Beers of Japan – part 1, Kamikatz and Nihonbashi Brewery

Now the holiday has started properly. I’ve made it through the 12 hour flight (just an Adnams Mosaic, one to write up when I try it on draught), the confusion of Tokyo rail station, and have ensconced myself in a hostel with a can of lager. In no time at all, I’m back in my element.

Various friends and colleagues warned me of the culture shock I’d face when coming to Japan, and they’re absolutely right. I’m not talking about the unceasingly polite residents or the weird lack of rubbish bins, however. My big problem is the price of beer. I’ve spent the last few years of my life whining at London’s beer prices, rolling my eyes as pubs start edging the average cost of a pint north of £5. Here, I’m lucky to find even a half pint for less than 600 yen – working out at around £8 a pint. It’d be enough to drive a man to drink, if I could only afford it.

Still, I’m here on a mission.

Kamikatz, Draught Pale Ale 4.5%

It takes a while for me to get my bearings. Unwisely my first destination within Tokyo was Akihabara, a location I’d always thought was famous for its extensive range of electronics and video game stores. Strictly speaking this is true. What I wasn’t expecting was that every electronics store would have its own anime girl mascot, and women advertising maid cafes every hundred metres.

Hell is empty, and all the devils are here buying catgirl figurines.

A little way out of this district is the Kamikatz hostel and brewery, a welcome respite from all the sin. A sign informs me it’s happy hour, so I enter with high hopes and order a draft ale.

Dim lighting: great for atmosphere, terrible for photographs

Kamikatz’s draft offering is dark gold with a fluffy, cream-coloured head. The aroma is mild, a touch bready, but there isn’t much there to report.

The taste is a little more interesting. Bitterness strikes first on the tongue, with hints of berry fruits. Then bitter again on the finish, leaving the mouth watering.

It’s not terrible; a good thirst quencher for the heights of summer, but not enough in the way of flavour to have me ordering a second pint. And for 800 yen? We can do much better than this. 1/5

Nihonbashi Brewery, Pale Ale (sake style)

Alright, this is a complete gimmick. Give me a break, I’m a tourist here.

The pan of malted barley by the side is a nice touch

Allegedly the idea here is to drink the beer from the glass, then pour some into the box and drink it from there for a subtly different flavour. Presumably woodier.

The aroma is fresh and fruity, bubblegum and light honey florals. It’s extremely appetising. Then it hits the palate and we pick up a tang of hoppy bitterness, but this quickly gives way to fruit again: melon rind. There’s a sticky, wheaty sweetness, some cherries, perhaps. There’s no sign of malt on the palate, which is sad because judging by the pan of malted barley I’ve been served it’s got some cracking flavour: toasty and nutty. It leaves a slick, soapy residue on the tongue, and a faint fruity aftertaste.

A very pleasant start to the evening, though the box is a bit much. 3/5

Variant: drunk from the box

Yep, tastes of wood. 1/5

Nihonbashi Brewery, Sugura Bay Imperial IPA 7.5%

I’ll admit my Japanese is shaky at best, but it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what the katakana on the menu meant this time. Still, figure it out I did, plus I ordered a beer without the ridiculous sake box. I’m becoming more like a local every minute.

Advantage of avoiding the box – you get a bigger glass

This imperial IPA is rust orange with a tall, frothy, white head. It’s grassy and reassuringly malty on the nose, filling me with hope.

The flavours roll across the tongue in waves: orange, then grapefruit rind bitterness, then hints of warming malty sweetness. I can feel my mouth tingling for half a minute after I swallow, the high alcohol content doing its work. By the end of the glass the tingling in my mouth has spread to my legs, signalling it’s perhaps time to head home.

There’s some decent flavours here, but not enough to balance out that raw alcoholic edge. A missed opportunity. 2/5

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