There seems to be a beer festival of some kind happening every weekend in Japan, be it an Oktoberfest, a Belgian beer festival or a temple tasting fair. BeerFes Yokohama is one of the perennially popular events, featuring most of the big craft beer manufacturers in Japan and introducing some exciting newcomers. A three-day event held at Osanbashi pier in Kannai, this year’s outing brought over two hundred beers from more than ninety breweries. BeerTengoku went to experience this unstoppable force in the world of Japanese craft beer.
2014 marks the twentieth anniversary of the Japanese Craft Beer Association and the first nine hundred attendees received a special commemorative aroma glass. The glass was supposed to enhance the tasting experience; however, it didn’t seem as if many people were savouring their beer. BeerFes Yokohama is no different to other beer festival. After a couple of drinks, people looked far happier drinking than smelling the beer. Who are we trying to kid? Drinking is the best part of beer.
Osanbashi pier is not your usual place to hold a beer event. The hall is located right at the back of the pier and depending on the weather, can get extremely dark. With BeerFes Yokohama being held in September, the weather varies from clear blue skies that light up the room, or early typhoon rains plunging the event into darkness. On murkier days, Osanbashi pier is a dark, foreboding place that makes it difficult to see where you are or where you are going. The weather gods had clearly been nice on the day BeerTengoku went, fortunately. The light streamed in through the big bay windows overlooking Yokohama Bay. On top of this, the outside deck rapidly filled up with couples and groups of punters enjoying the fine weather and beers.
BeerFes Yokohama is a straightforward event (unlike the Oofuna Beer Festival‘s buy-a-ticket-to-buy-tickets-to-buy-beer madness). Tickets cost ¥4,600 in advance or ¥5,000 on the day. Included in the price was the beer tasting glass and a four-hour nomihodai. You walk around going to different stalls, trying different beers that came in 50 ml sizes, or 25 ml for the stronger beers, rinse the glass and repeat until you fall over or finish all 200 or so beers. BeerFes Yokohama also provides a handy booklet with boxes to check so in your drunken stupor (which will happen) you have a handy reminder of what beers you have tried. The booklet also lists the special limited edition beers that have been produced for BeerFes Yokohama ensuring that you can wait in line for the chance to try that special IPA that may or may not have already run out.
BeerTengoku made some good effort on the beers, trying a total of 42. It was disappointing to see the overall style of beers on show leaning towards IPA, heavy stouts, and porters, though. While these beers certainly seem to be the most popular at the moment, the overabundance is a worrying sign. The other styles such as amber or pale ales were underrepresented and reflect their declining popularity as people look for big aromas and flavours.
However, some bright spots from the BeerFes Yokohama event were the increasing amount of microbreweries on show at the event. Two very welcome newcomers were the foreigner-owned breweries, Hyappa Beer and Nihonkai Club. Hyappa brought along a tasty red ale, the Al Capone, that we tried a couple of times. Nihonkai brought four types of beers with them. It is also great that breweries take these events seriously and bring their senior staff to BeerFes Yokohama. Head brewers had yellow lanyards on and were on hand to talk about their beers and offer advice. Notable presences this year included Gojo-san from Yokohama Brewery, Bryan and Sayuri Baird from Baird Beer, and Scott Brimmer from Brimmer Brewing.
While BeerFes Yokohama is about drinking beer, it is also a serious international beer event. The Thursday before the event, beers were swilled, smelt, tasted, and judged then prizes were awarded. There was an award ceremony to hand out various medals to the winning beers on the first day of BeerFes Yokohama. However, it was missed by most of the crowd who were either too busy drinking or drunk to pay attention. There were projector screens around the room that did show the results of the beers but it was a shame really, as although some of the major breweries had brought some of their special beers, some of the lesser-known breweries that had won awards were receiving little attention from the crowd.
Overall, BeerFes Yokohama is a well-organised event that is worth going to. BeerTengoku recommends getting there early and knowing what beers you want to try as once they’re gone, they’re gone. Here’s hoping that next year’s BeerFes Yokohama has a wider range of beer types, some bar stalls outside, and is less of a melee to get beer.
BeerFes Yokohama Beer Gallery