Thursday, September 27, 2007

Tokyo Day 5 - Beer Museum Yebisu

I'm jumping around a bit in the timeline here now that I'm home, but I'm just writing about whatever I happen to be thinking of at any given time. Today, I happen to be wearing my Yebisu t-shirt, so I'm thinking about the Yebisu Beer Museum.

Day five was our last day in Tokyo, and we had a couple things planned. The first was a visit to Harajuku to take some pictures of the gothloli and cosplay fashion on display (a post on that's coming soon), and the last was dinner at a garlic restaurant my wife knew from her days in Tokyo. It happened to be in the neighborhood of Ebisu, and since we had some time to kill in between activities, we decided to hit the Beer Museum Yebisu that's in the same neighborhood. (In fact, the neighborhood of Ebisu is named after the beer! Both spellings are pronounced "ebisu"; "Yebisu" is just the old way of writing it.)

What is Yebisu Beer? I'm not an expert on Japanese beer, but here's what I know. Yebisu Beer is made by Sapporo and is considered their "premium" brand. It is almost as old as Sapporo itself, dating to 1887, and was originally a Tokyo alternative to the Hokkaido-brewed Sapporo - I can imagine beer probably didn't travel too well back in those days. Both Sapporo and Yebisu were dormant brands in mid-century as Sapporo and Asahi had merged operations, but were revived after the two companies later split again. Yebisu has been back on the market since 1971 and is now extremely popular in Japan as a premium malt beer. It's at least as common as Sapporo itself, especially in Tokyo.

Sapporo, in fact, now has its company headquarters in Ebisu, at the former brewery of Yebisu beer. (Both Yebisu and Sapporo are now brewed in various places throughout Japan - but not actually in Ebisu or Sapporo!) And they've also created a little city-within-a-city around the former brewery that includes a shopping mall, several restaurants, and the Beer Museum Yebisu. The great thing about this beer museum? You guessed it: cheap beer on tap!

The museum itself is actually pretty dry (no pun intended), with some really basic exhibits showing how beer is made and the history of Yebisu and Sapporo - all in Japanese only. As you make your way around to the end of the museum, though, you'll come across the main attraction - the beer garden.

The Yebisu beer garden is fashioned like a modern version of beer halls across Europe - with long granite tables and benches in a large, open room. It's meant for "tasting", but of course everybody seems to go just to get drunk. The beer is not free, but it is cheap - 200 yen per glass for most varieties, and there's a tasting "set" of four beers that you can buy for 400 yen. That wasn't actually available when we got there, though - there are vending machines (what else?) that dispense tokens for the various beers that you then take up to the bar, and these tokens do sell out. I guess this way they can regulate and predict how much beer they're going to need every day. Every other option was still available, though, just not the 400 yen/4 beer deal.

Both Yebisu and Sapporo are offered for "tasting", and pretty much every variety they make - including some that are only offered at the beer garden.

We initially bought three beers - a stout, an ale and a weiss. Yebisu and Sapporo are both based on German beers originally, so they take the same nomenclature. The weiss, if I remember right, is not sold anywhere else - only at the beer garden. Now, I'm not a beer snob, but I gotta say that the ale and weiss definitely tasted better to me than pretty much any beer I've ever had of either type. Maybe it was the freshness, maybe it was just because we were damn thirsty (another hot day), but they were mighty tasty. The weiss was obviously a lot lighter, but not too light - it was still more flavorful than most American beers, and without any bitterness or aftertaste whatsoever.

The stout was not as good - and I do like stout - but two out of three ain't bad. It had kind of a burnt coffee flavor to it, whereas the stouts I like (like Guinness) have more of a licorice taste.

Little sidenote: they give you a package of "beer crackers" for each beer you buy. I've never even heard of these before, but they're supposed to taste like beer - they're made with hops. They're definitely interesting, and they do match the taste of beer really well.

We ended up buying two more of the ale and weiss and got pretty tipsy before our trip to the garlic restaurant.

I do really like Japanese beer, and especially Sapporo brands. It's what American beer wishes it was - a good copy of German beer. It tastes similar to American beer, but just better - more flavor and no aftertaste. You can get "Japanese" beer in America, but look closely at the label - I guarantee you that the can or bottle you're drinking is brewed in Canada by either Anheuser-Busch or Molson. It's not the same stuff you can get in Japan. It's basically Budweiser and Molson Canadian. The only exception to this right now is the 22oz. cans of Sapporo, if you can find them - they don't make this size in Canada, so these are still brewed in Japan.

Still, even real canned or bottled Japanese beer doesn't taste as good as beer that was brewed probably that day and then served on draft. This was some seriously good beer, and for not much money, so I'd highly recommend checking this place out on your next trip to Tokyo. Get there either early or late, though (they close at 5:30), because the crowds do gather and as you can imagine, they seem to stay a while.


  1. Anonymous2:05 AM

    I just got a 22oz and it says on the can that it is brewed in Canada.

  2. This is a 10 month old post - things change. Sapporo recently bought a brewery in Canada and has been switching over all their North American production. You can't get real Sapporo in the US anymore, probably anywhere.

  3. Anonymous1:00 AM

    Great post, I'm heading over this sunday to check it out. Also, thank you for posting the prices of the beers. Your blog is the only place on the net I could find them.


About This Blog

This is increasingly not a blog about Alphabet City, New York. I used to live in the East Village and work on Avenue B, but I no longer do. Why don't I change the name if I'm writing about Japan and video games and guitars? Because New Yorkers are well-rounded people with varied interests, and mine have gone increasingly off the rails over the years. And I don't feel like changing the name. I do still write about New York City sometimes.


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