Alcohol and religion go hand in hand. From Trappist monks and their fancy beer and Buckfast Abbey and its lethal “tonic wine”, to those gigantic barrels of sake offerings in Kamakura Hachiman temple, getting plastered and feeling spiritual has been part of human culture since humans had culture.
So, it’s 2014, and the craft beer boom is in full swing. Craft beer is everywhere. Combinis. Electronics stores. My fridge. The only thing that Japan has more of than craft beer, it seems, is temples (and combinis and vending machines and cats with weird tails). Eventually the twain would have to meet, and they did. Kannon temple in Ofuna was the location for the inaugural Oofuna Beer Festival (the double “o” is another way of romanising the “大” in 大船) – if you’ve ever ridden the JR Tokaido main line past Ofuna and seen the big white statue looming out from the hillside, that’s it. A two-day event over the 23rd and 24th of August, Beer Tengoku headed out on the 23rd.
The event kicked off at 3:30pm, and when we arrived at 4pm there was already a fair number of people. The entry fee was ¥1000 with a free drink ticket; the beer stands were not accepting cash at all – staff members were wandering about selling ¥500 tickets that could be exchanged for beer and snacks. We assume this was a way to keep track of how many beers were drunk, but it was a bit of a mystery. Another result of the fixed price is that stalls could choose whatever size glass they wanted to serve in; Kirin was giving an almost US pint size glass while Shonan Beer went with a somewhat miserly 250ml glass.
I’d never been to the temple before, and was surprised that it was a bit of a tight squeeze. Four beer stalls, two snack stalls and a wine stall were sandwiched between the hillside and the visitor centre, with a seating area overlooking the town at the bottom of the steps heading up to the statue. There were various events scheduled to happen in front of the statue, including a capoeira demonstration, a DJ and a projection mapping show; the main attraction for me, though, was the lovely beer.
Beers on tap were nicely varied, and the staff were on hand to explain the nuances of different brews to the uninitiated (and provide friendly banter to seasoned craft beer aficionados like myself).
Brimmer Brewing had their pale ale, and an interesting seasonal called California Common: an experimental brew made by fermenting lager yeast at ale yeast temperatures, amongst other tweaks to the standard formula.
Shonan Brewery came with a pilsner and a citrusy and refreshing lemon wheat ale.
Sankt Gallen pulled out the stops with five brews on tap- Golden Ale, Brown Porter, Yokohama XPA, Shonan Gold Orange Ale and Pineapple Ale. They also had Kita Kamakura no Megumi in bottles.
Kirin Brewery were perhaps the “safe” option for those overwhelmed by the choice – they had their Heartland beer on tap, and as they were staffed by Antenna America, their stall also had Coronado Orange Avenue Wit and Islander taps.
The event got busier and busier as the evening grew on, with everyone from families to elderly couples and beer weirdos like us showing up. We’d been hard at work sampling the available wares (tough job, but someone’s got to do it), so as the sun set we decided to call it a day and roll down the hill to the station.
Overall, I’d say the first Oofuna Beer Festival was a great success, with plenty of opportunity to try Kanagawa brews without having to travel too far. I hope it encourages more local places to hold their own festivals in the future too. Kampai!