[Posted September 27] In one day 42 judges evaluated 250 beer entries in Japan Craft Beer Association’s International Beer Competition. 32 breweries, 16 countries, 87 beer categories. In judging lingo we planned on commencing the next day in two flights; morning and afternoon – but we never leave the ground. Judging beer is always a well grounded way to fly. “We hope you enjoyed your flight and fly with us again.” Yes I would and will again.
When not preparing for judging our itinerary was as crowded as the city of Tokyo is with people, vehicles, buildings and roadways. Jamming seemed to be the theme during our stay in Tokyo, but not one of the 17 international judges was complaining. In the back of my mind I was humming “…Jamming, jamming, jamming…I hope you like jamming too…” There was always beer at the table at every destination – and it was excellent craft beer.
Le Beau Mariage (The Good Marriage) was the Japan Craft Beer Association’s inaugural food and beer pairing event; modeled after the Brewers Association’s SAVOR. While the attendance was relatively small, it was designed to be an introductory event for something bigger in years to come. The event took place August 24 at the 300 year old Japanese Garden Happo-en. Le Beau Mariage was stellar and elegant with high quality food and beer pairings. How does one capture the spirit of such an event? I’ll remember the Shiso flavored ale; Dutch PINT, ECBU (European Beer Consumers Union) and good beer protagonist Jos. Brouwer and I played around with a nearby Japanese brewed Saison and blended it with the Shiso beer – a spontaneous creation of an “Indigenous” style beer that seemed to be perfect. Melon beer brewed by a Okinawa craft brewer, there was a fermented bean beer and Hitachino Nest’s contract brewed Brooklyn Lager fresh, amber and hoppy in aroma and flavor. About 50 Japanese craft brewers represented their beers from Hokkaido Island in the north to Okinawa in the south. Stone IPA was there, so was award winning German Plank Brewery’s Pils, along with Dos Equis, Belgian Cantilion, Rodenbach and Chimay.
Beer Enthusiasts, brewers from around the world, journalists, beer importers and retailers were ecstatic, never having experienced anything like this event. I speak with one trading company based in Japan that imports and distributes American craft beers throughout Japan. He indicates the laws in Japan permit the shipping of cold beer via UPS and FEDEX – yes he explained that in Japan FEDEX offers refrigerated delivery. What a concept! The beer is in refrigerated storage between brewery and retailer; it is shipped within the USA as refrigerated freight, shipped by ocean in refrigerated containers and then refrigerated during local deliveries. It’s a great model for the relatively low volumes of beer being handled these days. But I wonder how the system can handle the foreseen growth. For now it’s a good thing. Japan may have some strange and eccentric laws, but on the distribution side is it much more relaxed than in the USA. The Japanese for whatever reason don’t seem to get entangled in distribution matters, all the while doing a profitable business.
Is our evening finished? Hardly. It’s 8:30 p.m.and Japan Craft Beer Association President Ryouji Oda is piling 17 international judges into a bus on our way to more beer and food at Tokyo’s legendary Popeyes. Owner and founder Aoki Tatsuo greet all of us and the beer and food continue to flow. If you’re a beer enthusiast and find yourself in Tokyo there is every reason in the world to get your glass to Popeyes.
Next: A few more craft beer centric pub, International Craft Beer Conference
- Discovering craft beer in Japan
- Yokohama City of craft beer surprises