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Great Japan, Great Beer

No fireworks, but you’ll find plenty of good beer at this series of festivals

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By Dan Traylor
Published Saturday, May 14th, 2011 (10:48am)
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On a hot Osaka day in July, the Orix Buffaloes were facing off against the visiting Softbank Hawks on the baseball grounds at the Kyocera Dome. But way up in the Sky Hall, a winding pavilion now filled with beer taps, nobody was paying the game any attention.

It was the Osaka weekend for the Great Japan Beer Festival, a series of annual events organized by the Japan Craft Beer Association. Two drinking buddies — a colleague and my visiting father — made the event a part of our three-day Kansai weekend.

The organization is collecting donations for disaster relief.

But first, back to the present. This year’s series of Great Japan festivals kicks off in June in Tokyo and wraps up in September in Yokohama. In between, in addition to the Osaka event, Nagoya joins the calendar for the first time ever (see a complete schedule below).

For about 4,000 yen, depending on the location, you can wander the hall with your tiny sampling glass and taste as much craft beer as you can stomach over the course of the afternoon.

The beers — there were more than 100 available in Osaka — come from craft breweries all over Japan and the world, in a variety of styles, from sweet barely wines to bitter India Pale Ales.

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For Mie residents, the Osaka weekend and the brand-new Nagoya event are well within reach. Pick a day that suits your schedule, reserve a ticket in advance, and prepare for a nice, air-conditioned afternoon with some very nice beers (and in Osaka, maybe catch a baseball game on the same weekend … but skip the Buffaloes and head for the Hanshin Tigers homestead at Koshien).

Last year in Osaka, our strategy was to arrive early and scan the list of beers for potential favorites. After trying many of these, we opened up our pallets to things beyond our comfort zones. After a late-lunch hamburger, we hovered around the taps of one favorite brewery, making sure we had tried all of their offerings and doubled up on a few favorites.

By the end of the day, well buzzed and unsure of where the night would take us as we headed for the subway station, we were swept up amid the crowd of Buffaloes fans, high on Asahi Super Dry, but down after a 9-2 loss.

They could have enjoyed a much better day, we agreed, if they had attended the main event in the Kyocera Dome that day. Just up the escalators and into the rafters. Follow the smell of hops.

2011 Great Japan Beer Festivals

Tokyo - Ebisu Garden Hall
  • June 5, 11:30-3:00 or 4:00-9:30
  • June 6, 12:00-4:00
  • Tickets: ¥4,500 advance, ¥4,900 door
Osaka - Kyocera Dome, Sky Hall
  • July 17, 2:00-6:00
  • July 18, 1:00-5:00
  • July 19, 12:00-4:00
  • Tickets: ¥4,200 advance, ¥4,600 door

The Nagoya event, already priced the lowest, also comes with a free beer from local Kinshachi Beer along with a food coupon. All things considered, advance-ticket-buyers pay only ¥3,100.

Nagoya - Nagoya Congress Centre, Shiratori Hall
  • August 6, 2:00-6:00
  • August 7, 12:00-4:00
  • Tickets: ¥3,900 advance, ¥4,300 door
Yokohama - Osanbashi Hall
  • September 17, 2:00-6:00
  • September 18, 1:00-5:00
  • September 19, 12:00-4:00
  • Tickets: ¥4,200 advance, ¥4,600 door
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