After Hours: A taste of history and hops
TOKYO — You know the feeling. It’s an early Sunday afternoon, you’ve just stuffed yourself at the all-you-can-eat brunch buffet at the New Sanno, and all you really want is a nap.
But you’re in Tokyo, one of the grandest cities in the world, and you should take a walk, explore a neighborhood, maybe even check out a museum.
And a drink wouldn’t be bad, either.
Never fear. In Japan, you can find both culture and comfort at the Beer Museum Yebisu.
It’s a gallery of hops and tanks and advertisements dedicated to Yebisu beer. And even better, admission to the museum is free and the tasting room serves draft beer starting at 200 yen, or about $1.65.
In the late 19th century, the Nippon Beer Brewery began making Yebisu in a village called Mita, just south of the Imperial Palace. Around the turn of the century, the company merged with Sapporo and by 1928, the area was called Ebisu, after the frothy product.
The brewery itself has moved to Funabashi in Chiba prefecture, according to the museum. But in the mid-1990s, the museum, other restaurants and a promenade of stores opened in the area now called Yebisu Garden Place.
The museum is in one corner of Garden Place, in the basement of Sapporo’s corporate headquarters. The displays include a demonstration of beermaking, classic Yebisu advertisements from years past, and a hologram “magic vision theater” that tells the story of Gambrinus, the king of beer and his victory over “the Evil One.”
Alas, nearly everything in the museum is in Japanese. So strolling through the exhibits goes awfully quick for English-only visitors.
But the tasting room speaks a universal language. More cafeteria than bar, the room sports a host of tables, a vending machine for buying beer tickets and bartenders deftly pouring beers that, for Tokyo, are downright cheap.
On a recent visit, the $3.30 tasting sampler provided four beers ranging from a refreshing German-style white beer to a black beer with coffee overtones. For the less adventurous, there also was a standard English-style ale and a reliable Yebisu lager, the beer most often found in vending machines and bars throughout Japan. A packet of beer crackers came alongside for free.
The offerings may not be the most palatable for serious beer connoisseurs, and it’s not a place you can really lounge at all day long. Still, it’s one of the best bargains in town.
And you have the satisfaction of crossing one more of Tokyo’s cultural gems off your list.
See previous After Hours reviews here.
Beer Museum Yebisu
Prices: Sampler of four beers, 400 yen, or $3.30. Individual beers start at 200 yen, or $1.65. Beer crackers free with beer. Cheese, 100 yen, or 83 cents.
English menu: Yes.
Clientele: A mix of locals and tourists.
Directions: Take either a JR or Metro train to Ebisu station. Follow signs for the Skywalk, a covered, elevated walkway leading away from the train station. Once outside, cross the street and veer toward the left. Look for a huge, red brick building with Sapporo on the top. You’ll see signs pointing you to the Beer Museum, on the basement level. Beer Museum hours: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. (you must enter by 5 p.m.). Closed Mondays.