In my home town of Chicago it’s pretty much impossible to walk more than a couple feet without stumbling into an artisanal microbrewery. Yet, despite growing interest here, Japan is still to catch up with the latest trends in our favorite beer. Most izakaya only offer a single beer on tap from a big distributor like Asahi or Kirin, and it’s not usually one to savor over unless you’ve had a rough day at work.
Though the number of Japanese microbreweries is on the rise, right now there are still only about 200 across the country while craft brews make up less than 1 percent of the lucrative Japanese beer market. All this means that if you’re keen for your next fancy beer fix, you’re going to have to know where to look.
So in the service of fellow beer lovers, I’ve put together this list of five recommended spots to sample the highest quality hoppy goodness in Tokyo.
1. Tap & Growler, Shimokitazawa
Tap & Growler has a great selection of beers from around Japan but what makes this place particularly special is that you don’t just get a little bit of beer: you get a whole growler. If you don’t know what a growler is, (I sure didn’t) it’s a reusable jug for carrying and drinking beer that comes in both 32 oz or 64 oz sizes.
Before you commit to that much beer though, you can sample some of their 18 different varieties with half-pint tastings inside a sleek and minimalist interior that lets the brews do all the talking. Japanese beers currently on tap include the popular Fukushima Weizen and Shia Kogen’s No. 10, as well as the limited edition Raiden Kannuki IPA from Nagano-based Oh! La! Ho Beer, and the Oyster Stout from Kura Beer, brewed with actual oysters from along the Sanriku coastline in Iwate.
Another cool feature is the BYO food policy; whatever you and your friends feel like eating, well, that’s what’s on the menu. Plus, you can take your growler to go and enjoy it elsewhere if you want, Tap & Growler even delivers with Uber Eats. However you slice it, this is by far one of the most unique and personalized ways to enjoy craft beer in Tokyo.
Where: 2-33-6 Kitazawa, Setagaya-ku
Opening hours: Weekdays 6 p.m. – 12 a.m., Saturdays, Sundays, Public holidays 5 p.m. – 9 p.m.
Average spend: ¥1,700 – ¥4,500
More info: www.craftbeers.tokyo/en
2. BrewDog, Roppongi
In the heart of a neighborhood whose streets are pretty much sticky with beer on any given day, Roppongi, Brewdog produces its own in-house Punk IPA, Dead Pony Club pale ale, and Jet Black Heart Nitro stout. This Scottish brewery also offers a selection of fine beers from around the world served across 20 taps, including the popular Northern Star Porter and Sea Coast Pilsner. Their website lets you know what beers are available that day so you can check them out before you stop by. The best part? Dogs are totally welcome so you can enjoy your craft beer with man’s best friend. Combined with great food and an awesome punk aesthetic, BrewDog is a decent place to take a break from (or get ready for) a night of partying in the ’Pong, though you may have to leave the dog behind.
Where: Saito Building, Roppongi 5-3-2, Minato-ku
Opening hours: Weekdays 5 p.m.- 12 a.m. Saturdays, Sundays, Holidays 3 p.m. -12 a.m.
Average spend: ¥2,100 – ¥4,000
More info: www.brewdog.com/bars/worldwide/roppongi
3. Y.Y.G. Brewery & Beer Kitchen, Shinjuku
NEW BEER RELEASED!!! 1818[こぶこぶビール'2018/Kob-Kob Beer '2018] ABV:3.9% IBU:48 タイ料理などに使われるこぶみかんの葉と皮で香り付けをしたセッションIPAです。今回のこぶみかんの使用量はグリーンカレー約700人前分です。醸造中はトムヤムクンの香りが工場内に広がっておりました。爽やかな柑橘の香りとホップの心地よい苦みが口いっぱいに広がります。飲んだ瞬間、あなたはチャオプラヤー川をボートで疾走していることでしょう！ If you think "What the hell is Kob-Kob? ", the answer to that is Kaffir lime from Thailand. We used the same amount of Kaffir lime leaves and peels as the amount for 700 dishes of green curry. The aroma is super refreshing. Once you sip it, your soul will be hovering above the Chao Phraya River.
If you’re looking for something a little more quiet and homey, check out Shinjuku’s Y.Y.G. Brewery. With its rustic wooden interior, Y.Y.G. creates a nice, mellow space for you to properly study and appreciate your beer. You’ll be able to taste some good ol’ American beers like Evolution Craft Brewings Lot No.6 and Delmarva Pure Pilsner. You can also sip local Japanese brews — Tokyo Blues Single Hop Wheat is a highlight — as well as Y.Y.G. originals such as its Shibuya IPA. Y.Y.G. also offers a “beer kitchen” serving fusion American-French cuisine. If you eat anything, make sure it’s the amazing oyster burger.
Where: Ochu Dai-ichi Building, Yoyogi 2-18-3, Shibuya-ku
Opening hours: Weekdays 5 p.m. – 11:30 p.m., Saturdays, Holidays 12 p.m. – 11:30 p.m., Sundays 12 p.m. – 9 p.m. The dining floor is open on weekdays 6 p.m. – 11:30 p.m., Saturday and Holidays 12 p.m. – 11:30 p.m. Closed on Sundays.
Average spend: ¥2,500 – ¥6,000
More info: www.yygbrewery.com
4. Two Dogs, Roppongi
Another canine-inspired bar located in Roppongi, this watering hole will actually whisk you away to Northern California with its laid-back atmosphere and English-speaking staff. Of course, the main feature here is the beer which is no slouch. Two Dogs serves beer from all over the world, from this Chicagoan’s personal favorites Lagunitas IPA and Goose Island 312 to super local brews Pharoah Smoke Porter (brewed in the Tokyo bed-town of Tokorozawa, Saitama) and Hitachino Nest White Ale from neighboring Ibaraki prefecture.
In addition to standard snacks like french fries, Two Dogs fare also includes what many locals have dubbed the city’s best pizza, with a vegetarian/vegan version for extra Cali points. Plus, who doesn’t appreciate the oh-so-fine combination of pizza and beer?
Where: Aries Building, Roppongi 3-15-24, Minato-ku
Opening hours: Weekdays, 11:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m., Tuesdays, Wednesdays, 5 p.m. – 12 a.m., Thursdays – Saturdays 5 p.m. – 2 a.m., Sundays, Mondays 5 p.m. – 11 p.m.
Average spend: ¥2400 – ¥4,000
More info: www.twodogs-tokyo.com
5. Devil Craft Brewery, Hamamatsucho
As a Chicagoan living abroad, I’m incredibly thankful for Devil Craft‘s authentic and mouthwatering deep-dish Chicago-style pizzas that taste just like back at home. At each of its three locations in Hamamatsucho, Kanda, and Gotanda, Devil Craft has around 20 different beers on tap that change daily, ranging from brews they make themselves like the hardy Nor’easter New England Style Double IPA, to beers from all over Japan, plus of course a selection of international beers like the New Belgium La Folie. The staff speak both English and Japanese and are always ready to offer a suggestion if you don’t know where to start. This place has become extremely popular among both foreigners and Japanese, so I recommend you head to their website and make a reservation before going there.
Where: Risewell Building, Hamamatsucho 2-13-12, Minato-ku
Opening hours: Weekdays 5 p.m. – 11 p.m., Saturdays 12:30 p.m. – 11 p.m., Sundays until 10 p.m.
Average spend: ¥3,200 – ¥4,500
More info: en.devilcraft.jp
If you do decide to hop on over to one of these, share your experience and any other recommendations you’ve got in the comments below!