Carrying my beer and chocolate dog and pony show to Tokyo presented quite a challenge. First, there was an entirely different set of brews in Japan and the available chocolates were not necessarily those with which I was familiar. Moreover, the Japanese don’t have quite the depth of interest in either chocolate or the varieties of craft beer found here. I wondered about the audience and their receptiveness.
Popeye's owner, Tatsuo Aoki, told us that in the mid-1990s his bar was doing just so-so until he added ji-beer and Belgian beers to his menu. That's when things turned around for him.
The Tokyo tasting was a small affair managed by my friend, Bryan Harrell, a writer living in that city (www.bento.com/brews.html), with and for the benefit of his beer enthusiast friends. There were two of these groups. The Tokyo Good Beer Club is a consumer group (www.goodbeerclub.org) composed of Japanese beer enthusiasts and homebrewers with just a few foreign residents (all of whom spoke Japanese fairly well). Most of the Japanese present spoke some English. Although Harrell translated for me, I had no trouble communicating with most of them. There was also the Tokyo Beer Research Club (mostly Japanese), a group with a much greater knowledge of beer than the first. There were 30 participants, including 5 women.
Bakushu Club Popeye
This is Japan’s best beer pub. They have 40 beers on tap―23 of them ji-beer (or ji-biiru, Japanese craft beer) of the approximately 250 craft beers in Japan, plus Asahi Stout and two on cask! That’s an impressive selection for such a small place. Prices average Y935 for a standard US pint (about $8.40). There’s also Rogue’s Brutal Bitter, Shakespeare Stout and Old Crustacean Barleywine; Hair of the Dog Fred and Ruth (USA); Erdinger Hefe-Weizen, Jever Pils, Kostrizer Schwartz (Germany); Abbot Ale (United Kingdom); Hoegaarden White (Belgium); and Murphy’s Stout (Ireland). Popeye’s owner, Tatsuo Aoki, told us that in the mid-1990s his bar was doing just so-so until he added ji-beer and Belgian beers to his menu. That’s when things turned around for him.
A couple of months earlier, I had sent Harrell a list of beer styles and chocolate types I would need. To save money, we limited ourselves to seven combinations, still an expensive list by any standard. Harrell had the “Rules of Chocolate” translated into Japanese for the occasion, and they were very well received.
I went to Popeye’s the night before to meet with Harrell and firm out details with Mr. Aoki. The tastings were 150 milliliters, or 5 ounces, in size.