Baird Beer Taproom Pub Crawl

Last Saturday I dragged four friends along on a tour of the Baird Beer Taprooms starting in Numazu. We had a miracle start to the trip. I’d planned on catching a 9:41 train from Yokohama, an express out to Atami, but we weren’t able to get through the gates until the minute hand was just about right on the :41, so I just kind of moseyed over to the escalator assuming that we’d end up on the next train and stood on the slow ride up to the platform. When we got to the top the train was still there for some reason, and the door-closing music had only just started playing. I turned to see where the four others were behind me. Teppey was close, but we shared a look – there’s no way we’re getting on this train, right? Slowy Rei, Junichi, and Adam ascended the escalator as the music continued, and we stepped slowly toward the doors as a group. Then suddenly we were on the train and moving to the West at 9:43am:

Baird Beer Taproom Pub Crawl from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

Numazu Fishmarket Taproom

The original Taproom. The brewery used to be on the first floor until they outgrew it. Great atmosphere, great view of the fish market from the counter along the window. And the pints are all 200 yen cheaper than the other Taprooms – your bonus gift for making the trek out to Shizuoka. The food was very impressive as well. I highly recommend everything we tried, especially the chicken wings which I don’t normally like. I was a bit disappointed there were no exclusive beers available – the first time I visited, there were a couple new selections and lots of older bottles available The beers we had were: Nihon Monogatari Ale, Old World Kolsch, German Summer Ale, Hop Havoc Anniversary Ale, Shimaguni Stout, Numazu Lager, Red Rose Amber Ale. We also picked up bottles of the Wheat King and Single-take Session Ale for the train.

Bashamichi Taproom

The newest and most well-appointed Taproom. Three floors of beer and barbecue goodness in a great part of Yokohama. I have to admit that I have been disappointed by the barbecue; what they offer is good – really good – but when I think barbecue, I think pulled pork, and there was none to be had. I was told, however, that they offer it occasionally. I think the chicken was the most flavorful of all the meat we tried, but I’d like to try the sandwiches at some point. Of all the Taprooms, this is by far the nicest space. There are tables on the roof, which will be amazing when the weather cools down a little, and the second floor is nice and open and surrounded by brick and wood. Free darts! The beers we had were: Bashamichi Ale, Rising Sun Pale Ale, Wheat King.

Harajuku Taproom

The third Taproom, right off of Takeshita-dori – quite a juxtaposition with the wacky Harajuku fashion scene. I love the food at this Taproom. It’s slightly upscale yakitori – everything is nicer than you’d find at a ガード下 location. Don’t miss out on the gyoza or the potato salad, and of course all the chicken is great as well. Also the smallest space of the four Taprooms, so it fills up quickly and seems more full than the other locations. We had: Harajuku Ale, Shimaguni Stout, Single-take Session Ale (I believe…this was the only location where I forgot to film close-ups of the beers themselves, so I’m forced to judge from afar.)

Nakameguro Taproom

The first Tokyo Taproom, second Taproom overall. They’ve done some redecoration since I last visited, and now there the vibe is much comfier – there are sofas in one of the corners and some smaller more intimate tables. The food is the least remarkable of all the Taprooms – unfortunately Nakameguro Taproom has been the big loser of the expansion (in my opinion). I’d choose Harajuku or Bashamichi over it, partially out of convenience but also because of food selection. Nakameguro does serve imported guest beers at decent prices, which offers a refreshing change, and they also have the very sessionable (3.7% ABV) Nakameguro Bitter on hand pump. We had: Naka-meguro Bitter, Old World Kolsch, Green Flash West Coast IPA, Caldera Amber Ale, Suruga Bay IPA.

Notes:

- Very impressed with the Single-take Session Ale as a new addition to the regular lineup. Great beer. Definitely my go-to Baird Beer.

- I’m disappointed we weren’t able to go (for Seishun 18 Kippu reasons) a few weeks earlier when the Cool Breeze Summer Pils was on. Nice beer. Also disappointed that the Sayuri Saison wasn’t available, although I managed a pint at Ushitora’s third anniversary.

- Other Baird Beers I miss: rauchbier he made back in fall of 2008 and the strawberry something in the summer of 2008. I haven’t seen either since, and they were nice. Don’t remember anything specific about the rauch, but it’s always nice to see that style. Hard to compete with Fujizakura, though. And the strawberry beer had this weird metallic aftertaste…not unpleasant after the first few sips…which I hope sounds like a compliment.

- I feel like Baird has done impressive expansion, but I’d like to see the beers available in more grocery stores and other easy-access locations. I guess this is asking the impossible, though: the latest macrobeer craze is beer that can be served on ice. Boo.

Drink for Japan Results

Saturday, April 2, Avenue Pub hosted Jetaa NOLA and our guests who all came to Drink for Japan!

Polly at Avenue got in touch with me in March after I tweeted that I was going to meet with Jetaa about putting together a New Orleans-based earthquake relief fund. The NOLA Japan Quake Fund was established, and two weeks later we had an event thanks to her help and Jetaa volunteers.

Jetaa NOLA and Japan Club members helped man the doors and take tickets:

We also had great sponsors. Taqueria Corona donated guacamole, pico de gallo, and chips:

Santa Fe also donated food and people to help serve it. One of the guys from Santa Fe could speak some Japanese and was curious about JET.

People started to show up right on time at 3pm, and pretty soon we had a nice crowd up in Avenue’s balcony bar. Altogether we had over 100 people attend.

Together For Japan was in the house selling their T-shirts for the cause:

We sold raffle tickets and gave away some great prize packages thanks to Dirty Coast, Creole Creamery, Taqueria Corona, Bonerama, and Papa Grows Funk. And I can’t forget to thank all our beer geeks: The prize packages all included some rare beer donated by Vasu, Dylan Lintern, Jeremy BeerBuddha Labadie, and myself. Vasu gave a quick rundown of the beers included in the prize packages:

Doug Tassin (Fukushima ’07-’10) was the MC for the raffle. Here are some of our winners:

Altogether, we raised over $4743 plus some online donations!

I can’t say enough about Polly and the staff at Avenue Pub. Polly was extremely generous and helpful – she volunteered to donate all sales during the event and the sales of Japanese beer for a full day. She also helped arrange donations from all of the local liquor/beer distributors – Crescent Crown, Glazer’s, Shelton Brothers, Southern Eagle, and Abita – as well as food from Santa Fe, which just opened a new location across the street. The staff donated back $108 in tips that they made during the event, and they were very welcoming as always.

Talking with Polly and the staff, I got the sense that they felt the same way as Jetaa NOLA did: We did this not only because we have a connection to Japan, but also because it was the right thing to do. It goes beyond some philanthropic obligation to something greater.

The NOLA Japan Quake Fund has not chosen where the money will go yet, but I will be following the decision closely. I will share any information here, and I’m even hoping I can somehow follow the money trail and see exactly how we help.

If you have any photos from the event, please send them to me and I’ll add them to this post. Thanks for drinking for Japan!

Katrina and the Quake

A month after I arrived in Japan on the JET Program, Hurricane Katrina hit my hometown New Orleans. I had been placed in Nishiaizu, Fukushima Prefecture, a small town of 8000 people nestled in the mountains on the northwestern edge of the prefecture. My supervisor told me it would probably be okay to go back to the U.S. and help out if I needed to, but what could I do? A good portion of the city was under water, and my family had already evacuated to Memphis. I stayed and watched from afar.

At night I drank beer, watched CNN, and wrote angry Livejournal posts wondering why the O’Brien family of journalists had exchanges like these on international television:

Soledad: Clearly something is burning off in the distance.
Miles: It’s still burning. Clearly no sign of it being put out.

Clearly.

And now, nearly six years later, I find myself in the same position. I moved back to New Orleans last summer, so I’ve been forced to watch news from abroad and trace the paths of friends in Japan from Facebook status updates and Twitter feeds. Apparently, the journalists from outside are bad and the government response is slow, just like in New Orleans.

However, I’m confident that Japan will recover because I’ve realized that Japan is, secretly, just like New Orleans. They both pride themselves on the strangeness of their culture, they both eat really weird things, and they both love to drink beer outdoors. More importantly, they are both geographically exceptional; New Orleans was founded on the soft alluvial deposits of the Mississippi River Delta and Japan on the intersection of tectonic plates. If New Orleans can recover (and it has), then surely Japan can. Chin up, Japan.

The other reassuring part about being in New Orleans is that I’m in more of a position to help. Japan has a special place in its heart for New Orleans, as evidenced by the $44 million in aid it provided after Katrina. I don’t think New Orleans will approach that amount, but we can certainly try.

A consortium of Japan groups here in town has banded together to create the NOLA Japan Quake Fund. We raised over $8000 during our first day online, and that was without the assistance of any events. There will be a number of events all over town, so please follow @NOLA4Japan to keep up with the latest information. I’ll probably be broadcasting the information on my own feed as well.

Based on the response we’ve already had, we’re hoping to raise a good chunk of change – something approaching $100,000 if not more. This isn’t an impossibility. We already have many different groups who want to contribute to the fund. I’m involved with two in particular: Saturday, April 2 will be “Drink For Japan” at Avenue Pub, and on Sunday, April 10, Rock n Bowl will be hosting a celebration of prominent local bands that feature Japanese musicians – it’s going to be an all-start lineup, so be on the lookout for more information.

Please spread this info as widely as possible, especially if you are in the New Orleans area.

Discomfort, the Diminishing Returns of Language Study, and Linguistic Tolerance

I have an article on the Japan Times Bilingual Page today. This time there isn’t much of a language lesson. It’s more of a motivational story-type article, which means you should feel free to disregard it completely. The story I tell in the article is true, and you can see the results of it – I made a video of the pub crawl, and Brian has photos on his site.

I went out with the girls a couple times after that and didn’t experience the same level of linguistic discomfort, so I’m not exactly sure why I had so much trouble that time in Shibuya. The one thing it reminds me of is having good days and bad days in language class. When I was in college, some days everything would go as planned and other days I’d be unable to say anything at all or totally forget we had a kanji quiz. The only thing that matters now is that I powered through it and got to a very comfortable level of fluency. I still have good days and bad days, but I try to soldier through everything the best I can. It’s important to push yourself whenever you start to feel the limits of your abilities, whether it’s reading or speaking or writing. Building linguistic tolerance is a very real thing.

Don’t get discouraged when you start to encounter the diminishing returns of language study. Do whatever it takes to power through. Once you’re on the other side, you’ll probably find out that it was worth it.

号外 – Lagunitas Hop Stoopid Ale

Style: American Double/Imperial IPA
ABV: 8%
Grade: A-

The final beer from my Japanese beer trade with Drew over at 365 Beers! Thanks for humoring me this far – this is it for foreign beer reviews.

Poured the entire contents of this bomber into my usuhari über-pint glass. The aroma is a bit of hops but mostly malt at this point – I think the month the beers spent sitting in my fridge muted the aroma profiles of a lot of the beers Drew sent me. The bittering hops are all still there, a really nice balance with the malty body. This one reminds me a lot of the Alpha King, but with a stronger hop bite. It disguises the alcohol well, so the 8% goes down relatively smooth. Unfortunately this beer is not available in New Orleans, so this is it for a while. I saw it for sale at a supermarket in Kansas City for $3.99 – fantastic value.

I’m not sure what I did to get this photo to look so cool. The bottle and the pint glass both look like they are leaning in diagonally. Maybe getting so close up fish-eyed the shot a bit.

Check out Drew’s reviews of Japanese beers:

Yona Yona Ao-oni IPA
Takashi Imperial Stout
Sapporo Royce Chocolat Brewery
Fujizakura St Valentine’s Chocolate Wheat
Baird Beer Dark Sky Imperial Stout

号外 – Great Lakes Brewing Co. Blackout Stout

Style: Russian Imperial Stout
ABV: 9%
Grade: B+

Second to last beer. I knew that Drew is a huge fan of Imperial Stouts, so I was looking forward to this beer. Also, Great Lakes Brewing is based in Cleveland, Ohio, so I’m sure a lot of residents are swilling this at the moment to distract themselves from their NBA free agency woes.

Pours thick with a big creamy head – in my Yebisu taster it looks like Yebisu black, but it’s much, much thicker. All roast, chocolate and alcohol in the nose. No sign of hops at all. No hops readily apparent in the taste either. There’s a slight alcohol burn at the beginning, then the roastiness and finally a bit of sweetness at the end. Perhaps I’m mistaking a trace of hops for sweetness. Great example of the style – a beer that should be taken slowly, preferably in cold weather. Fortunately the air conditioning in New Orleans make it feel like an eternal autumn.

Check out Drew’s reviews of Japanese beers:

Yona Yona Ao-oni IPA
Takashi Imperial Stout
Sapporo Royce Chocolat Brewery
Fujizakura St Valentine’s Chocolate Wheat
Baird Beer Dark Sky Imperial Stout

号外 – Tröegs Nugget Nectar

Style: Imperial Amber
ABV: 7.5%
Grade: A

Although the bottle claims this as an Imperial Amber, the color is nice and coppery, even slightly lighter than the Three Floyds Alpha King Pale Ale. Nice combination of hops and malt in the nose, and this is matched equally well in the taste. I like the fact that this “Imperial” beer is 7.5% alcohol – very restrained, and it shows in the overall balance. The caramel malt remind me of the Arrogant Bastard, but that has slightly higher caramel. (There are different grades of caramel – I believe 20, 40, 60 and 80. They are increasingly roasted and produce a darker, more robust caramel flavor the higher you get. I discovered this by adding too much caramel 60 to a batch I made once.) The hop profile is also restrained – nice and piney, but not over the top (“treacly,” as my friend Paul would say) like some beers (ahem, Green Flash West Coast IPA). Not sure if I’ll be able to find this again, but I could see myself being in the mood for this every now and then.

While I’m thinking about it, why not make official categories for Imperial beers? Put session beers in the 0.00% to 3.5% range, beer in the 4.0% to 5.5% range, Imperials in the 6.0% to 8.0% range and then create a double Imperial category for anything 9% or higher. There’s got to be a way to wrangle this overexuberance for ABV. When I am king, so shall it be.

Check out Drew’s reviews of Japanese beers:

Yona Yona Ao-oni IPA
Takashi Imperial Stout
Sapporo Royce Chocolat Brewery
Fujizakura St Valentine’s Chocolate Wheat
Baird Beer Dark Sky Imperial Stout

号外 – Lagunitas Imperial Red Ale

Style: Imperial Red Ale
ABV: 7.5%
Grade: A-

Poured this into my Yebisu Japanese-size beer glasses. They are designed so that when drinking with friends or coworkers you will have plenty of opportunities to pour for them. Japanese drinking parties always begin and end very orderly, but the in between is a chaos of changing seats as people walk around with beer bottles, looking to pour for people as a sign of respect. The glasses also work perfectly as sippers for stronger beers.

This beer is a nice amber color, and there is a lot of caramel malt in the nose, which overpowers the hops. The hops are definitely present in the beer, though – the bittering hops at the beginning of the taste rather than the aroma hops. The malt flavors are a rollercoaster. Very nice beer. Similar to the Stone 13th Anniversary beer, but I prefer the Lagunitas Imperial Red because it’s not as sweet as the Stone – it was almost nauseatingly malty when I had it on tap at Craftheads in Shibuya. (Actually, that was the beer that ended the “Stone Winter Storm” for me – I switched to the Fujizakura Rauch for the rest of the evening.) The Stone is 9.5%, which I think is a bit excessive. Yes, I realize it’s an “Imperial” beer, but I think 7 or 8% is plenty to get that point across.

I believe this was my first Lagunitas beer. Looking forward to more in the future, and at least one in the near future.

Check out Drew’s reviews of Japanese beers:

Yona Yona Ao-oni IPA
Takashi Imperial Stout
Sapporo Royce Chocolat Brewery
Fujizakura St Valentine’s Chocolate Wheat
Baird Beer Dark Sky Imperial Stout

号外 – Bell’s Hopslam Ale

Style: American Double/Imperial IPA
ABV: 10.0%
Grade: A+

Pours a brilliant golden color, much lighter than a lot of IPAs and even a lot of pale ales these days, notably the Three Floyds Pale Ale I reviewed previously. Not an overpowerful hop nose, but still there – understated just like the color. The bottle notes that it’s brewed with honey, and I think I can make out the flavor just slightly but not the aroma; the hops sort of make the honey addition a wash, so I’m not quite sure why they added it. It’d be really neat if they had a version with and without honey – that would be a great taste test. The bitterness has a great build and then crests nicely into the finish. Solid beer.

And wow, I just realized it’s 10% ABV, making it an Imperial IPA, something that is not readily apparent from the bottle alone – there’s actually no style listed. It disguises the alcohol very well and is surprisingly dry and crisp for an Imperial. I’ve definitely become somewhat curmudgeonly in my opinion of strong, sweet beers, but this one takes the category to a different level and makes it apparent why they used honey – to bump up the ABV without adding too much heaviness to the beer. I was leaning toward A- before I knew that this was an Imperial beer, but now it definitely gets the A+.

The only worrisome fact is that honey beers leave wicked hangovers. This is one to be careful with.

Check out Drew’s reviews of Japanese beers:

Yona Yona Ao-oni IPA
Takashi Imperial Stout
Sapporo Royce Chocolat Brewery
Fujizakura St Valentine’s Chocolate Wheat
Baird Beer Dark Sky Imperial Stout

号外 – Three Floyds Alpha King

At some point last year a friend sent me the link to 365 Days…365 Beers, a beer blog run by Drew, a guy who drinks great beer, takes great photos, and makes great websites. (And has a great mustache.) I sent him a bunch of beer from Japan to taste, and in exchange he sent me some bottles from his collection. They’ve been sitting in my refrigerator since April, awaiting my repatriation. I got in on Monday and promptly cracked one open. I’ll be reviewing them once a week over the next month.

Style: American Pale Ale
ABV: 6.00%
Grade: B+

I spent this past weekend drinking almost exclusively Harpoon IPA, so I hope my pallete isn’t too skewed. Here goes nothing…

Of all the beers Drew sent, I was most excited to try this one. Three Floyds is notoriously hard to get a hold of and generally gets great reviews. It’s expensive in Japan and occasionally available at Craftheads and Sal’s, bottled and on tap. It’s completely unavailable in New Orleans and most of the U.S. outside of Indiana. I had the Gumballhead American pale wheat beer and Dreadnaught IPA at Sal’s on tap as well as a bottle of Popskull Imperial Brown Ale (a Dogfish Head collaboration) from a bottle at Craftheads. Dreadnaught was good, Popskull was great, and Gumballhead was superlative. I was excited to see the Three Floyds take on pale ale.

Poured the 12 oz bottle into my Dry Dock glass. The aroma is heavy on caramel, and it’s obvious from the copper color that this pushes the limits of the pale ale category toward amber. The hops are well-balanced and not overstated at all; I’m not getting much in terms of aroma (maybe it’s been toned down in the aging process), but there is a pleasant lingering bitterness – definitely worthy of “Alpha King” status. (Alpha acids are the acids in hops that create the bitterness we, or at least I, love.) The malt presence is very heavy. It wouldn’t have surprised me if this beer was called “Arrogant Bastard Lite,” although it tastes much drier than a Stone beer.

I gave this beer a B+ and consider it just as good as the Dreadnaught. I would like to try them again side by side – I don’t have any distinct memories of the Dreadnaught other than that it was good but not great.

Check out Drew’s reviews of Japanese beers:

Yona Yona Ao-oni IPA
Takashi Imperial Stout
Sapporo Royce Chocolat Brewery
Fujizakura St Valentine’s Chocolate Wheat
Baird Beer Dark Sky Imperial Stout