It’s been a while since I had attended a beer event, as a little pesky thing known as Covid-19 had cancelled most, if not all, events across Japan. For a brief few months, it looked like Japan had sorted things out with it’s approach and there was a chance to get out across Japan to have some beers with friends, and have a few laughs. Of course, I was still hesitant about taking trains for long distances, so what better method is there than getting on a bicycle and cycling to the event. Sam, from Baird Beer, heard about this and had kindly offered us a spare site at their camping ground, if I could make it down. With the bike loaded, and the bike computer charged up and ready to go with instructions, it was time to head off on an 130km ride from door to brewery, in time for the celebrations.
The event itself was a two day part at the Baird Beer Shuzenji Gardens, a place that I’ve been to numerous times on train, but this was the first time to cycle down there from my door. If you haven’t been there, I seriously recommend taking the trains down there, Covid-19 dependent, as there is some stunning scenery on the trains. The two-day event was the 7th anniversary of the opening of the Baird Beer Shuzenji brewery, with Baird Beer having been open for much longer. The event was going to be a mixture of music, stand up comedians, some games, but most importantly a 4-hour drink as much as you want for 3,000yen across three different bars. If that wasn’t enough incentive to get down there before the 4pm cut off time, then nothing else would be.
There are two routes to Baird Beer – one takes you along the main roads, through towns and cities, amongst cars and trucks, all vying for the narrow piece of land that is deemed to be road, or you can take some of the bicycle routes that cut through Kanagawa, but don’t take you directly there, thus adding on distance and time to the journey. If you have the chance to do it, I would wholeheartedly choose the second option. Cycling from my house down to the beach route takes you along the Sakai River, which has a 30km cycle path that runs parallel to it, that can be ridden either up towards Machida, or down to the Enoshima area of Kanagawa. There are rest stops along the way, giving you a chance to fill up your bottles, have a rest, or grab an ice cream. Once you get to Enoshima, then you can cycle along the beach paths that stretch from Enoshima in the east, right over to Oiso in the western part, where you get to pass Chigasaki Southern Beach, famous for Southern All Stars, and then past some local murals in Oiso that had been painted by local children and artists.
When you get to the end of this stretch of bike routes, you end up in Odawara, and you have a choice to make – either way is going to take you up some hills, though both of them are tough. The Hakone route takes you up through the hills of Hakone, following the old Tokaido route that is run during the Ekiden race, a two-day event that starts in Tokyo and finishes in Hakone on the first day, with the reverse route being done the next day. The Manazuru route takes you along the beach, with some of the narrow roads being literally centimetres from the cliff edge, with not much space to navigate, and cars going past you at speeds of 60km/h – not my idea of a fun ride.
I chose to go up via Hakone with a friend, who had taken the train down, to meet at Odawara. The weather was looking good and the bottles had been filled up with plenty of Aquarius, for energy, and some snacks to keep the energy levels up. To say the cycling was tough, would be an understatement. Some of the hills have a gradient upwards of of 15%, which means for every 100m travelled horizontally, you would climb 15m. Thankfully the Giant Escape has a good of range gears for climbing, though we did have to stop for some “pictures” and not a rest break. The worst part of the ride was the part from Hatajuku and the never ending hairpins you have to take. For every one you do, there seems to be another one added on at the end. Yet you get to the end and you get greeted by an Amazake Tea House and Otamagaike, a small pond that is often looked over when people drive up. There’s just a little bit more to go though until you get to Hakone itself, and it’s a great feeling when you finally get through the gates and can see the lake. The cycling was about 3/4 of the way done by this point, with just the Hakone Touge, or Hakone Pass, to get up and over, and then it’s cycling straight down to Baird Beer.
Mt Fuji though was not going to peek through the clouds though, no matter how much praying people were doing for the weather to change. When you are about 1000m up, the weather takes on a funny turn, with it going from sunny spells, to grey clouds looming over us, and then fog coming up, over, and around. There was a brief downpour in front of us, but it was far enough in front that it didn’t affect our ride. The views from the Hakone Pass and downwards stretch right across the Izu Peninsula, and on a clear day, you can see the beaches, hills, and the tea slopes around the area.
The route was downhill after the peak, with us achieving a maximum speed of around 60 km/h, faster than some of the cars that wanted to overtake us. Kind of funny to see cars lined up trying to overtake, but knowing if they do they are breaking the speed limits. I wonder if the drivers of the cars went back to their friends and family and told them of the challenge of trying to overtake a bike going too fast on the hills of Hakone.
Google Maps had pointed out that there was a brewery in the area, well actually a farm with a brewery called Oratche Dairy Farm. The farm has been around for a long time, and is popular with kids as there are some animals that you can pet, and feed, though the conditions there are rather cramped. However, I suspect that the animals are only kept in the enclosures for short periods and rotated around with other animals. I wasn’t interested in the animals, but wanted a quick cold refreshing beer, and some lunch to get the energy back up for the rest of the days drinking. The pilsner hit the spot, with a cold crisp bite and a light sulfur flavour to it, but I knew that if I stopped for much longer, more beer would be drunk and then cycling would be impossible.
After a walk around the area, looking at animals and random bits of souvenirs for friends and family, the rest of the ride was looking clear on Yahoo Weather’s Radar, except for one small area along the River Kano. The rest of the ride from Oratche Dairy Farm was either downhill, or flat, into Shuzenji, with a slight incline towards the end. Time was ticking, with less than 90 minutes to get to the brewery before the 4pm cut off, with my friend wanting to do some more climbing. My legs had given up by this point, and we parted ways, knowing that one of us would get to the brewery first.
Cycling And Drinking
In spite of having a beer, the law is strict in Japan about cycling and drinking. It’s treated with the same contempt that drink driving has. If you are pulled over in Japan and are found to have a blood alcohol concentration (BAC) of 0.03 or above, you are considered legally intoxicated and guilty of drunk driving.
For me, being 180lb/81kgs, I took a 45 minute break, walking around and eating, before I got on my bicycle again; which was more than enough according to online calculators, though results vary for different people.
Arriving at Baird Beer at 3:45pm, I had just made the cut-off time to ensure I got the maximum amount of drinking time for the money. At 3,000yen – if you have your own cup – it’s a bargain for some drinking, though if you do not have a cup, then you have to buy one of the insulated Baird Beer cups, which come in at 330ml – give or take a bit. If you do get one of these cups, then make sure you keep it, as besides being excellent for keeping your coffee warm, more of that later, they can also be used at other Baird Beer events across the country, thus negating the extra cost of a cup.
In spite of being an outdoors event, there was a strict socially distancing policy going on, with everyone wearing masks, and alcohol sanitizer located around the campsite. Groups were encouraged to stay with their own groups, and wear masks when moving around.
During the event, Mac, from Maction Planet, was in attendance and it was a nice surprise to see a familiar face among the crowd. He had “braved” the train journey down and was trying to do both days of the event – kudos for him for trying but I was no way going to make two days knowing that there was a barrel aged version of the Baird Dark Sky Imperial Stout by Baird Beer on tap and it was all mine! Well figuratively, though I literally did try my best to get through as much as possible. There were numerous beers on tap at the three different stations across the camp site, with some of them being limited to the event and the location.
Baird Beer had also organised some local food companies to supply food for the event, and all were well priced and well sized, though I suspect that the cookies were the biggest hit of the day, especially when you can dunk the cookies into a cup of Dark Sky.
I missed most of the comedy and music though due to cycling, but those in attendance did say the comedy was good and the music was, thankfully, not J-Pop or Idol based, with actual instruments being used. There was some music later on in the night, upstairs in the Baird Beer Shuzenji Gardens bar area, though due to the number of people in the bar at that point, space was limited and people were encouraged not to hang around where possible.
One of the main reasons for coming down to Baird Beer was that they had prepared a new area with cabins, as part of their Camp Baird experience, for those who do not like camping, or fancy some of the home comforts when they go away. The cabins are spacious inside, with a lower area of two double beds, and a loft area, with space for up to 8 people – though you have got to be good friends with those 7 other people I guess. There are three cabins on site, though none come with showers or toilets, there is a shared bathroom area between the cabins that is free to use.
For those wondering about AC and electrics, don’t worry, the cabins also come with both of those, so they can be used all-year round – essential in Japan’s stifling summer heat and humidity. Prices vary but adults do get some beers at the brewery as part of the price for the cabins, while kids do go free. If you do to the cabins, make sure you do take your own bedding with you, I had a sleeping bag and a spare pillow with me just in case, though all of the cabin is thorough cleaned after usage. There is also alcohol spray located by the entrance of each cabin.
I would definitely pick a cabin here if I wanted to experience the site with friends or people who do not enjoy the trials and tribulations that come with setting up a tent. It’s pricier than bringing your own tent, but it does take off some of the pressure, especially in wet weather.
After much drinking, and being exhausted from the 130km cycle, I passed out apparently on the bed at around 9:30pm, not to be woken up until the next day at around 7am or so. With a cup of coffee in my hand, and a quick exploration of the area, it was time to ride back up to Mishima, back along the Kano River to the Kakita River and its source.
Along the ride, the weather took a turn for the worst and started raining, which meant for no pictures and an unpleasant ride of being wet, and facing chafing in delicate areas. We finished up, grabbed some food in Repubrew, and took the train back home, with our bicycles packed up and seats found at the end.
Bikes and Trains in Japan
It is possible to take your bike on a train in Japan; however, it must be packed in a bag, sometimes called a “rinko bag”, with no protruding parts.
Once packed, you can then take the train, as long as your packed up bag does not get in the way of other people.