Craft Beer in Japan

I like Japanese beer.  Long before Sam Adams started selling nationally and before IPAs became all the rage and micro-brews and high-gravity beers were common in the U.S., I enjoyed drinking Kirin and Sapporo and Asahi beers as a non-watery alternative to lowest-common-denominator American beers.  I still like them, especially Kirin (though Sapporo Beer has the best commercial, ever).  But the micro-brew and craft beer craze is getting off the ground in Japan, too.  And they’re brewing up something(s) special.  Here’s my New Favorite:  Baird Beer.  Here are three of many brews in its extensive line-up:

Yes: brewed and sold in Japan.

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Baird Beer is the child and inspiration of Bryan and Sayuri Baird.  Bryan’s a long-time American Expat.  He and Sayuri live in the town of Numazu, about 80 miles south of Tokyo.  Numazu’s American Sister City is Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Anyway, back in 2000 . . .

Bryan [began] brewing up Baird Beer in the tiny back-room brewery (30-liter batch size), and Sayuri cook[ed] up her original beer-inspired cuisine [at their original establishment, the Fishmarket Taproom in Namazu].  Several years and expansions later, Baird Brewing still owns and operates the Namazu Fishmarket Taproom . . . and operates a growing stable of Taproom pubs where the entire lineup of Baird Beer is served on tap in prime condition.  Additionally, we sell draught Baird Beer directly to select pubs and restaurants in Japan . . . .  Quoting from a Baird Beer brochure.

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Baird Beer’s credo is “Balance + Complexity = Character.”  I’ll leave it to you to ruminate on that.  Suffice to say that I tried the Wheat King Ale, both at my friend Robert’s Kyoto home (and gallery . . . see photo below) about three Friday nights ago, and at Tady’s Pub, also in Kyoto, the next evening.  It was, indeed, balanced and had a rich flavor that delighted my tongue without taking me up by my shirt collar and shaking me.     I’ll leave further descriptions for Baird Beer’s website to go into.  Cultural/historical note:  that last poster featured above is for Kurofune Porter.  Kurofune (黒船) was the name given to the celebrated and enigmatic “Black Ships” of 16th and 17th Century Portugal (which may as well have been Mars to the Japanese) which plied the oceans between Europe, Goa (India), Southeast Asia and Japan, trading as they went  and, later,  to Commodore Matthew Perry’s fleet of ominous black ships which arrived in Japan in 1853, precursors to and instruments of opening-up a hitherto closed Japan to global trade through “gunboat diplomacy.”  To the Japanese the word “Kurofune” connotes mystery and strength — a little scary but, ultimately, worth befriending.  I’ve got to try that brew someday.

Robert contemplates his King Wheat Ale. Robert Yellin Gallery. Kyoto.

Robert’s a long-time resident of Japan.  He’s one of Japan’s, and the world’s, top authorities on both antique and contemporary Japanese pottery, ceramics — yakimono (焼き物) for those of you who know Japanese.  Robert’s an author and gallery owner and, much to his credit, seeks out, finds and promotes young, up-and-coming artists.  And he’s a gracious host.

Beers poured for friends. Robert Yellin Gallery. Kyoto.

I don’t think I need to go into any more detail about Baird Beer since I’ve provided the link to its website and blog above, and encourage you to click on it and check out the site.  And, when you’re in Japan (or for you that currently live in Japan), make sure to ask for it by name, as the saying goes.

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UPDATE:   I’ve just learned .  .  .  Baird Beer is now imported to the U.S.  via Shelton Brothers, (eeeee…) Belchertown, MA.  More to come. . .

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UPDATE II:  Map to one of many Taprooms serving Baird Beer (h/t and cheers to Reddit.Japan friend “quantocks” for this)

Map to Harajuku (Tokyo) Baird Beer Taproom.

Post Script:   if you want to learn a thing or two about Sake (日本酒), I invite you to visit and enjoy my  Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sake  blog piece. 

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  1. Interesting article. So many of the independents folded after the brewing boom. It’s good to see there are at least some producing quality refreshments.

      • letsjapan
      • September 3rd, 2011

      Thanks, Kym. Same thing happened in the U.S.

      I plan to supplement this piece from time to time. In fact, I’ve got some info I plan on adding-on/in tomorrow (it’s on the brink of midnight over where I am now).

      Thanks again. Please stop by again and, of course, feel free to poke around the place . . .

      Regards,

      R.

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