Baird Beer is certainly one of the most well known brewers in the Japanese craft scene. They have diverse line of year-round beers supported by a very wide variety of rotating seasonal and one offs. On top of that, the excellent beer goes really well with the quality food available at the Baird taprooms.
The Baird Beer story began in the late 1990s when Bryan and Sayuri Baird spent some time on the West Coast of the US learning the craft of craft. From there they have built their operation up from a single brewpub and its tiny30 liter batch system to a network of five taprooms supplied by a beautiful and modern brewery complex.
With twelve staples it can be difficult to choose what to drink. One of my favorite ones to start with is the Single-Take Session Ale. This is the sort beer that should be the mass market standard. It is light and refreshing, but with plenty of nuance and flavor. I really enjoy it, and I like that it is not to heavy on the ABV. Sometimes you just want to be able to have two beers before things start to blur.
My absolute favorite from Baird is probably the Suruga Bay Imperial IPA. Japan is starting to catch on to hop heavy brews, but they are still far less common that you see in America. This is one of the better home grown IPAs, with great nose and a nice blast of hop bitterness that doesn’t overpower your senses. If you are looking for an excellent Japan made IPA in the American style this is the one to beat.
The Wabi-Sabi Japanese Pale Ale is an interesting blend of brewing traditions. While the Suruga Bay is very much a West Coast IPA, the Wabi-Sabi is more subtle and spicy. It still has a strong hop flavor, but the bitterness is toned down, and the addition of green tea and wasabi gives the beer a more herbal note. I really enjoyed the Wabi-Sabi JPA, and like all of the Baird beers, I wish I could drink it more often.
For those who prefer a darker beer, Baird has you covered there too. Both the Kurofune Porter and the Shimagumi Stout offer a nice solid take on these two styles. I especially like the Kurofune, it is very dark with a nice tan head and is very complex with notes of chocolate and coffee.
Once you work your way through the standards, there is the torrent of seasonal and special beers. A favorite that I have mentioned before is the Daidai IPA, which is part of their “Fruitful Life” series. Also in that series is the Carpenters Mikan Ale, which uses mikans, also called satsumas, as a wonderful foil for a nice hoppy beer.
This fall there is the Yabai Yabai Strong Scotch Ale, which I tried at the Keyaki Beer Festival. There is also the Country Girl Kabocha Ale, which I have yet to sample. The Yabai Yabai was very good, though its strength was a bit much for my palate after a days sampling. I would be very interested in the Country Girl, as a more Japanese take on the pumpkin beer. Kabocha are a smaller pumpkin like squash that are very popular here in Japan. Kabocha goods are all over as fall starts, though they can be a bit of a disappointment for foreigners, as the Japanese don’t use the spices that we North American types take for granted. Since so much of what I expect from a “pumpkin” beer is the flavors of cinnamon and nutmeg, it would be interesting to see what sort of flavors are present in a kabocha version.
The best place to drink all of this delicious beer is of course one of the five Baird Beer Taprooms. The first one that I ever visited was the Bashamichi Taproom, in central Yokohama. This is one of my favorite bars in Japan, a ranking that comes down to both the beer and the American style BBQ on the menu. The prices are a bit high and the portions are not huge, but to be honest both price and portion are in line with other foreign food places Japan. It all comes back to the fact that eating and drinking while out and about in Japan is expensive. The bigger the city, the hipper the area, and the more exotic the food is the more you will pay for it. The good news is the BBQ is fantastic. You can choose between richly smoked ribs, juicy pulled pork sandwiches, and spicy sausages with plenty of sides and three different styles of BBQ sauce to pour over it all. American style BBQ is not common in Japan so to see it done well is a real treat.
I have also stopped in to the Harajuku Taproom, located right in the heart of one of Tokyo’s trendiest neighborhoods. While the Bashamichi Taproom is all about BBQ, the Harajuku Taproom’s menu is much more Japanese, with an emphasis on grilled chicken yaki-tori. While it may not be as unique a menu as American style BBQ, it is still great. This location also gets its very own beer, the Harajuku Ale which is available on hand pumped cask.
I have yet to visit the other Baird locations, but I imagine that they all maintain a similar level of quality. There is a second Tokyo location in Nagameguro that serves thin crust pizza. There is also the original Fishmarket Taproom in Shizuoka prefecture. Then you have the newest, which is their brand new brewery/ tasting room located in the more rural Izu peninsula, also Shizuoka prefecture. I really want to visit the Shuzenji Brewery, it seems like both a beautiful facility and a beautiful location, with a garden, orchard and even some outdoor seating. Beer Gardens aside, outdoor seating is a rarity here in Japan, and something that I really miss. It is too bad that Shuzenji is about five hours away by train, which is a little far for a day trip. Maybe someday.
As I am sure you can tell, I really like Baird Beer. The beer is of a high quality, and even more importantly is consistently so. When you delve into craft beer in Japan, sometimes both quality and consistency can be hard to find, but I have come to the point where I simply trust the Baird label. Its simply good beer. Now if only it was available here in Gunma. What do you think about Baird? Have you been to one of their taprooms? Let me know in the comments!