at these two bars, but there was one more good surprise waiting for me. When I got the bill there was no charge. I asked why and was told that if you go to both shops (how do they know?) you only pay once. With that in mind I really recommend you try both bars instead of one.

Japanese breweries recently seen on tap:
Kankiku
Gotemba Kogen
Doppo
Noboribetsu
Baird
Outsider
Coedo
Kobushi
Minoh
Tokorozawa
Shiga Kogen
Shinjuku Beer (their own beer)
Tainai Kogen
Ise Kadoya

Opening Hours:
Monday-Saturday, 17:00-00:00
Closed Sunday & Holidays

Location/Map:
新宿 1-36-7, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo



Telephone:
03-5315-4744

Links:
Facebook
Website

Twitter
Ratebeer entry