Join Culinary Backstreets

Sign up with email

or

Already a member? Log in.

Log in to Culinary Backstreets

Trouble logging in?

Not a member? Sign up!

Share on FacebookTweet about this on TwitterEmail this to someone

When Japan’s last shogun ceded control of the country in 1868 and a centuries-old closed-door policy was reversed, foreign influences on the country grew from a trickle to a steady stream. Foreign residents were confined to restricted living areas, one of the largest one being in Yokohama, just south of Tokyo.

Capitalizing on their fellow expatriates’ homesickness, some enterprising Westerners began importing or even brewing beer. In fact, the brewery that would become Kirin, one of Japan’s most ubiquitous tipples, was founded by a Norwegian by way of America in 1869 or 1870.

As a domestic market for beer emerged, the Meiji government sent fledgling brewers to train in Germany and elsewhere, as well as brought in American advisors to help grow the industry. The German brewing tradition ruled the day, and as the century turned, German beer halls became all the rage in Tokyo.

Over the course of the 20th century, the brewing industry in Japan would wax and wane, though the beverage never went completely out of style. Simple nama-biiru (draft beer) remains a standard libation across Japan, and with the relaxation of brewing laws in the mid-1990s, more small-scale breweries were able to enter the market. The craft beer scene has been growing steadily – with its fair share of spurts – for over two decades.

At present, there are over 100 bars in Tokyo specializing in craft beer, either domestic, imports or a blend of both. Due to Tokyo’s premium real-estate values, most of the nation’s craft breweries set up shop outside the city, and the number of true brewpubs can be counted on one or two hands.

Ushitora may not be one of them, but it does brew its own beer in Tochigi Prefecture, just north of Tokyo, to sell in the bar and restaurant in the trendy Shimokitazawa neighborhood in the city’s western reaches. Originally a simple – but superb – beer bar, Ushitora began brewing its own beer in 2014 and has charted its progress by numbering every new brew. On our last visit, we noted that the count had reach #165, an American IPA. Perusing the beer menu, which includes 22 rotating taps and three hand pumps, we settled on a pint of #164, the Hyakka Ryoran Kamen, an Imperial Pale Lager that was clear and refreshing, with hints of citrus and lemongrass. It was still early in the evening and quiet, but from experience we knew that would change.

Among all the beer bars in Tokyo, Ushitora is the best of all worlds. In addition to its own beers, Ushitora pours some from Japan’s best breweries as well as pedigreed foreign imports, everything from Japanese craft favorites like Ise Kadoya and Kyoto Brewing to imports like Firestone Walker and BFM. But the quality doesn’t stop with the beer. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be there. Ushitora dishes up some of the best Japanese pub fare in Tokyo. Most plates are small, designed to enhance the beer and be enjoyed with good company. As we sipped a fresh Saison, we snacked on succulent fried octopus and crispy fried tofu, chili-spiced burdock and dried daikon in sesame dressing.

Crowds cycled in and out as we whiled away the hours, trying in vain to work our way through the entire tap list and menu. Finally, we were ready to throw in the towel, but not before dessert: #158, an American Strong Ale with rich caramel malts and distinct apple notes.

It was just the nightcap we needed.

Get directionsExport as KML for Google Earth/Google MapsOpen standalone map in fullscreen modeCreate QR code image for standalone map in fullscreen modeExport as GeoJSONExport as GeoRSSExport as ARML for Wikitude Augmented-Reality browser
Ushitora

loading map - please wait...

Ushitora 35.662680, 139.665660 6-3-27 Daita (Directions)
 
Address: 6-3-27 Daita, Shibuya-ku, Shimokitazawa
世田谷区代田6-3-27 アゼリアハウス1F
Telephone: +81 3 3485 9090
Hours: Tues.-Fri. 3-11:30pm; Sat.-Sun. 11:30am-11:30am; closed Monday (Tuesday if Monday is a holiday)

Related stories

May 29, 2017

Suju Dining Rokkaku: Miso Central

By Fran Kuzui
Tokyo -- Many people think of miso as the soup that gets tacked onto every Japanese meal. We can still remember our first experience of Japanese food in the West, when the waiter brought the soup at the end of the meal, and someone thought he’d forgotten to serve it at the beginning. Any self-respecting…
May 8, 2017

Kondo Honten: Simple Pleasures

By Davey Young
Tokyo -- Japan is well known for its variety of national dishes, as well as local specialties claimed by individual regions and cities. Tokyo, which boasts more Michelin stars than any city in the world, is a natural nexus for these disparate eats, as well as more international fare. It may come as a surprise,…
Take a deep dive into the bounty of Queens on our culinary walk in this area.
June 7, 2017

Queens International Night Market: Doing It After Dark

By Dave Cook
Queens -- Something special happens when the sun goes down. Night markets, whether in Southeast Asia or in the heart of Queens, inspire a thrill — we call it a sense of wonder — that brings boundless childhood summers to mind. We still feel it, on warm-weather Saturdays, when we ride the elevated 7 train…