Note to self: when you are at a beer festival, it’s best to go with your gut instinct of voice-recording your comments on the beers into your phone instead of trying to write them down. You can barely read your own writing when you are sober, and participating breweries will fill your commemorative half-pint glass full each time. With your penchant for stouts and, speaking of half-pints, your stature, you can’t expect to produce anything legible or necessarily logical three drinks in, let alone five or six.
Also, don’t forget to begin each audio entry with, “Diane–.”
The Tanabata Beer Festa Toyama, held the first full weekend of July each year in Toyama City, Toyama, is one of Hokuriku’s only beer festivals. Miraculously, my husband and I were both free of obligations that Sunday and hopped the train south with a couple of our friends for an afternoon of craft beer. I hadn’t been to a beer festival since I left Michigan three years ago, so I was beyond thrilled.
What does one drink when confronted with 20 breweries’ worth of Japan’s finest craft beer? Make a game plan. When I attended the Michigan Brewers’ Guild Summer Beer Festival, I decided to only drink cherry beers, as those are much harder to get on draft than stouts. This time, after three years of living deprived of regular access to stouts, I circled 5 stouts I’d like to try, got a pizza for lunch, and set to work drinking.
To save money, we got a 2200-yen ticket package that included 5 drinks and a commemorative glass. The other options were 10 drinks and a handmade glass or 10 drinks and the regular glass for 3600 or 3700 yen, respectively. The festival is free to attend, so if you don’t want to commit to a glass and round of tickets, you could certainly pop in for a drink and a pizza and just pay as you go.
We didn’t know what to expect about the amount of beer a ticket would buy. At the Michigan Beer Festival, we got 12 tokens and a Solo cup that vendors filled 1/2 to 3/4 full. The Tanabata 8-oz (240 mL) commemorative glass was filled to the brim each time! The 5-ticket package is a good one to start with, although if you go in a group, you could save money by having one person get a 10-ticket package and dividing the extra.
Kinshachi’s Imperial Stout (金しゃちのインペリアルスタウト）
Since I was planning to other drink stouts, I decided to start with one that I thought might sell out. Of course, this is Japan, where lighter beers are more popular, and we came early in the day, so there was no problem. This imperial stout has nice coffee overtones and a small head, but isn’t as complex as most imperial stouts I’ve had. Definitely enjoyable and one I would buy for myself but not exceptional.
Iwate Kura Beer’s Oyster Stout (いわて蔵ビールのオイスタースタウト)
Cheruko, who attended the festival the day before I did, recommended the Oyster Stout, which was excellent. The flavor profile is subtle for a dark beer and leans more toward coffee than chocolate. What is interesting about the beer is its creamy, “high-note trajectory” finish. We’re creative with our descriptions here on IMIM! and Friends.
Craft Beer Ohya Brasserie’s Arinomi (オオヤブラッスリーのアリノミ）
Camped out at a standing counter, I spotted a sign that read 梨 (nashi) on the vendor closest to us. I love nashi (Asian pears) and sometimes enjoy fruit beers, so I decided that because I had read the kanji correctly, I would reward myself with a beer. My husband recorded my review on the phone and I will spare you the video, but everyone laughed when I called the beer a “palate cleanser.” What I should have said was that it was a light, refreshing beer with a crisp, clean flavor, sort of like pear juice with alcohol in it. The Arinomi is not overly sweet or syrupy, like some fruit beers can be. Thoroughly enjoyable and perhaps a good beer for pairing with a meal in place of white wine.
Swan Lake Beer’s Porter (スワンレイクビールのポーター)
A dark, complex porter with tones of coffee. At this point my notes are very hard to read. I had to check with three people one word I had written that I couldn’t figure out. Crumbly? Amber? Apparently it was complex.
Ise Kadoya Beer‘s Brown Ale (伊勢角屋麦酒のブラウンエール)
This beer was not as bitter as I expected but had a hoppy, caramel flavor. In a true moment of in vino veritas, the beer was described as “strong, simple, and honest.”
One of our friends had 10 tickets and a Japanese festival-goer I chatted to had more tickets than he wanted, so I got an additional two beers!
Matsue Hearn‘s Chocolat No. 7 2010 (松江地ビールビアへるんのチョコラNo. 7 2010)
I’ve been waiting for you. This chocolate beer is far better than the Sapporo-Royce one (which apparently was not sold in 2012) and has a bitter chocolate flavor.
Niigata Beer‘s Aroma Black Tea Ale (新潟麦酒のアロマ紅茶エール)
This beer looks and smells like tea. Very aromatic and hardly tastes like beer. Reminded me of a cold hot toddy.
Other beers I sampled from our party’s glasses:
Ise Kadoya Beer‘s Beer of the Day: Yuzunoka (伊勢角屋麦酒のゆずのか): a yuzu beer
Swan Lake Beer‘s Amber Swan Ale (スワンレイクのアンバースワンエール): “The amber that thinks it’s a stout!”
Nihonkai Club’s Brown IPA (日本海倶楽部ブラウンIPA): A new beer: a bitter, brown IPA. I don’t usually like IPAs, but this was not bad.
Minami Shinsyu Beer‘s Dunkel Weizen (南信州ビールのデゥンケルヴァイツエン): a well rounded weizen.
Craft Beer Ohya Brasserie’s ‘s Honeybee-san’s Feast (オオヤブラッスリーみつ蜂さんの宴): A honey-lemon beer. “How is this beer?” This tastes like a delicious cold remedy.”
At the end of the festival, you can give a ticket to your favorite brewery as a people’s choice award. My friends let me give some of theirs out, so I went around like Oprah–“And you get a vote! And you! And you!” I didn’t try any of Minoh‘s or Nihonkai Club’s because I already know I like them, but I did give them tickets for being awesome.
1 Johana Beer (城端麦酒,) Toyama 97 votes
2 Ise Kadoya Beer (伊勢角屋麦酒), Mie 70
3 Ohya Brasserie (オオヤブラッスリー), Toyama 63
4 Baeren Beer (ベアレン醸造所), Iwate 62
5 Iwate Kura Beer (いわて蔵ビール ), Iwate 60
6 Minoh Beer (箕面ビール), Osaka 59
7 Shiga Kôgen Beer (志賀高原ビール), Nagano 57
8 Coedo Beer (コエドビール), Saitama 52
9 Fuji Zakura Heights Beer (富士桜高原麦酒), Yamanashi 44
10 Minami Shinsyu Beer (南信州ビール), Nagano 42
I also got a bilingual “Bad Beer is the Enemy” t-shirt from Japan Beer Times, a bilingual publication that is a must-read if you like craft beer. They won my heart when they did an issue on women brewers. Keep up the good work!
If only there were more beer festivals in the area…. 頑張れ、北陸！
For a list of all the breweries and more on the festival, check out http://www.beerfesta-toyama.jp/ (Japanese only)
What’s your favorite Japanese craft beer?