Despite being an international phenomenon, craft beer is first and foremost about the communities that produce, consume and love its singular flavors. In a time when supporting small and local businesses—as well as the human connections they foster—seems more essential than ever, Tokyo’s brewpubs have become important spaces for people to forego their WFH anxieties and indulge in a delicious pint or two (in compliance with the capital’s social distancing precautions, of course).
Through building local friendships to introducing bold flavors and launching neighborhood breweries, the following craft beer havens, three of which opened this past summer, go far beyond a great-tasting sip to truly serve the communities they inhabit.
Spearheaded by a team of French expats with ample experience in Tokyo’s kitchens, Coaster has become a vibrant community hub since opening early last year. The buzz, it turns out, is not all about beer.
Inspired by cozy neighborhood pubs in Paris, founder Thomas Kim created Coaster as a place for friends to gather and meet other like-minded folk over thoughtful drinks and food. “We like to be close to our customers and a lot of our customers actually become good friends,” Kim says, adding that he thinks of Coaster as a “bigger living room” for patrons, a sentiment echoed in the bar’s homey furniture and art-decked walls.
Finding the right pint is hardly an issue at Coaster, which boasts a robust selection of European, North American and Japanese craft beer for a total of 15 options on tap. The beers rotate daily but expect a diverse palette of punchy sours, hazy IPAs and hearty coffee stouts. For a bite to eat, the BBQ pulled pork sandwich, cheffed up by former cooks of Shibuya’s now-shuttered Las Chicas, is a must.
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It’s no surprise that the mastermind behind this polychromatic phenomenon is an artist-brewer duo from one of the most design-forward corners of Europe. With a philosophy to “change the perception of beer forever,” Henok Frentie and Karl Grandin founded Omnipollo, a Stockholm-based beer production company, in 2010 and opened its first Japan outpost this August.
Housed within a refurbished unagi restaurant in the stock trading district of Nihonbashi Kabutocho, Omnipollos Tokyo is an unorthodox yet ultimately rewarding stop in the capital’s craft beer circuit. The draft options—with descriptions like “raspberry creme brulee sour” and “ancho chili hazelnut coffee stout”—sound as outlandish as the bar’s cobalt blue interior, but genuinely taste great. The Noa Pecan Mud Cake, an 11 percent ABV imperial stout, is creamy, nutty and unexpectedly smooth. The sweet and peachy Karpologi (6 percent ABV), on the other hand, tastes like the Platonic ideal of a brunch mimosa.
Despite its obscure location, Omnipollos Tokyo is the kind of place hop lovers would happily travel to. Them and fans of off-kilter Scandinavian design.
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3. Five Trees
Gakugeidaigaku (or “Gakudai” for short) might be Nakameguro’s less trendy neighbor, but the area is packed with some of Tokyo’s best izakaya (take the heavenly Hitohira), international cuisine and, with the introduction of Five Trees, craft beer.
The airy, green-filled taproom opened in July with ambitious plans to launch its in-house microbrewery by the end of the year. Encased in floor-to-ceiling glass windows which offer a glimpse of several 250-liter tanks inside the building, Five Trees is a chilled-out venue for after-work pints and casual meetups. “We’re interested in creating a cycle of activity in the community,” says Jin Obuchi, who helps manage the bar. Obuchi is a former employee of Yokohama’s heavy metal bar and brewery Thrash Zone, which currently supplies Five Trees’ tap selection.
Beyond serving locally crafted beer, Five Trees also functions as a showroom for a landscaping and home goods company (hence the polished interior) and sells one-of-a-kind succulents and other plants from Yard Works. While there’s much room for growth (at the moment, there are only three rotating beers on tap), Five Trees is a welcome newcomer in one of the most underrated neighborhoods in the capital.
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Due to strict laws governing beer manufacturers in Japan, microbreweries like Yoho Brewing (of the famed Yona Yona Ale) and Baird Brewing were relative latecomers on the global craft beer scene. Once regulations loosened in 1994, however, the archipelago became fertile grounds for a new generation of ji-biru (local beer) producers in places like Ibaraki, Niigata and Hokkaido.
Showcasing Japan’s diverse approach to craft beer is Threefeet Tokyo, a specialty shop in Harajuku’s muted backstreets with a Covid-appropriate “take-home only” concept. The cozy, no-frills interior features a row of refrigerators filled with over 100 types of Japan-born-and-bred brews. There are a handful of European and American options, but threefeet is explicit in its mission to uplift domestic microbrewers. The Cheer Leader Saison (5.7 percent ABV), a collaboration between Threefeet and Yamanashi’s Far Yeast Brewing, is an aromatic and highly drinkable after-work treat.
The best part? The shop also does online deliveries. The website is Japanese only, but with photos for each option, checking out is fairly easy.
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