The Taihei guys had a conversation recently about the future of the craft beer scene. One of us that used to work for a food/beverage consultant company in Japan brought up how the increasing age of the average population is affecting things in the industry. The Taihei team thought it would be brilliant idea to have an interview with a blogger living in Tokyo, because we believe that bloggers will be the key to expanding the craft beer industry outside of Japan.
Since launching our site, there were comments about what “Taiheiyogan” was all about and Redditors kept referring to the “Tokyo Beer Drinker“. So we reached out to this mystery person and the Beer Drinker agreed to this interview as long as we keep the real identity of the Beer Drinker shrouded in mystery for their readers.
The first post by the Tokyo Beer Drinker on September 2, 2012:
When I first considered starting this blog, it was intended to be an English language guide to all the information that someone would need to have nice beers in Tokyo in nice places. Due to my dithering there are now a multitude of sources of this information, but I am going to plough on anyway.
I intend there to be all the information that you could possibly want about bars such as opening hours, an idea on prices, if they have a cover charge, beer selection, how to get there if you can’t read Japanese etc. There will also be links to lots of other interesting sites about beer and bars, so hopefully you will find something of interest here. Updates will probably be sporadic and probably random.
Anyway, thanks for reading this far, and any comments, corrections or suggestions please feel free to get in touch or leave a comment. Thanks!
Taihei: When you started blogging there where probably very few people that would have thought to use blogging as a venue for beer tourism. In the beginning were your followers’ beer fans that were new to the internet or internet users new to beer? What was the subscriber-base like?
Beer Drinker: Actually it’s difficult to tell as there’s not a great deal of interaction between readers and the blog. I’ve always tried to encourage comments as I think that’s a good way for people to get a second opinion on a place, rather than my superficially objective, but actually sometimes slightly pointed write ups. I’m keen to avoid too much preaching in the posts. People like different things, so I’d rather just state the facts and let the reader decide what they think.
My limited interactions with readers suggests that maybe 2/3 of them are tourists and 1/3 people living here. I think I always intended it to be more for tourists or visitors as I imagined that residents would have a good idea what’s going on without having to read my blog. When starting the blog, there was also an element of it being a useful reference guide for me when I was looking for somewhere to go and needed to check opening times or other details.
Taihei: When you are scoping out a bar/restaurant, what things attract you the most? What are you biggest turn-offs? What types of establishments do you like? Do you prefer a quiet hole in the wall, a dive style bar, or a chain?
Beer Drinker: The biggest attraction for any place is some kind of originality or enthusiasm. There are now a plethora of bland identikit bars in Tokyo which I’m sure serve a certain corner of the market but which hold little interest for me. Generally speaking, I prefer a place to be independent but I’m not chain averse. I always enjoy a Craft Beer Market trip as you know what you’re getting, (a huge taplist of hugely varying excitement and quality at pretty reasonable prices if you drink off the cover charge). Of course these places are not staffed by beer connoisseurs who are ultra committed to the craft beer scene, and why would they be for what they are offering? But if you’re in a group or doing a bit of solo lunchtime/daytime drinking, they are a lot of fun. I am very much against secret chains; bars that look like they are independent but are part of a larger group, probably owned by a finance company or something like that, with huge buying power but keeping their prices high. Price is always an issue for me, but it’s not the be all and end all. I’d much rather pay a little more and visit an independent place than pay a little less and line the pockets of a secret chain. And, if a bar offers something different but is a bit more expensive, I can deal with that. I just consider it a treat rather than somewhere I’d regularly go. There are sadly quite a few places that have these higher prices but offer up the same old beers, or in some cases, even worse stuff. They might be mentioned on the blog but I’d never write a post about them. They don’t deserve it in my opinion.
As for other factors, I guess cover charges are irritating, I can’t imagine anyone likes them, but depending on the place, I can deal with them. You can check before you go, so can’t really complain I guess. Tax being added at the end is another pet peeve, as it just seems sneaky. And finally in this litany of moans, smoking. I can’t understand how anywhere can serve craft beer and charge craft beer prices but let people smoke in their establishment. I’d expect it in a tiny izakaya serving ultra cold macro beer, but when we’re all supposed to be savouring the flavours, it just doesn’t make sense to me.
Taihei: What is the furthest you have strayed from Tokyo for an article? What was it about that place that made it worth the travel time?
Beer Drinker: Actually, I don’t really travel just for bars. Places get added if I’m somewhere for another reason. I think in the last few years I’ve realised that beer is a lot of fun, but you really shouldn’t let it run your life. At least in my case anyway. So, when I travel to football matches sometimes a few places will get added, (Sendai, Niigata, Nagoya, Kofu). I thought I’d draw the line at Fukuoka and Sapporo as they seemed a bit far. I guess the feeling is, if you can get there in under two hours on a train from Tokyo and I’m in the area, I’ll add it. I decided I wouldn’t bother with Osaka or Kyoto as there are too many places there. They deserve a blog of their own to be honest and Kansai Beer Lovers is doing that kind of thing.
I guess if we’re talking of travel, primarily for beer, the furthest I’ve been would have to be Vertere in Okutama, or down to Yokosuka. If I had more enthusiasm, time and money, I’d probably try to go further, but I’d rather try to do a good job of something smaller, than spread myself too thin.
Taihei: In your adventures, what people have you met that stand out in your memories?
Beer Drinker: I don’t particularly meet that many people to be honest. If I go somewhere to potentially put it on the blog, I prefer to keep myself to myself. Hopefully, this goes some way to explaining my terrible photos. Of course there have been times when I’ve met nice bar owners and occasionally brewers, but it’s as an individual rather than in relation to the blog. And I have my friends who’ve been to plenty of places with me and a few who’ve helped me out with writing blog posts on places I haven’t been to. Much thanks to them. But yeah, normally, I just go by myself and don’t talk to anyone. Or just have beers with friends, rather than beer acquaintances. If I’m drinking beer, I don’t want to spend the whole night talking about beer. I prefer it that way!
Taihei: Any real reasons why you don’t review beers on your blog?
Beer Drinker: There is a famous saying I’m sure everyone knows comparing opinions and a certain body part. I agree with this saying. Taste is way too subjective for me. There are plenty of people who have knowledge and can tell me why a beer is ‘bad’, but if I’m drinking it and enjoying it, then that’s good enough for me. I use Untappd, and used to use Ratebeer until they sold their soul to the devil, so I have no problem with rating beers but I can’t see why anyone would be interested in reading what I think about them, (or indeed reading about what I have to say in this article!). Writing about bars serves a constructive purpose for me as people can then go out and hopefully have a nice time. Flaming beers to draw attention to yourself doesn’t, I feel.
Taihei: You have been around for a while but you never created a logo. Do you want to create a logo? If so, what would you make it of?
Beer Drinker: This probably due to a lack of artistic ability and partly due to me not being so bothered. Also I guess, I’m not trying to make a brand or site that people check for the latest info. It’s more a matter of being somewhere you can check for reference. I guess I’m more like a dull covered text book, whereas other sites are aiming for more of a glossy best seller feel.
Taihei: For all your time examining the craft beer scene, what do you think the future has in store for us?
Beer Drinker: More identikit bars. Less originality. But one good thing recently is that there are a lot more tiny breweries opening, so I’d hope that continues. Sure they’re often not the greatest, but I’ll always visit a new brewery, whilst at the same time discount a new bar on the grounds of apparent dullness. Oh, and probably a lot more fake craft beer from macros and corporate buy outs too.
Taihei: For anyone out there planning on opening a bar, restaurant, or bottle shop, what drunken wisdom would you offer them, besides “bloggers drink free”?
Beer Drinker: Do it because you’re interested in beer rather than because it’s a good way to make money. Put a bit of individuality in there and some of your own character. It’s much better to go to a bar that reflects in some way the character of its owner. Sure, people’s tastes are different, but do what you want to do, rather than what you think you’re supposed to do. Charge fair prices, it doesn’t have to be the cheapest, it just should be reasonable or understandable. Admittedly, these points might not be the best way to make a load of money in the beer business, but I’m not exactly a business kind of person.
Taihei: Beer Drinker, would you explain “beer flights” and “growlers” for our new readers? And tell us if you think they can have a positive or negative impact on ones tasting experience?
Beer Drinker: I think there are far better people to explain these things than me. In my view, beer flights are a good thing as it gives you an opportunity to try more beers without destroying yourself financially or physically. I think they’re especially useful at breweries. I’m pretty neutral on growlers. I’m sure they are great for some people, but I don’t find myself drinking at home too often, and as I’d have to go to a bar or brewery to fill the growler I would probably be more likely to just drink it there instead. I realise that they work well for people who can’t spend so much time in bars though, due to family or other commitments. Comparing the two, I think you can always get a better impression of a beer by drinking more of it, so flights, especially if the sizes are tiny, might not give you the whole picture. But on the other hand, I do like a bit of variety in my drinking sessions, so I don’t often find myself drinking a large amount of the same beer in one sitting.
Taihei: You wrote that the beer scene seems “to have decayed into an online swagger fest with loads of people shouting as loud as possible to show how much they know and tell others how little they know.” How and when do you think this started?
Beer Drinker: I think it’s always been the case with pretty much any interest or activity since the internet became a tool for communication. But it has become a lot more noticeable in the beer scene in the last few years. I probably don’t really want to talk about this too much, as it will just sound like grumpiness and people would probably accuse me of the same thing. But I always try to look for positives if I can. I don’t think anyone ends up looking particularly good from arguing on the internet, especially after a few drinks.
Taihei: If you are stuck in a small Japanese town and the local conbini only has Asahi Super Dull, Kirin Ichiban Shi-boring, Sapporo Stale Label, Humdrum Yebisu, and Suntory Mundane Malts. Which are you grabbing and why? Also, have you ever thrown a beer out because it was undrinkable? Would you be willing to tell us what it was? 7-11 brand beer does count.
Beer Drinker: I’d probably save myself for another night, but I do have a bit of a thing for Suntory Malts. I think it’s the one I would be most happy to drink out of the beers above. Of course, I’d never choose it if there was any craft beer available, but I have to acknowledge that this probably means that sometimes I’ll end up drinking something I like less than the Suntory. It has been the long time macro preference of mine, but has been cemented recently by the fact that they serve the Kaoru Ale version of Premium Malts at my football team’s ground. On a nice day, sitting in the stand waiting for the game, this beer can sometimes taste pretty good. Especially the first one of the day.
As for throwing a beer out because of undrinkability, I’ve rarely done this. I think I’ve only once left a beer because of a bad taste in a bar, and it was quite recently. I don’t want to point fingers, but as a big Belgian beer fan, I find it is attempts at sour beers that are usually the most disappointing. There are a few Japanese sour beers I’ve had which I really couldn’t finish, most of which were at premium prices. But of course it could just be down to my taste and that other people might enjoy them.
Taihei: What has been your most memorable craft beer festival experience?
Beer Drinker: I enjoy beer festivals, but I wouldn’t say I love them. If I could find a memorable experience it would probably just be related to enjoying beers with friends and not for any particular festival specific reason. Probably a good memory would have to be a seated memory though. I’m not a huge fan of standing up drinking for long periods.
Taihei: In the past year, we saw a wave of new breweries opening up. How have they measured?
Beer Drinker: A mixed bag, I’d say. Some seem to start brightly and really drop off, some take the opposite path and gradually improve. But this is all my opinion anyway and I’m conscious that there’s a wide variety of other opinions available. Personally speaking, I’d say that we’ve had a few more good ones starting recently than in previous years, which can only be a good thing.
Taihei: Once the population dramatically shifts towards an older population, do you think beer establishments will need to make changes to keep those taps flowing?
Beer Drinker: I know even less about social science than I do about beer, so I’ll probably leave this to the experts. Although, I’d say that in my favourite bar there is a decent range of ages within the regulars, so maybe this suggests that if your place is good, you’ll be alright.
Taihei: Has the craft beer drinking community in Japan matured to understand craft beer?
Beer Drinker: I don’t think that people need knowledge to enjoy craft beer. I think in many cases knowledge actually leads to less enjoyment as you can only see the bad points. I believe that there are now a lot of people who are willing to pay a bit extra to get something that offers them a new experience after years of drinking the same four or five beers, which can only be a good thing for spreading the availability of the craft stuff. I also think there is a bit of a superiority complex from some foreigners about the Japanese people’s ability to appreciate beer. The flavours of their cuisine are lauded worldwide, but it seems that there is a presumption sometimes that when it comes to beer, they don’t know what tastes nice. Certainly with Japanese drinkers there is often a lot less willingness to openly criticise, but I don’t think this necessarily equates to them not being able to get craft beer.
Taihei: Do you have any home brew experience? Should beer enthusiasts get into home brewing to better understand the product they are enjoying or is it unnecessary?
Beer Drinker: I’ve never done it, as I’d hate to have to drink loads of my own rotten beer when I could enjoy the product of someone who knows what they’re doing. I’m a terrible cook and a terrible scientist so I can’t imagine anything I make would be very nice. I don’t think you need to be a good footballer to enjoy football or a musician to be a music fan (choosing two of my own interests). Of course, I imagine that homebrewing helps your understanding of beer, but I don’t think you need to do it to enjoy drinking beer.
Taihei: If you were to do a 10 L challenge (sharing a 10 L keg with a good friend over the course of a day), what beer style would you choose? If you have a specific beer, what is it?
Beer Drinker: Guess this has to be De La Senne’s Zinnebir. Preferably in a bar in Brussels, with some cheese.
Taihei: If someone was visiting the Tokyo area what would be the 5 places for the Beer Drinker’s beer crawl and why?
Beer Drinker: Might not necessarily be the best five places in Tokyo, but I think this gives a nice all round view of what’s going on. I restricted things to just Tokyo and didn’t include anywhere that was totally import dominated (apart from Hiranoya, but as that’s Belgian beer, I made an exception).
- Gremlin – The best place in Tokyo.
- Mikkeller – Bit expensive, but usually worth it for the whole package.
- iBrew Shinbashi/Shinshu Sake Mura – Sneakily combining two places as they’re almost next door to each other. Daytime must visits. For atmosphere, I prefer the original iBrew, but this one does the job nicely too.
- Taiyo Sakaba – Best combination of Japanese craft beer and izakaya food.
- Hiranoya – I love Belgian beer, and the bottle shop/standing bar is a nice Japanese experience
Taihei: You said on your blog that you travel to watch football. Which team are you cheering for, back home and in Japan?
Beer Drinker: I’m not sure I should reveal it, but I suspect that I might have mentioned it in a post at some stage. And it would probably be easy to work out with my Untappd check-ins and a fixture list. Kawasaki Frontale in Japan and Leyton Orient in the UK.
Taihei: On that note, do you want more craft beer at those matches?
Beer Drinker: Some would be nice. It’s all macro with occasionally, at some stadiums, a booth from one of the bigger craft breweries outside the ground. I don’t drink that much in the ground normally, so I’m not sure it’s that crucial to me, and given that you have to drink it from a paper of plastic cup, it might be a bit of a waste. But, given that there are a lot of stadiums with only Asahi Super Dry on tap, almost anything else would be more than welcome.
Taihei: What message would you like to send out today for people that are being introduced to your site for the first time?
Beer Drinker: Thank you for your interest and please send me a huge donation, (I’ve only ever had one…).