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The Local Brew

By Bryan Harrell

Ushitora Brewing

2016
ISSUE
58

Ushitora is a great craft beer bar in one of Tokyo’s great drinking neighborhoods, Shimokitazawa. The area is equally accessible from Shinjuku and Shibuya. Ushitora was one of the pioneers who turned the typical sales channel model upside down by first making a popular beer bar with excellent food, which built up a strong clientele by serving the best beers available in Japan and North America. They then started their own brewery to make beers to suit the taste and vibe of their customers.

Last year marked the slow rollout of beers from Ushitora’s new brewery in Shimotsuke, Tochigi, shipped mainly to their Tokyo pub. Ushitora beers have, however, been made available to other tap houses in Japan, so it is likely you will run into them sooner or later when out on the town.

Ushitora’s two brewmasters, Hiromi Uetake and Takumi Murase, both brew sporadically, so the brewery is not open for tours or visits. Both have extensive brewing knowledge and seem to do something different in every beer they brew. This is usually attributed to how the hops are handled and the richness extracted from the malt.

In their #057 Trip Yeast Belgo IPA, a full array of Belgian Tripel flavors is present, but the malt is lighter than expected in a Belgian Tripel, making a fairly full-flavored brew with large swathes of the bottom cut out, making it less filling.

In the #060 Dear Sterling, the crispness and “glassy texture” of the Sterling hops are present, but very little of the vegetal character, giving the impression that only parts of the hop were used, those providing the distinct character.

Finally, the #054 Mozairu Pale Ale seemed to have sections of the hop flavor cut and pasted into its sold malt structure, as if the hops were “painted on the walls of the malt room” to provide the beer’s main flavor.

With every new Ushitora beer, it is as though they took a modular approach to brewing, and I was the unwitting victim of a very clever trick. At ¥650 for a half-pint glass, I certainly had no complaints.

The Ushitora website is essentially a large blog listing what’s on tap that evening. It is all in Japanese, yet rewards handsomely those who are able to read it.