September 13, 2007 Written by MartinT
Montreal, CANADA -
Whether you’re ogling the sumptuous Golden Pavilion, tiptoeing on Nijo castle’s chirping nightingale floors, waiting on a street corner in Gion to chance a Geisha sighting, or running through the thousands of aligned bright orange torii gates like the little girl in Memoirs of a Geisha, you are bound to decide that, even for the most hardcore beer hunter like yourself, a Kyoto sojourn should not focus on ji-biru.<IMG border=0 SRC=/images/features/Kinkakuji1.jpg>
But if you do need some liquid libations to ward off some of the crushing humidity (after all, this is the purpose of this series of articles), know that there are 3 craft breweries in Kyoto. While Syuzan Kaido Brewery is out in the annexed town of Keihoku (their bottles can be found at Nishiki Market in downtown Kyoto), the other two can be found near tourist attractions you will likely visit.
This old Japanese merchant house is worth a visit if you are in the area of Nijo Castle or Kyoto Imperial Palace. Entering through the gift shop, you’ll be asked if you want to tour the house, but there won’t be a lot of information upfront about the brewery’s tasting room which is located at the very back of this gift area. On offer there at 630 yen a glass are their Alt, in which bready pale malts and supportive wooden hops produce an ultimately drinkable, dry example of the style which will at least provide a suitable pint to accompany your meal, their Kölsch, which harbors enough wooden hop bitterness and fruity yeastiness to keep you interested throughout, and their Schwarzbier, a charred number which obviously offers plenty of roastiness for the roast lover, but lacks the body and balance to push it beyond average, even though its grapey fruitiness and bready malts are giving it added dimensions. All are served very cold, but this must be what patrons want in the blistering summer heat. Although these beers aren’t really worth a detour, they provided ample quenching material for you to cool down in the estival blaze.
<U>An easy way to get there:</u>
Locate Kyoto’s Imperial Palace. Marutamachi-dori, which is just south of the palace grounds, actually has signs for all perpendicular streets. What a novel invention! Anyway, take advantage of this rare modern commodity and find the sign for Sakaimachi-dori. Go down Sakaimachi for a few blocks, and you should see this building on your right:
Under the refreshing cover of dusk, if you’re lucky enough, you might see a geisha walking the olden streets of the Gion neighbourhood in Kyoto. This geisha (or maiko?) went by so fast, we still remember her:
Also, if you know where to go, you might be able to witness an ukai fishing demonstration on the Uji River. Centuries ago, fisherwomen used to train cormorants to dive down for ayu fish after twilight:
This brewery can be found not too far away from the Fushimi Inari Shrine, where endless rows of bright orange torii gates arching over hilly forest paths delight hordes of visitors every year. Whether you are sitting in the terrace area between the brewery and the restaurant, or hoping for a meal at the Kappa Tengoku restaurant behind the brewery gift shop, there should not be any English menu or personnel here to help you. Unable to read, speak or understand anything, the tatami mats on the side are really the last piece of evidence needed to authenticate your experience. You then have to point at something on the menu and be ready for just about anything to be on your plate. Quite amusing, really. Thankfully, the beer menu is a little easier to figure out: their Altbier is where caramel malt colours its toasted compadres throughout in a straightforward, creamy and near hopless quencher; their Kölsch is faultless, with a creamy mouthfeel, subtle cereal flavors and crispy herbal hop bitterness which undoubtedly make a satisfying, easy-to-drink pint; their White Nile, a Weizen brewed with rice, is where bready yeast and fitting citrusy tartness benefit from the seemingly-typical firm body and professional cleanliness of Kizakura Kappa’s. Oh, I’d like to tell you what we were served for dinner, but I’m still not sure.
<U>An easy way to get there:</u>
Get off at Fushimi-Momoyama station, west exit. Walk into the westbound shopping arcade and aim for its very end, turning left into another shopping arcade. Once out of this southbound arcade, Kizakura Kappa in on the first street on your left:
where kilometer after kilometer of torii gates take you to spiritual fulfillment:
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We hadn’t planned on visiting Osaka really, but the fact that it is but a 30-minute train ride from Kyoto, and boasts a much more captivating selection of ji-biru establishments than its eclectic neighbour made the decision easy. This city is more of a skyscraper nursery than the traditional treasury that is Kyoto, so we soon headed for the place where a few of my furry buddies were waiting for me:
Hidden in the back of an alley in central Osaka, this cluttered and cramped specialty beer bar is sure to be a memorable experience. With its few taps at the bar, its beer engines in the alley itself, a long list of quality bottled imports, and mixed Asian cuisine, this teddy bear haunt should make you smile for the duration of your stay. Somehow, the resulting ambiance is rather tropical, as if beer bottles, various hanging coasters, and fluffy bears grew from this swamped jungle instead of fruit. This husband-and-wife venture is more than a night of giggles though. The wife (who speaks English, by the way) gives Thai cooking lessons, and her recipes are scrumptious and suffused with that home-cooked signature. The husband is the beer geek at heart (even though his wife speaks about Belgian beer with passion too), and even created the Taiko Ale with Ikiiki Brewery in Toyama prefecture. Caramel maltiness flows generously throughout this malt lover’s strong ale, building a silky body which is nearly balanced out by savoury wooden hop bitterness. It is also here at Beer and Bear that I had my first tap sampling of Hakusekikan’s Tennenhachimitsukoubou Shizen Bakushu, a virtuous golden ale fermented with wild yeast extracted from Kyushu honey. With the careful attention and brotherly approach this couple serves their customers, it can’t take long before you feel like you are visiting a friend’s basement living room bar.
Get in the Osaka subway and get off at Shinsaibashi station. Go north on Mido-Suji street and try to locate the Amway store. Turn right after the store and walk to the first alley you see on your left. Peek into the alley and you should see this: