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Following the beery bliss I experienced on my trip to Osaka in January, I was eager to see (and taste) what crafty delights were on offer elsewhere in Japan. The popularity of craft beer, or ji-bīru, literally "local beer" as it is referred to in Japanese, has experienced a significant increase nationwide in recent years, with more and more breweries and establishments dedicated to serving and selling the tipple popping up all the time.
This second installment of the Craft Beer Japan series delves into the craft beer scene in Kanda, Tokyo. Not an obvious travel choice with few tourist attractions to speak of (ignoring of course the widely celebrated Kanda Matsuri festival that takes place on the district's streets every other year), Kanda has emerged in recent times as something of a craft beer oasis, home to a concentrated selection of renowned establishments that are making waves and putting this area on the map. With so much going on here, I could hardly wait to get stuck into my craft beer adventure Kanda style.
Arriving on Kanda's streets in the late morning and with beer and food on the brain, my first stop had to be somewhere that served some satiating bites along with great beer. I found just that in Craft Beer and Food Wiz, around 10 minutes' walk from Kanda Station. This smallish yet spacious establishment that looks out onto a courtyard below a sleek mall/office tower provided the perfect setting in which to begin my day's journey. Wiz is just as much a cafe as a bar and is decked out in clean, light wood giving it a particularly laid-back feel.
As for the beer at Wiz, it's spread over 31 taps with brews from Japan and abroad, offering quite the varied selection. Wanting to start off light, I opted for Wiz's own white beer, accompanied by an equally light taco-rice dish. The beer and the food really hit the spot without leaving me feeling over-full, and provided the perfect lunch ahead of a day of beery exploration.
Next up was Hitachino Brewing Lab, just a short stroll away from Wiz. Located in a refurbished network of shops and cafes within the arches under a train track, drinking here really gives the feeling of being underground, with the exposed brick walls providing a cool, basement feel to the place. The bar brews its own beer, and there are a selection of Hitachino's celebrated brews on tap. I had the Hitachino Best Lager which was crisp, zesty and refreshing.
Craft Beer Market is another bar in these parts renowned for serving 30 kinds of craft beer from across Japan and the world. What's more, as with Wiz and Hitachino Brewing Lab, they open during the day, making for a great place to do some afternoon supping. After ordering one of the day's offerings, I got chatting to Okura Yuji, the manager of this, the Awajicho branch (there are 9 branches in total), and he told me a little about Craft Beer Market and Kanda's craft beer scene in general:
"We serve lots of different types of beer here and I think this variety is something that our customers enjoy. Kanda is home to lots of businesses, and so naturally there are many bars around here to cater to the after work crowd. More and more people are becoming attracted to craft beer, and I think that some of this attraction lies in the journey that people can experience; in drinking high-quality beer that comes from many different places." High-quality beer it indeed was, complimented by the modern interior to make this place a solid option if in the area.
Fast forward a few hours and darkness is beginning to fall around Kanda. It's 5pm, and that means that DevilCraft is about to open. The Kanda location is the first of three DevilCraft bars across Tokyo (The other two being in Hamamatsucho and Gotanda) and remains something of an institution around here, serving (in addition to other beers) a varying selection of devilish brews that are conjured at the company brewery a few miles away down in Osaki.
I perch at the bar of the three story establishment and order a pint of their Munich Steamworks brew along with one of their signature Chicago-style pizzas, both of which turn out to be delectable. The beer is deliciously refreshing and well-balanced with the pizza a perfectly mouthwatering, meaty accompaniment. Satiated and in a state of beery bliss, I'm lucky enough to catch John Chambers, a founder of the company and one of the men behind the beer, for a chat about DevilCraft.
"DevilCraft was started out of a passion for beer. Our mission has always been to make the best possible beer, and we strive for our bars to be places people have a great time drinking in. Traditionally craft beer bars concentrated much less on food than the beer, but we wanted to make a place with great food to match the beer, so people don't have to go elsewhere to eat. Our answer was to introduce our Chicago-style pizzas, which have become very popular. As for the the near future, our focus lies in continuing to develop our beers, trying out different things and new flavors."
From DevilCraft it's a hop, skip and a jump to Kura Kura, another well-renowned place and a pillar of the Kanda craft beer scene. The bar is dimly lit and has a sophisticated atmosphere, with the staff impeccably dressed in formal attire. Kura Kura is known for its selection of craft beers from around Japan, including a personal favorite of mine, Hida Takayama Beer's weizen brew. I sit down and savor the flavor and ambience.
The final spot on today's trip was Tap Tap, a bar and cafe close to Kanda Station with a penchant for purveying beers from western Japan. The interior is modern and bright and the beer selection extensive. I opted for a lager from Hiroshima Prefecture to conclude the day's proceedings.
By Sam Evans, japan-guide.com