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Snow Monkey Live 2016 Report

by Rob
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Snow Monkey Live 2016 One Paragraph Review

Snow Monkey Live is a great start to the craft beer season though it’s pretty far to get to if you’re going alone. Go along with a bunch of friends, find some cheap hostel or hotel to stay at enjoy the good music and tasty beer. Just hope you don’t get stuck waiting out in the cold for the lousy free transport up to the event.

Snow Monkey Live 2016

Sato-san, head brewer at Shiga Kogen.
Photo courtesy of C. Phillips

Snow Monkey Live 2016 Full Review

Snow Monkey is an annual craft beer festival located in the snowy resort of Shiga Kogen, in Nagano. It’s hosted by Tamamura Honten, makers of sake and also the Shiga Kogen Beer range, and the festival is now in its fifth year in 2016. The event has got bigger and each year proves to be busier than the last with tickets for the 2016 selling out; unfortunate for those on the day. Snow Monkey Live has become a fast favourite with craft beer fans across Japan with bars from across Japan, such as Hopman in Chigasaki and Yellow Ape in Osaka organising bus tours to the event as well as Tokyo Snow Club planning a weekend around the festival.

Luckily we got our tickets in advance and set out on a beer safari, for want of a better phrase. The long drive to Nagano necessitated some stops for beers and if you had followed the “live” twitter feed, then it was slightly messy before we even arrived at our destination: Shibu Onsen, located about 45mins from the Shiga Kogen 98 Hall.  This was to be the first of our problems. Unfortunately, it seemed that the organisers of Snow Monkey Live hadn’t focussed much about transport to and from the festival as only one, yes ONE, free bus per hour had been laid on for people to get to the hall. Even though we had been waiting at the right spot, the bus was full up. The driver kindly stopped to let us know that a mini-bus had been laid on, but the mini-bus drove past us, without even stopping. 75 minutes later and another bus turned up but it wasn’t going to the hall, rather another stop 10mins past. So off we went in the hope that the weather would be kind to us so we could walk it from this place that was further on and meant we had to pay. Luckily, three-quarters of the way to the top, a big cheer went off when the bus driver announced it would be free for those going to Snow Monkey Live.

Snow Monkey Live Cups

Thanks to Hiro for making these. Maybe some special BeerTengoku ones for future events.

The hall isn’t a big place, with tickets limited to 1000 per session though with 17 breweries present and over one hundred beers split across the three sessions, we knew we were never going to drink our way through all of them.


For the price you pay for one-day of the event (¥4,200 in advance), you get five tickets for beers and one special glass. I’m afraid the sock is a one-off courtesy of our part-time proofreader and translator Hiro, though we did suggest for the 2017 event he should set up a stall and start selling them. Snow Monkey Live isn’t a cheap event to start off with, but thankfully extra drink tickets were only ¥400 each and they went quickly.

Snow Monkey Live 2016 Beer 2
Shiga Kogen Isseki Nichou - what were the two birds?
Snow Monkey Live 2016 Beer 1
Minoh Yuzu Tripel - yummy!

It would only have been right to try some of the limited edition beers going, and there were some notable beers. Minoh Yuzu Triple A nice large serving of beer with a smile as well. The beer had a nice balance between the yuzu flavour I so love, and a strong Belgian trippel kick to it. The Yo-Ho Barrel Fukamidasu B-10 was a huge serving and at about 12%, it meant the rest of the evening was going to become a blur. Shiga Kogen Isseki Nichou was a welcome return as it hasn’t been seen for a couple of years now either. It seemed that most of the breweries at Snow Monkey Live were intent on getting people drunk with the sizes of beers being poured.

Snow Monkey Live 2016 Jazz

A random band appeared in the middle of the floor.

Snow Monkey Beer Live isn’t just about the beers though as there is music going on in the background as you mingle and drink. The genre of music varied from some MoR bands to a duo, who I’ve forgotten the name of, who seemed to be a Japanese version of Daft Punk. Interspersed with the bands changing on stage was a small jazz outfit situated between Kyoto Brewing and Minoh Beer that appeared out of the blue and took the event by storm. It’s great to have an event with a styles of music that are more suited to a craft beer event rather than some J-Pop idols.

Snow Monkey Live 2016 Bottle

A decent list of bottled beers but many of these can be bought elsewhere.

There was also a little bottle shop by the entrance of the event for people to take some of the beers they had home – the major letdown with this idea is that there were few limited edition bottles. With an event focussed on craft beer and breweries bringing some limited edition beers, it would have been nice to take home a bottle of Minoh Yuzu Tripel or Tochigi Micro Brewery’s Cats Eyes, a delicious gauze style beer that is worth trying and a style of beer that could become more popular in the future.

However, the same ugly problem reared its head at the end of the evening – transport. The buses leaving the event were few and far between – not great in winter when the queue for the bus stop is outside. With about 200 hundred people waiting for a single bus back down the mountain, some people were always going to be left behind – and they were. The group of friends I was with got separated and it was only when we got back to the hotel and plugged in the phones we realised that there was another bus coming….45 minutes later.

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