Monday, May 12, 2008

Baird Beer Taproom, Nakameguro

The grand opening day for this new beer pub in Tokyo was Saturday, May 10th .
Actually, the opening party was the day before, as is often the case but this little drinker wasn't there.
I more than made up for it the next evening.
Many people will know Baird Beer, if not for their ubiquitous presence on the Japanese craft beer scene, then for the wonderful, cosy, quiet, idyllic little brew pub at Numazu harbour - the original Taproom.
Baird beer has really gone from strength to strength in the last few years.
They've expanded operations, moved to a new brewing location (though not far away from HQ) and hired more staff. One of which, Molly, has made a positive difference (at least I think so, anyway).
The results of a lot of hard work by Brian Baird and co are the expansion of Baird beer to the US market and perhasp the world and also the opening of a second Taproom, in Tokyo.
This is welcome, welcome news to most craft beer drinkers (especially the ones in Tokyo!).

Although you can easily find a bar that serves a Baird beer or two, it is impossible to find one that serves sixteen. Yes, you read that correctly. 16.
Also, there's nothing like drinking from the source.
And what a pleasant source to drink from it is.
I think the people at Baird tried to keep the essence of the original taproom and expanded with that idea in mind.
The new Taproom feels like a very friendly, mini drinking hall/saloon (minus spitting cowboys and dancing girls)/local bar/ family theme pub all mixed into one.

The location is pretty easy to find.
Just exit the station and turn right without crossing the road. Walk just past Segafredo and you will come to a large, modern building with some weird glowing green cacoons suspended from it. Go through the opening under the building and you will see this view:Can you see the taproom, up to the right, above Caldi coffee?
It's on the 3rd floor.

When you exit from the stair well, you will find the entrance to the Taproom:
It looks inviting and warm and cozy inside. Wood dominates throughout the interior.
You just gotta love that driftwood door handle. It's awesome! Watch the little ones' heads on it, though, if you bring the family.From the inside, looking back towards the entrance. You can see the new designs of the Baird Beer logos (minus the artist's name this time) hanging on the walls. They help to liven up the decor and go well with all the 'natural wood' and 'fake brick'. Not sure if I really love those tables, though. Not quite drinking hall/Viking longhouse fare. Would've loved to see the huge, thick tree trunk tables like you get at the Numazu taproom. Still, at least it's a flat surface upon which to rest my beer. The place is still new and has a 'just been opened' look to it. With time, the tables will wear in (and aquire marks of useage) nicely.
The bar seems to be split into 2 sections. The taps and the 2 hand pumps. I would have thought they would have had more hand pumps (2 out of 16) but I think they plan to add more beers soon (including 5 or more guest beers, if my info is correct). 12 taps are located on the left side with the others (along with the 2 hand pumps) on the right.
Overall seating is for about 70, so you can fit the whole extended family in this place (or if you are a more adventurous foreigner, you could hire it out for your entire harem of Japanese girlfriends and watch them fight each other, as you sit back and enjoy a Nakameguro bitter - I am not such a foreigner and I do not have a harem - sob.).
Amogst the drinkers, you may encounter an occasional beer connoiseur, a nice lady, a 7 ft pink penguin or someone completely unexpected. Such is the nature of Nakameguro and the draw of the Taproom.
The order system seems to be something out of the starbucks playbook.
You order at the corner, under the red notice (the one that says 'please order here'). A member of staff takes your order, then proceeds to give it to another member of staff. That member of staff amy or may not give that order to another member of staff who may or may not remember who ordered the drink or food in the first place. It all seems very confusing and more than a little needless. Still, I got my drinks every time. Eventually. I even got the chance of a free drink, as the third person to recieve my order gave me my pint without realising that no one had asked me for any money. Being the honest Joe that I am, I insisted on paying for my drink. I could ahve very easily have gotten away with a free drink, such is the system they employ.
I'm not sure how well this system will serve, especially when things get busy. It was a frustrating way to get your beer, with lots of people getting in the way of each other in the small space.
I think it would be better for one staff member the order from one customer at a time and serve them first. But then that's just me.

I recently went back there on my way home from Shibuya. The serving situation seemd to have gotten worse! This is the queue I joined, to order my beer:And here is the end of the queue, past my friend and I:I really don't see the sense in it. A long line of people leading through the centre of the bar, blocking access to the tables on either side. Really, I don't want to be a whinger but this is ridiculous. Why was there such a big backlog of people wating to get a drink? Was it perhaps because you have to wait to order your drink, then sit down and wait for the staff to pour it and bring it out to you, with a smile?
I think in the quiter moments, this kind of service may be personal and well appreciated. However, when things get busy, I just want to get my beer and sit down and start drinking. I don't want to wait while I get to the register and order, then be told to sit down and wait again for as long as 10 minutes at one stage. Really, this can be something to be improved upon. 4 or 5 bar staff and still a long wait for my beer. There were a few occasions when the staff wasnt even sure who ordered the beer that they were trying to deliver. The party next to me recieved someone else's beer by mistake. They drank it. I recived a pint without paying for it. something I remedied by insisting on paying. All this is proof that this system is indeed flawed. Perhaps a small token to put on the table so that staff know where to deliver to would be better. If offered a choice, I would prefer to collect my beer at the bar, like a normal person. I don't require the staff to come all the way out with my slowly warming beer. I'd like it as fresh as possible.
Okay, moaning over. For now. Don't get me wrong. I like this place. I bought a 9,000yen drink card which entitles me to 12 pints of delicious Baird beer. It's just that I'm not really comfortable in waiting up to 10 minutes for my beers to arrive (the average time of course was a lot less but the 10 minutes was at a time when the bar was not even at full capacity). If patience is not your thing, then perhaps come here on a weekday, when it's not so busy.

Here's a short video I filmed of the inside:

The choice of Baird beer was extensive:
Wheat King Ale, Teikoku IPA, Rising Sun Pale Ale, Red Rose Amber Ale, Angry Boy Brown Ale, Kurofune Porter, Shimaguni Stout, Nide The Ale, Nide The Lager, Four Sisters Spring Bock, Imperial Belgian Red, Midnight Oil Foreign Export Stout, Nakameguro Taproom Celebration Ale, Dai-Dai Dark Wheat Ale, Nakameguro Taproom Bitter, English Brown ale.

Not bad. Not bad at all. Should be something for everyone. Apart from a traditional weiss beer, they got most areas covered.
I particularly recommend the Naka Meguro Bitter (900yen, hand pump for a UK pint) and the Celebration Ale (American pale ale, 900yen, US pint). The midnight oil is also lovely.

You have a choice of glass sizes:They also have a UK pint glass which they serve the handpumps in. I liked that idea. UK glasses for the UK style beers.

Right, all this talk about beer and no pics of pints?

Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you, the Nakameguro Bitter:
Lovely, malty, bitter, smooth. Heavy drinkfeel that I loved. Huge head that setteld down after a few minutes. Nice temperature. Great body. Beautiful color. UK pint. Very nice. This was a wonderful way to start the evening and the perfect introduction to the Naka Meguro Taproom.
Nakameguro Taproom Bitter: 7/10

I just gotta say I love the stools!Wow! I don't want to get smashed across the back with one of these babies!

Next up was a Celebration Ale:Nice fruity follow up to the malty bitter. I think this is an american pale ale style. Hoppy fruits shine through but not overly strong. to quote the Baird philosophy of complexity, character and balance, the 2 beers so far were well balanced. Lovely brew.
Just what I needed.
Nakameguro Taproom Celebration Ale: 6.5-7/10

All this talk about beer. What about the food? Well, I didn't order any. I was too busy drinking.
However, my friend, Tim, did order some food, so I took a picture.
Either the food was small of Tim has the largest head in history:The pizza was that small. To be fair, I think it was called the nachos pizza (?).
I'm not sure if the food selection lived up to the beers. But saying that, this is a bar, and not a restaurant. But these days, bars are expected to have a reasonable menu available (especially in Tokyo). The menu seems to be similar to that at the Numazu taproom. However, while that works wonderfully in the smaller Taproom, perhaps a few additions would be nice here in the new place. However, once again, I didn't order food so I shouldn't really say too much. I did see someone have the chilli. I know I always order that in Numazu and I know that it is very good. I'm sure all the food that is served here is of the usual high standard in terms of taste. But perhaps don't expect to have a full meal.

However, the bar is newly opened and so maybe the menu will evolve. I'm not too worried, as I go to a bar to drink and not neccessarily to eat.


Here is a rising sun pale ale:

Very nice. 6/10.

Next, I had an English Brown Ale.
Lovely first impression. Great nose and nice frothy, thick head but it seemed to die and the taste was a little dissapointing. 5.5/10.

I was halfway through my English brown ale when my friend Dave turned up.
He looks happy, as always.

Four Sisters Mai bock:Not bad. Dry. Crisp. 5.5/10

Then it was time for a Midnight Oil Foreign Export Stout:Lovely. 6.5-7/10

Ooh, don't they make a lovely pair?

They have a large flat screen TV (just the one), so it may be possible to enjoy your favourite sporting event here.Here's a lonely set of three tasters. Tasters are availably for about 350yen. Not suhc great value.
A tasting set of, say, 4or5 glasses for 1,000 would be more interesting, perhaps.

I think this could be a Shimaguni Stout (?). It looks cool, anyway.
Stop! Otaku time!Dave and I were starting to show the signs of too much of a good thing (I definitely was).

Dave got so bad that the stafff had to freeze him in carbonite, just like Han Solo.
Bad Boys:
Bad Boys 2:

It was closing time nad the staff could finally slow down and enjoy the end of a busy evening.

They sold quite a few pints that night.
Meanwhile, our two idiot savants needed to be shown the door. Always the last to leave. The sad, sad truth.

Thank you, Naka Meguro Taproom. You were fun.
Naka Meguro Taproom: 6.5-7/10

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Oh!La!Ho Kolsch taste test:

The last time I had a kolsch, it shook me. I was stunned. It was crisp. clear, golden (can it be both golden and clear? - this time it was - or at least seemed to be...) and ever so refreshingly crisp and clear.
Just can't seem to escape the feelings of crispness (drank it by the side of a frozen lake, surrounded by freaky snowmen) and clear (pure white all around complimented the purity of taste). That time, it was a Tazawako Kolsch, on tap, by the shore of Lake Tazawa. Ice cold, crisp, clear, gorgeous. That was myfavourite beer of the Akita trip. Calling a kolsch my favourite beer is no mean feat, considering I don't especially care for the style.
Well, I'm a changed man.
So I was happy to try this Oh!La!Ho (yes, that is the name of the brewer) Kolsch. Kindly donated by Candian Dave after one of his jaunts up to the snowbound Nagano mountains.
VErdict: While no Tazawako experience, it was still not bad. Crisp tasting and got better as I drank it.
Fresh and sprightly dry mouthfeel.
Does any of that make sense?

Oh!La!Ho Kolsch 5.5/10

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Dry Dock, Shinbashi

Getting wet, down at the Dry Dock.

I heard that there was a bar in Shinbashi, Tokyo, where I could have three Asahi Super Dry beers and each one would taste different.
Would each one be worse than the previous?
Not liking this beer very much, I could see how that would be possible, simply through enduring the bloody stuff and also with the knowledge that I am actually paying for each beer as it arrives.
Another friend has a theory that the barman goes out the back and spits in one beer, urinates in the other and serves the other beer normal.
I wouldn't be suprised, that if that was indeed the case, then in a blind test, the unaltered beer would come out bottom.
So, you see, I am prejudiced against Super Dry and other such skimpy beer wannabees. I don't really want corn or rice products in my beer. I am a snob. Of this class of beer wannabees, I regard Kirin Ichibanshibori as the most drinkable.
I have met many, many Japanese men (no, not in that sense) and sometimes women (why do you seem suprised?) who claim to be a 'super dry' or 'Kirin lager' person. I'm sure there are even one or two out there who are ardent 'Magnum Dry' officionados, but I have yet to find one. Until then, they shall secretly keep on getting the wife to buy the stuff by the case from the discount supermarkets and drink it at home, in their underwear, whilst watching the baseball and playing with their nuts.
It's not what I do myself, of course. I don't like Japanese baseball that much.

Anyhoo, I really wanted to give this claim a go, in the name of science, you understand. Testing out the theory, as it were.
However, it simple wasn't to be. Not this time, anyway. I had very little time before my last train home, so I could only have the one drink.

I will go into that soon.
Firstly. let me just throw it this out there:

Have you tried the three super dry challenge?
What did you think?

So, the Dry dock is a small bar set under the train tracks, near Shinbashi Station, in Tokyo.
It's not all that easy to find. The map is pretty good, but the bar itself is a little out of the way. It's in a part of the station that doesn't really see that many people.
Here's the map (I took this from their website and do not claim it as my own):You may want to check out their website.

Opening times
Weekdays: 5pm - 12:30am
Fridays and National Holidays: 5pm - 2am
Saturdays: 5pm - 10pm 

As you come to it, you will see a small, white 2 story building, seemingly standing alone, under the tracks. When you look again, you may notice that the first floor is 'half submerged', adding to the whole 'dry dock' image, perhaps. The solid looking main door is constructed out of wood and has a nautical circular hatch set into it. Very nautical. Although not as nautical as Nautical Nancy, renowned for her insatiable desire to consume seamen. Not to say that there's a ship in every port, but her port's seen more ships than Yokosuka Naval Base. Yes, I just went there - not to Nautical Nancy, but I shamedly just lowered the standards (another nautical pun). If there is a 'Nautical Nancy' out there, I apologise (and my home number is 01234567).

As I descend the steps into the main bar, I can see a small staircase leading up to the right. This leads to an even smaller second floor with seated tables for about half a dozen or so. The main bar area features a long standing bar with space also for around half a dozen. Resisiting the urge to hoist my jolly roger, I checked out the menu:
I noticed that they had a new beer, as yet unreleased by Asahi. The kind and very knowledgable Sato san informed me that this beer was due for release in March. I decided that if I didn't have time for the '3 super dry challenge', then I could at least try a new beer.Asahi Premium: 5.5/10.
It wasn't at all bad, though it didn't exactly rouse the seamen into action. Malty taste. not very bitter. Slightly, slightly sharp. Just a normal Japanese lager, I felt. The big 4 companies have been churning out a lot of 'premium' all malt beers the past year or two. Maybe in an effort to encourage the premium beer (and premium prices) market. The Japanese public don't seem to have swallowed that bait, as it were. It's a bit silly, really, by the beer companies, as it was they who got the public hooked on the cheap booze to begin with. Now they seem suprised that average Joe or Taro doesn't really want to pay all that extra for a beer that doesn't quite taste as astringent and acidic as the stuff that he's grown accustomed to and has begun to love. Not to mention he feels loyal to his brand and has begun to identify himsefl with it. I'm waffling on again, aren't I?

Anyway, this beer isn't bad, but it's nowhere near my favourite. I like a malty tasting beer or a good, heavy bodied porter. Not aversed to a fruity American style pale ale, either.

Right now, I'm relaxing with a nice, big, strong, full bodied black porter.
His name is Alan and he's a scorpio.
I also have a couple of bold and fruity Americans in my home, just waiting to be swallowed. I think we're gonna have a party tonight.

As for the Dry Dock, the atmosphere is very good. Very friendly and I have the feeling that the owner really knows his beer and for some reason, really likes Asahi Super Dry. I can accept that. I want to return to this nice haven for stray ships soon and take the time to truly dock here and take up the '3 super dry challenge'.
The Dry Dock - 6/10
(A friendly and interesting place. Don't forget to try 3 Super Drys
- and don't blame me if they all taste the same)


Sunday, January 20, 2008

The Aldgate, British pub, Shibuya

The Aldgate, ShibuyaThis place has to be the British pub in Shibuya. In terms of selection of beer offered (various brews from various brewers), atmosphere (compared to the ever scarce old style traditional pubs back home) and the fact that it's on the third floor and has no windows.
Hang on, that last bit wasn't right.

I mean, it was right about the lack of windows. One strange thing about this place but not something you really care too much about, once you 'start your engines' and drink.
To get to the place, you have to walk about 5 minutes from Shibuya Station. Go across the Hachiko and take the pedestrianised side street that carries on up past the left side of Starbucks and the giant Tv screen. Walk about 250m and you'll see a Union Jack flying about 4m up, on your right. Go into that building and go to the 3rd floor.
If you have trouble, you may want to check out this guy's choppy video directions form Shibuya station:

First thing you'll notice is the interesting double door entrance that seems to invoke an alternative state of reality. Rather, it takes you into another dimension, transporting you through time and space to a dark but not smoky British pub:
There is standing room and seated/benched tables for around 50 or possible more.
On the left is the well equipped bar. The kitchen is just before that (Chuck Norris does a pretty good pasty). The bar is the high point for me, as I love good beer. They have 19 beers on draught. Quite impressive. The quality of their beers is also usually very good. I've had my best pint of Rogue Brewer and Echigo ESB in this bar. Prices are around the 1,000yen mark. They usualy have three or four guest beers every week. They range from Japanese craft brews to world beers that are hard to find elsewhere. Keep checking their website for details.

Here's the owner and one of the beautiful (and intelligent) ladies who work there and bring a little sunshine into the dark and gloomy world of men:
2 more shots of the taps:
They also have an impressive colection of music, playable upon request (as long as you request what they are going to play...or not. I tried to get the theme tune to Indiana Jones, but they didn't have it.)

The food is not bad. I think the pasty is best. Though I haven't tried the pork lever putty (?) or the Welsh rabbit yet (those rabbits are pretty fast, back home in Wales): If you do decide to order food, perhaps you should print out this coupon first:
It'll save you 300yen.

As for the beer, the best beer on offer at present is, I feel, the Echigo ESB:
Echigo ESB - 7.5/10
Isn't she beautiful? A little dry, fruity taste reminiscent of american West coast brews but still has enough malts to be a smooth drink. Quite a well balanced pint, I think.

This is one of the guest beers, which means unfortunately that it will be gone in a week or two.
However, I'm confident one if it's replacements will more than suffice to satiate.

Of the house beers, I recommend the Harly Porter. Very nice. Malty, rasted malt flavors and not too dry or strong. A little smooth. Not as creamy as a Guinness. One can find Guinness anywhere, so this beer is the more interesting choice. They don't offer a tasting set (which I think would be a good idea) but if you're really lucky, you may be able to coax a tiny sample out of the manager - ooer.
Just be gentle with the fork.

I liked the Echigo ESB so much that I only drank that, the last two times I went there.
Here's a shot of a Kostrizer (the 'German Guinness'?), gently roasting it's nuts by the fire:
Of the British bars I've been to in Japan, only the Meguro Lion seems to be more authentic in apeearance and ambience to what I love about pubs back home. The nearby Hobgoblin and Dubliners pubs are also 'authentic'(ish) but in a more modern style. Sadly, this style seems to be taking over these days - loud, bright, lager swillers hangouts.
As for The Aldgate, I think myself lucky that the way of the ale can still survive in places like this.

Verdict: The Aldgate - 8/10

Why not pay it a visit? You never know what may happen there.
(she though I was a guitarist of a thrash band that she really fancied)

p.s. just to prove it's not so easy to find this place, here's a clip of when I walked straight past it (I've done that sooooo many times) whilst drunk (done that many times, too). Caution - contains swearing and one drunken idiot: