Beerfox is fortunate to have had the opportunity to participate in beer-related events and travels on 3 continents over the past decade(and more). In this post we will harken back nearly 3 years to our Japan beer trip centered around the annual mountain beer fest in Shiga Kogen.
Our trip was all things beer, sake and happy discoveries of shochu and awamori and of course, trips to 7-Eleven, great ramen in train stations, "wow" sushi, vending machine surprises and stunning scenery.
Our host, Tokyo-resident Raul Allikivi was up to the task of getting all our brewery visits lined up, no mean feat! In spite of excellent trains, it is not as seamless to get around to some farther-flung locales as you might imagine.
A group of some 8-9 of us used 2 cars as transport first to Nagano prefecture where we visited Yoho Brewing. Japan's best-known craft beer maker, the styles are absolutely true to style and come in perhaps the most gorgeously designed cans ever. Meeting my first brewery robot, tasting through the lineup(NOT the drivers!), we headed up the mountains to Shiga Kogen and the FUN AHEAD!
Snow-covered mountains all around, our nice hostel welcoming us and a warning NOT to leave the windows open in case of stealthy snow monkey thievery!!
Wandering the village, prepping for a late night, then off to meet the fantastic busload of crazed misfits all happily jammed in together. Sharing beers, trying to remain standing(it was overcrowded!), we wound our way up the twisty mountain road into the heavy fog, excitement mounting with the elevation..
Disgorging from the bus into deep snows surrounding 98 Hall(built for the Nagano Olympics), our happy crew entered the "scene." The entrance was packed with local fast-food options, tantalizing at first but even better later! Into the large venue, the floor surrounded on 3 sides with brewery stands and on the fourth, a large stage area that was already host to one of the night's 4-5 bands.
A quick but absolutely necessary digression...the hosts and brains behind Snow Monkey Live are Tamamura Honten, a sake and craft beer brewery located in town. Makers of some fabulous IPA styles (including THE Snow Monkey IPA) and a host of other delicious beers, these folks have put this mountain town on the craft beer map.
An historical sake brewery for over 200 years, the tiny museum and tasting room is a must-stop.
IPA, saison, stouts, Japan-fruit and/or herbal inspired, a wide selection of intriguing beers kept us both liqui-nourished, happy and grooving to the increasingly pumped-up tunes blasting from the stage.
One particular brewery of note was Minoh Beer, brewed and run by the Oshita sisters. Stouts are a passion but they do many styles well.
The balcony provided a much-needed sit-down where we could observe the action from on high, drink while sitting and prepare for a few more pushes through the melee.
I really do not remember what I ate, but I'm sure it was good and also managed to score a few souvenir T-shirts for the unfortunates back home in Riga.
Then a final spasm of beers, into the mosh pit for frenetic sounds of female Japanese rockers, a glass of Lizard King and Snow Monkey Live Beer Fest was "fait accompli!"
Well organized, it is surprising(or not?) that very few non-Japanese were in attendance. The few of us up from Tokyo and the odd smattering of ski-hounds from Australia and New Zealand gave the fest a very authentic feeling which was unique. I feel very fortunate to have been there, 2020/21 now having been cancelled due to the ongoing pandemic.
Going forward, my partners and I would love to organize a trip in 2022. The entire craft beer culture is vibrant, growing, utilizing entirely novel ingredients, "terroir-based" hops, malts and water. It is exciting, it has captured the imaginations of many young, entrepreneurial Japanese who are more than happy to share their stories and their beers!
A great EXPERIENCE!!! KAMPAI!
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- Tags: Beer Fest, craft beer, India Pale Ale, Japan, lifestyle, Shiga Kogen, Snow Monkey, Tamamura Honten, Yoho.com