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

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