Where Japanese Beer Began: Yokohama’s Top 5 Craft Beer Bars

Yokohama is often considered to be the birthplace of domestic beer in Japan. After the port of Yokohama opened, it soon became a thriving community which wanted ready access to beer rather than waiting for it to be imported. William Copeland, a Norwegian-American, opened up Spring Valley Brewery, Japan’s first domestic brewery, back in 1869. Kirin Brewery was eventually born out of the remnants of Spring Valley Brewery in 1885 and has since grown to be a major player in the domestic market.

While Kirin has dominated the local area, since 1996 Yokohama has also helped promote craft beer – beer that is still handmade but on a much smaller scale – encouraging breweries, brewpubs, and bars to set up in the area. With a diverse range of drinkers and communities, we’ve picked five places that represent some of Yokohama’s dedication to craft beer and food.

 Thrash Zone Yokohama

The Story: Katsuki-san, owner and brewer of Thrash Zone, opened the bar in 2006 which was once Yokohama’s smallest craft beer bar. Katsuki-san loved the West Coast IPA scene and wanted to bring that over to Japan to allow people to try these bold brash beers. What started out as a small bar, became a brewpub in 2011 which remains a staunch favourite of craft beer drinkers in Yokohama to this day.

Why We Love It: Thrash Zone focuses on beers, and beers alone. While you can get some small bar snacks, such as mixed nuts, Thrash Zone’s minimalist design and focus on beer means prices are cheap and the beers are strong. If you’re a fan of thrash metal, ’80s hairspray rock, and German rock bands, you’ll enjoy the music too.

What To Try: With no food on the menu, your only choice at Thrash Zone is beer and how strong you want it. The original Hopslave remains on the menu and at 9% it packs a hefty West Coast IPA punch. The more mellow Tsuruyacho Ale, an American pale ale, and Front Side Grind Ale, a session IPA, are more suited for some relaxed drinking times with friends and will leave you able to walk out of the bar.

For more information about Thrash Zone Yokohama, check out our Concierge listing.

Craftsman

The Story: With the redevelopment of the north side of Yokohama station seemingly being an ongoing effort, new places are opening up in the plethora of buildings coming up all the time. Though Thrash Zone was providing the beers, something was missing from Yokohama – a craft beer bar that has a focus on pairing food with craft beer. The Craftsman chain, with other branches in Tokyo and Tohoku, focuses on different cuisines, with the Yokohama branch’s menu being based on Mexican-Italian food. Combine that with a lineup that many bars would be envious of, with beers from Japan, the USA, the UK, and others on tap, and you have an interesting combination ahead of you.

Why We Love It: Craftsman brought craft beer to an area of Yokohama that was ironically devoid of choice. With almost 30 taps encompassing a variety of styles, from lagers to stouts, there is something for everyone at some of the cheapest prices in Yokohama. Craftsman also promotes beer from the breweries in the Yokohama area, and also Kanagawa. The staff are more than adept at choosing the right food for the beer – going for something spicy and they will pick out a crisp beer to take off the edge of the heat.

What To Try: Both the fish tacos and nachos are worth trying. The fish tacos are made with a crisp beer batter and come with a variety of accoutrements while the nachos also come with a choice of dips that pair nicely with the variety of pale ales and IPAs on tap too. For those wanting a wider selection, then the beer flight, which gives you three beers of your choice, is another welcome addition.

For more information about Craftsman Yokohama, check out our Concierge listing.

Noge West End

The Story: Noge has long been known as the cheap drinking area of Yokohama – hole-in-the-wall bars adorn the main road, with even smaller drinking places along the river. Noge West End sprung out of Una casa de Gubi Gubi El Nubichnom, possibly Japan’s smallest craft beer bar since Thrash Zone moved to a larger location. Noge West End focuses on pairing Japanese craft beer, and also the upcoming cider industry, with a Japanese menu that focuses on fresh fish and vegetables.

Why We Love It: Housed in an old-style sushi restaurant with very little restoration besides the essentials, Noge West End’s quaint charming style, coupled with a menu using locally sourced produce gives it an atmosphere more upmarket than your regular craft beer bar. The menu changes depending on the season and the owner, who is also the chef and bar master, will take your likes and dislikes into account to prepare food that is paired with domestic craft beer.

What To Try: The locally grown grilled vegetables with a nice cold weizen are hard to beat, as is the freshly prepared fish and IPA. With the seasonality of the menu, it’s hard to pick one fish dish out but the freshly grilled sanma (mackerel) is done to perfection with a crispy skin is a guaranteed delight.

For more information about Noge West End, check out our Concierge listing.

TDM 1874

The Story: TDM 1874, or to give it it’s full name of Ten Days Market 1874 (a translation of the local train station Tokaichiba), opened in 2016 and is the latest opening in a local alcohol enterprise that started out in 1874. Sakaguchiya had long been supplying sake, wine, and beer to local restaurants before opening the brewpub TDM 1874. Consisting of the brewery, bar space, and a kitchen, there is also a bottle shop where you can buy beers, wines, and sakes to take home with you.

Why We Love It: George Juniper, the head brewer, has a long and storied history in craft beer, both in the UK and in Japan. He has quickly taken the fledgling brewpub to heady heights, winning a plethora of beer awards both in Japan and overseas along the way. While TDM 1874’s beers are slowly starting to make their way out across Japan, there’s nothing better than getting them fresh at the source.

What To Try: The focus on the beer is mostly European styles though popular styles, such as American IPAs and pale ales also make an appearance. However, the British Bitter, a style rarely seen in Japan, comes highly rated, having won a silver medal at the 2018 International Beer Cup. The Pale Ale, which won bronze at the same competition, is also worth a try for those looking for something hoppier. The Nashville style hot chicken, which comes in variety of spice levels, pairs well with both the beers, though the extra hot should come with a warning for those not used to that level of spice.

For more information about TDM 1874, check out our Concierge listing.

Antenna America

The Story: The recent explosion with the interest in American craft beer in Japan wouldn’t have been possible without Nagano Trading and Antenna America. Antenna America opened in 2013 as the taproom for Nagano Trading, giving people access to American craft beer at affordable prices. The chain now has branches in Shinagawa and Yokohama, though those two are in conjunction with Queen’s Isetan Food Court.

Why We Love It: The outside drinking area on a clear day, with reasonably priced imported American craft beer, alongside some fresh hot chicken wings still remains a hard combination to beat. Antenna America is also one of the few bars in Yokohama that go beyond what is expected to accommodate families by having a variety of food and non-alcoholic beverages on the menu. And who doesn’t love a game of table football with friends and a few beers?

What To Try: With a wide selection of beer, it’s hard at times to make a decision, but stick to the Modern Times and Pizza Port for some delicious American craft beer. The Californian style fish tacos or spicy chicken wings go nicely with the wide selection of American IPAs and Pale Ales on offer. For those wanting something less substantial, there are also smaller snacks of jalapeno poppers, waffle fries, and celery with blue cheese dip.

For more information about Antenna America, check out our Concierge listing.

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