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

Ret’s Rink – 1Q84, Beer vs. Mutant Beer, Shibuya Station Pub Crawl, Facebook Page

Well, for various reasons I canceled my Europe trip. I’m bummed out about it, but it might be for the best – I’m moving back to the U.S. at the end of May to go to graduate school, and the extra time in Japan will enable me to say my goodbyes properly and to round up five years’ worth of belongings. I’m confident that I’ll get to Europe soon, maybe as soon as June or July.

How to Japonese will continue now and post-repatriation, but posting will be light until the beginning of June. Hopefully once a week. Today I’m just passing on some links with a bit of additional information.

The knock-on effect of Murakami’s “1Q84” series

This is my post on Japan Pulse about 1Q84 Book 3. I went to lunch in Yokohama Thursday and stopped in a bookstore after eating. The book hadn’t been released yet, but the displays were already stocked with 1Q84-related material. His complete 文庫本 back catalog, his translations, books mentioned in 1Q84. Pretty impressive. Murakami has made it easy with his prolific name-dropping. I’m about 120 pages in, and so far not much has happened, but the names keep coming. Since I wrote the article, he has started quoting extensive passages from Isak Deneson’s Out of Africa.

Major beer companies diet excessively while craft brewers beef up

I also wrote about the beer scene after being inspired by the Yokohama Spring Beer Party. It was on Sunday, April 11, as was the Japan Craft Beer Selection 2010 hosted by Popeye at the Bunkyo Kumin Center. The two events couldn’t be more different. I attended the Beer Selection last year, and the goal of the six and half hour event was to carefully judge all Japanese craft beers. Or at least all the beers entered in the competition. It starts with a lecture on how to judge beer, then continues to a practice tasting, after which the 100 or so participants undertake blind taste tests by style and fill out cards rating each beer’s bitterness, maltiness, aroma, mouthfeel and more. Last year they announced the winners on the spot, but this year beers that are selected continue on to the final round, which will be held on May 16th at Popeye.

The Yokohama Spring Beer Party, on the other hand, was a relaxed, picnic atmosphere. There were over two dozen beers, and it was all-you-can-drink for 2000 yen – quite a deal. Later in the afternoon there was even an impromptu 記念写真 with nearly all 500 participants along the Yokohama harbor. Several brewers were there, as were the staff from many of the Kanto-area bars. The contrast of the events, to me, showed that good beer is starting to go mainstream as well as otaku (it’s probably been otaku for a while now, actually). Very cool to see the frequency and variety of different beer events available in Japan.

Now if only we can get the tax laws changed. Seriously, someone should do something about this.

The great Shibuya Station beer-lover’s pub crawl

I also have a pub crawl review on CNNGo Tokyo. Five great beers from five great bars in Shibuya. I made a video of the crawl, which you can see here:

Shibuya Station Circumnavigation Great Beer Pub Crawl from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

And finally, I made a Facebook page for How to Japonese, so feel free to follow the feed over there.

Yokohama 開港 Great Beer Pub Crawl

I was totally overwhelmed by Yokohama the first time I visited. I was writing for a travel guide and had just spent three days reviewing Kamakura, a more manageable city in terms of transportation options, sites, and accommodation. When I got to Yokohama Station, the sheer number of train lines, hotels, department stores, and restaurants was a total shock – I had no idea what to cover and what to ignore, no ability to distinguish between the signal and the noise. At one point I walked out of the west side of the station and there was a homeless guy standing just under an awning, pissing freely out into the falling rain.

So let’s just say that Yokohama has been an acquired taste.

I’ve done most of the acquiring since I moved to Tokyo in 2008. When I discovered that Yokohama Station was only 15 minutes away by train (I miraculously live exactly halfway between Tokyo and Yokohama), I quickly opened Chuwy’s boozelist and found that Cheers and Thrash Zone were close by and that Thrash was serving Arrogant Bastard on tap. Since then the Yokohama Station scene has grown on me. I’ve always thought that the people in Yokohama Station have a slightly different demeanor and atmosphere than people in other places in Greater Kanto, and I think I’ve finally realized why: Yokohama Station is an enormous transportation hub on the same scale as Tokyo Station, but there aren’t as many tourists (both foreign and domestic). It’s a mass confusion of people, but almost everyone knows where they’re going – There is purpose in Yokohama.

I also love that you can prefix anything with 開港 and instantly evoke a Yokohama theme.

I’ve wanted to check out the rest of the Yokohama great beer scene for a while now, but I only got around to it this past weekend. I went to three new bars and two old ones and produced the following video:

Yokohama 開港 Great Beer Pub Crawl from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

Craft Beer Bar

Of the three new bars I went to for this crawl, Craft Beer was easily my favorite. The bar is down a narrow side street just a few blocks from Kannai Station. There are about 10 counter seats and two tables. It’s a small place, but extremely stylish: lots of dark hardwood around the bar, a stack of shibori in the bathroom instead of hand towels, and the super-thin Kimura “usu-hari” glassware makes it feel like you are drinking a pint of beer out of thin air. The guy who runs the place dresses formally, which adds to the atmosphere, and pours a very generous pint – if you’re looking for foam, you’ll have to search elsewhere.

This was also my first realization that there is a significant difference between Tokyo and Yokohama pricing. All pints at Craft Beer are 1000 yen, and glasses are 700 yen. I ordered a Swan Lake Belgian IPA, which I believe cost me over 1200 yen at the Bulldog last month.

All of the beer is from local Japanese craftbeer companies, and in addition to the 10 Japanese beers on tap, two of which are hand pumps, there is a ridiculous selection of scotch.

Final Answer: A very friendly little bar with lots of regular customers. Highly recommended if you’re looking for a quiet place to enjoy some ji-biiru.

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Full Monty

Less than a block from Yokohama Stadium is Full Monty, a British-style pub with much more space than Craft Beer and more options on the food menu. There are couches, counters, and tables for seating, and the menu is filled with tasty food like fish and chips, steak and chips, meat pie and chips, spam egg sausage spam bacon and chips, etc. I only ordered a basket of chips myself – which was 500 yen yet generously filled with piping hot crinkly-cut chips – but the fish and chips looked seriously tasty as did the meat pie. I think my next venture to Yokohama will be dinner at Full Monty followed by beers at Craftbeer.

Full Monty has a half dozen beers with regulars like Guinness, Hobgoblin, Bass, and Super Dry, but there are also a few guest beers, which Saturday night were Rogue Yellow Snow IPA, Shakespeare Stout, and Fuller’s Jack Frost. The price point is very nice, as it was at Craftbeer. 1000 yen for an almost frighteningly large Imperial Pint of London Pride. Other regular beers were the same, with smaller sizes for 800 and 600 yen. Guest beers were slightly pricier, I believe, at 1000 yen for the medium size (which may be a US pint).

Final Answer: Great place to go with a group and definitely offers the best food of any of the beer bars in Yokohama.

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Pivovar may not feel like a bar at first, especially if there is a wedding reception taking place upstairs as there often is. Don’t be shy, though – go on in. The second floor is a large space for the restaurant Umaya no Shokutaku, which is also the name on the sign outside. The first floor is a very small bar with two counters. All the brewing equipment is viewable through the glass behind the bar.

Both of the times I have been to Pivovar there was a wedding second party taking place, so I can’t attest to the quality and cost of food, but the beer was excellent value. All of the beers are brewed on-site by Yokohama Brewing and served in three sizes – 950 yen for a giant 600+ mL mug, 700 yen for a smaller goblet, and 500 yen for a glass. Be a man, man – go for the big one.

They had a nice selection of beers including their pilsner, chocolate stout, chocolate stout rich (which they call スタリッチ), Dragon Splash India Pale Lager, Iron Claw IPA and more. All of the beers are the same price, which seems insane to me – it must cost so much more to make beers like the 9.5% ABV Scorpion Deathlock IPA (do you get the wrestling theme yet?).

Overall the ales run a little sweet, as do many Japanese ji-biiru, so go with a lager and don’t make the mistake I did. Don’t get me wrong. The stout was good, but not as the third of five on a night. Should’ve gone with the pilsner.

Final Answer: The best value for the serving size in Yokohama but a small space and slightly lower quality of beer overall. Not bad for a young brewery, though. Hopefully they’ll mature well.

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The first time I went to cheers I ordered the hummus, and the Israeli chef came out to congratulate me for making the correct choice. Unfortunately he no longer works there, but the hummus and baba ghanoush are both still on the menu. They also have a sausage plate for 850 yen – the cheapest I’ve seen in Japan, and the serving size isn’t bad either.

Due to time constraints, I took the train from Sakuragicho to Yokohama Station, from which Cheers is a quick walk. They have a reasonable amount of space – about a dozen counter seats and then tables sectioned off in different parts of the restaurant.

The beer selection is printed on a flashcard-style menu and can be a bit difficult to interpret, but they always have Belgians on tap rounded out with a ji-biiru or two. Of all the bars in Yokohama, this is the only one with Belgian beer on tap, so if you’re I went with the Shonan Weiss, which was good but a little sweet. I prefer my weissen drier and a bit more peppery.

By far the highlight of Cheers is it’s variety of events. They have anniversary parties, going away parties for staff, and more. Usually these events are 3000-5000 yen for all-you-can-drink. The third anniversary party was amazing – there were 12 beers total, and I have vague memories of passing around a 5L glass of Hoegaarden.

Final Answer: The nice variety of munchies alone makes this bar worth a visit, and generally there’s something interesting on tap. I just wish the menu was easier to read!

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Thrash Zone

Thrash Zone can be a dangerous place if you’re not careful. They maintain an impressive selection of only the hoppiest, most aggressive import and domestic craftbeers, and they sell them at very affordable prices. Relatively speaking, of course. Ballast Point’s acclaimed Sculpin IPA costs only 1100 yen, whereas in Tokyo it generally starts at 1200 yen. Many bars charge as much as 1500 yen.

All together there are 10 beers on tap, usually a murderer’s row of famous West Coast breweries like Green Flash, Ballast Point, Great Divide, and Stone in addition to the local interpretations on intense American styles.

Thrash Zone also has impressive events. They were the first bar in Japan to serve Bear Republic beers on tap, and to commemorate the occasion they gave away free pint glasses, provided snacks, and had a lottery for t-shirts, hats, and six-packs of Bear Republic beer. They regularly contract brew original recipes through Atsugi Beer. These are powerful concoctions, well deserving of names like “Simcoe, Bloody Simcoe” and “Hop Slave.”

As the name suggests, the theme of the bar is Heavy Metal, but the music is never too loud, and Katsuki-san is one of the nicest bartenders in the world. Don’t let his quiet and polite demeanor fool you, though – he is a hophead and metalhead at heart and has thrashed live on stage with some of the finest bands.

Final Answer: A great place to satisfy a hop craving, enjoy some wicked metal chops, and then return to the madness that is Yokohama Station.

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File this one under “I should’ve known better.” Sapporo’s 新発売 collaboration with famous Hokkaido chocolatier ROYCE’. (I’ve always wondered if that is pronounced “ROYCE Prime.”) It’s far too sweet and not very roasty or bitter at all, probably because of all the sugar they added to cover the bitterness of the cocoa nibs listed in the ingredients. I prefer Kirin’s Beer Chocolat which didn’t use any actual chocolate.

As you can tell from the title of this post, I have a small point to add about the Japanese てくる form, which I addressed here and hereTreyvaud sent me a link to a paper titled “Acquisition of the Japanese Errand Construction in Japanese as a Foreign Language.” I dig the “base construction” theory of てくる on page 14 (all our base are belong to us, as it were), but the real point of the article is to examine why “the use of kuru ‘come’ in the [Japanese errand] construction especially seems to puzzle many of the students.”

One of the most interesting parts of the article to me was learning that there are times when it is ungrammatical not to use てくる or ていく. (In other words, the -masu form is at times incorrect.) Treyvaud explains:

The graph on page 29 really interested me, because it seems to show that even beginners can recognize a correct sentence — they’re just more likely not to realize that the incorrect ones are incorrect (because of English leaking in, L1 transfer). I guess since most courses aren’t going to teach you a list of incorrect forms, the only way to overcome this is endless practice until you have a big bag of Japanese-specific knowledge to compare new sentences to (so that unusual forms are suspicious because you know that similar sentences would usually be said differently), rather than relying on “can I understand it?” or “would it make sense in English?” as your standard as beginners more or less have to.

Conversely, in my own high school English classes, I remember spending a significant amount of time on incorrect grammar patterns. Run-on sentences, comma splices, split infinitives. (Although, I guess this is because native students can already “do” English and just need to be shown what not to do.) The author doesn’t seem to offer any suggestions to improve the status quo, but I wonder if highlighting incorrect usage wouldn’t help non-native students.

And finally, the sad truth: “only five percent of L2 learners can reach a native speaker’s level.” Sigh.

Happy New Beer!

Er, I mean year. 2010 is almost a week old now, but How to Japonese will be taking another week of vacation before resuming new posts. I’m heading back to the U.S. tomorrow for a quick trip. Rest assured that there is awesome content on the way. (I just need a chance to finish editing/writing it.)

For now, enjoy this picture of one of a few dozen pints of Schlenkerla Helles poured in Japan:

Jha in Kanda opened a keg of the beer on the 4th and 5th. Schlenkerla is legendary for it’s smokey rauchbier, generally a dark beer. They brew the Helles in the same kettles, but without the smoked malt, so it only has a trace of the flavor. (I’ve had the bottle version too and swear it tastes smokier.) It’s still crisp and infinitely drinkable – one of the beers perfected by hundreds of years of German beer brilliance. I was fortunate to catch a pint today after work. If you hurry you might still be able to get one. They still have the Urbock on tap at Jha and Coopers (it’s sister bar) in Shimbashi, with far more reserves than the Helles. It packs a punch far mightier than its 6.5% abv might suggest. You have been warned.

JR Station Pub Crawl – Yamanote – Director’s Commentary

The last of my director’s commentary pieces! Thanks for tuning in this far. I can’t believe I haven’t put out a new video in over four months. Travesty. I’ve been taking footage for two new videos recently. I should be able to release them by early February.

For now, here’s my commentary on the Yamanote Line Pub Crawl:

JR Station Pub Crawl – Yamanote from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

00:27 A live version of “Gimme Some More” from The J.B.’s anthology Funky Good Time. Pretty good collection of their best stuff.

00:42 I still can’t believe they don’t have Guiness on tap. What a disappointment. The machine they use to froth up the beer is hilarious. The lady couldn’t even get it to work when I was there.

00:47 For most of these I used actual footage in between the stations. I got drunk and forgot to film at one point (toward the end) and had to double up one of the clips.

00:52 Gotta love Tamachi. Nice clean station. Decent beer and restaurant representation within the gates.

00:58 Arguably the best beer clip from the video. Very nice looking.

01:10 My Japan departure tradition is usually to pick up beer at either Seijo Ishii or Queen’s Isetan in Shinagawa and then get a bento to take with me on the Narita Express. The food at Paul is so good that I may have to reconsider the bento the next time. Hmm…I could also pick up a doughnut at Doughnut Plant upstairs in the eCute shopping center. Mmm.

01:44 You can see the billboard for QB Cut, a quick haircut place right next to this noodle joint. This is the 1000 yen haircut place that cleans your head afterward with a vacuum. Yes, I have had my hair cut at QB Cut before, but not in a station. I find it really relaxing to get a quick haircut at lunch sometimes.

01:59 The front of the train is definitely the place to be. The trainscape of Tokyo is something that definitely needs to be beheld. Very impressive. I love it when the path suddenly expands into a huge number of tracks outside a major station. That’s cool.

02:07 Sara-udon – a highly underrated Japanese food, even though it’s Chinese. Anyone know the Chinese name for this stuff? The key is to just douse the plate with vinegar. I love the kick it gives the dish.

02:16 In retrospect, I probably should have had a beer at the Italian place across the way from this ramen place. This video needed some pizza in it.

02:21 By far the coldest glass of the crawl.

02:43 I wonder if this place is still around. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it had closed and been replaced with a konbini already.

02:54 This clip is definitely tilted, heh. Drunk.

Original post here.

Thanks again for sticking with me this month. I’m on break except for 号外 posts until the beginning of January. I’m excited to begin the year of the tiger with aggressive new posts about learning Japanese.

Old Edo Great Beer Pub Crawl – Director’s Commentary

How to Japanese – Old Edo Great Beer Pub Crawl from Daniel Morales on Vimeo.

00:27 This movie was definitely inspired by the song, Van Morrison’s version of “There Stands the Glass.” It pretty much sums up the content of the video – glasses of beer on bar counters.

This is the first video I made with my wide-angle lens. I picked up the lens in Akihabara, had a sandwich at Subway, and then went on a pub crawl. Not a bad night! I think the results are clear – everything would have looked terrible without wide-angle conversion, especially the indoor footage. I use it all the time now.

00:42 I love Dry Dock. The big secret is that although it looks rectangular, it’s actually more triangular in shape on the inside. I’m interested to get a better look inside the kitchen (er, I should say “galley”) to see how much farther it goes back.

00:48 I had my expectations for this beer way too high after reading that Michael Jackson labeled it the best American dry stout. It’s good. Maybe I need to try it again. Dry Dock has a great blog. Sato-san, the master, posts pretty frequently about what they have on tap, different events, magazine articles he’s written/appeared in, and Motocross races. They are pretty intense with the way they clean and care for glassware at Dry Dock. Respect.

01:08 Organic Saison Dupont – nothing noticeably different from the regular Saison Dupont. I have a giant crush on the Houblon lady.

01:26 Another beer I’d like to try again, but I don’t think it would beat Green Flash’s Le Freak, which has to be the pinnacle of Belgian IPAs. I left the case for my new lens on the counter. Right behind the bottle. Doh!

01:40 If you haven’t been to Towers, you are missing out. Especially if you can speak some Japanese. The master is a really funny guy.

02:04 I haven’t been to Bacchus for a while now. Really should make an effort to go. They brew quite a few original beers. I’ve only had this one, but it was solid.

Original post here.

Encounter Two – No Way Jose

I live with two Japanese girls and three Japanese guys. We were sitting around our kitchen at some point in the last couple of months, and I told everyone about a beer event – I think the IPA event at Towers back in August. I’m always trying to get them to come along, but they’re usually uninterested, often busy. One of the girls has been trying to be more social and outgoing. She still hasn’t come to any beer events, but she at leasts feigns interest initially. She also a thing for Korean guys, so she asked me if any Korean guys would be at the beer event. I said 来ないかもしれません.

One of my other roommates almost choked on his beer and was like, What the hell are you talking about? 来ないだろう! (Yes, those kana are italicized. No, I was not able to put 傍点. Boo.) There aren’t going to be any Korean guys at an IPA event!

This is the standard usage of だろう・でしょう. The intonation was emphatic, but mostly because the guy was straightening out my ambiguous answer – Korean guys will not be going to an IPA event in Tokyo. Generally the intonation is flat like most Japanese words.

This is what I like to call the “Weatherman でしょう.” Whenever the forecaster gives the weather on Japanese news, he/she uses the set form 明日_でしょう, where you can insert 雨, 晴れ, 曇り, or a number of other possibilities into the blank. Tomorrow it will rain. Tomorrow it will be sunny. Tomorrow Korean guys will not go to cozy but awesome beer bars near Tokyo Station and drink super hoppy beer.

I think it’s relatively safe to equate this with the future tense and a high level of certainty. It’s not 100% certainty (as my 日本語文型辞典 tells me – no Japanese weatherman would make the mistake of giving a guaranteed weather report), but it’s more certain than かもしれない.

The main reason this pattern was so confusing to me early on is the wide range of meaning でしょう・だろう can have based on intonation alone. As a beginner, it was hard to differentiate the ですね, ですよ and ですか aspects of the phrase – no matter how many times I read the textbook explanation, 雨でしょう sounded like, “Will it rain?” until I got used to it by watching enough Japanese TV and hearing my roommate laugh at my かもしれない.

(I tried desperately to put Japanese emphasis dots on the だろう up there but failed epicly. Readers of Japanese are probably familiar with these. They go by the name of 圏点 (けんてん), 傍点 (ぼうてん), or 脇点 (わきてん), and they are the little dots above/beside (depending on the direction of the text) characters that emphasize certain words. They are roughly equivalent to italics in English, and they are definitely necessary to express the emphasis my roommate put on だろう. Beer to anyone who can tell me how to get the dots in WordPress.)