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Kampai! in Kansai

Kansai has been long known for its excellent cuisine, from Kyoto’s refined kyō-ryori dishes to the famous wagyū beef of Kobe, Shiga, and Mie, to Osaka’s okonomiyaki and takoyaki. Nada (in Kobe) and Fushimi (in Kyoto) also have the country’s highest concentration of sake breweries, and these two districts produce nearly half of all of Japan’s sake. So, naturally, the region is also among the nation’s leaders in craft beer production. With the heat of summer upon us, thirsty Kansai residents and visitors alike can turn to an ever-increasing number of local breweries and beer bars for a cold glass of tasty alternatives to mass-produced light lager.

Kyoto Brewing’s beers are well suited for summer, as the brewer, Chris Hainge, primarily works with a Belgian yeast strain that tends to ferment dry, making their ales crisp and refreshing. Their Belgian wheat, Nagoriyuki (5%), is filled with delectable fruit flavors including lemon and banana, while Ichii Senshin (6.5%), a Belgian IPA that is one of their flagships, has a little more body but still goes down easily because its spicy yeast adds complexity to the pine and citrus American hops. The summer saison, Natsu no Kimagure, wasn’t on tap yet when I dropped by their taproom (open Saturdays and Sundays, with a fun beer garden that gets busy on sunny afternoons), but Chris said he would use lactic acid bacteria to give it a little tartness, which should help make it deliciously easy to drink.

A little further south, Hainge’s friend Ai Tani has majorly impacted Osaka’s beer scene with her Craft Beer Base network of bars, bottle shops and, recently, original beers. Tani told me she started the original Base in late 2016 because some mainstays of the Osaka craft beer scene had closed and she wanted to create a new home for this culture. The original CBB is a small bar near Osaka Station with a few taps and an extensive cellar featuring hard-to-find bottles imported from Europe and the U.S. (for consumption on premises or takeaway). It has been successful enough that Tani has opened five new locations including Branch, a standing bar focused on her own beers and nitro coffee, Bud, a taproom in Osaka Station with a mix of Japanese and foreign beers, and Garden, a small brewery and taproom with a beer garden patio perfect for warm weather. So far, CBB’s house beers have focused on the American pale ale and IPA categories, but Tani says she is starting to work with Belgian yeast, with a witbier (Belgian white) in the works.

Of course it’s not just new upstarts who have tasty beers to offer. Two of Kansai’s longest-running microbreweries have had some great new releases recently. Ise Kadoya (opened 1997) has heard the siren song of the Northeast IPA (known for haziness, intensely fruity aromas, and low bitterness) and is putting out delicious examples like Neko Ni Hiki (8%) and Refresh (6%), which burst with juicy hop flavors like orange and mango. Osaka-based Minoh Beer (also founded in 1997) has also been playing with combinations of Belgian yeasts and American hops. Their Blooming IPA (6%) is fruitier and more hop-forward than most of Kyoto Brewing’s offerings, with a softer mouthfeel, kind of like a hybrid between the Northeast IPA and Belgian IPA styles. 

If you find yourself in Kansai this summer, be sure to drink plenty of water (it’s hot!) but also don’t miss the tasty local beer selections.

Festival Roundup

  • May 25–26 – Craft Beer Live (Osaka)
  • May 29–June 2 – Keyaki Beer Festival (Saitama)
  • June 7–17 – Hibiya Garden (Tokyo)
  • June 27–July 7 – Belgian Beer Weekend (Tokyo)
  • July 11–July 21 – Belgian Beer Weekend (Osaka)
  • July 27–28 – Shizuoka Craft Beer & Whiskey Fair
  • August 23–25 – National Ji-Biiru Festival (Ichinoseki, Iwate)
  • August 23–September 1 – Kyushu Beer Festival (Kumamoto)
  • August 30–September 8 – Hibiya Garden 2 (Tokyo)
  • September 11–16 – Belgian Beer Weekend (Tokyo)
  • September 14–15 – Mikkeller Beer Celebration (Tokyo)
  • September 18–23 – Kyushu Beer Festival (Fukuoka)
  • September 28–29 – Craft Beer Kanazawa
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