Craft Beer Kyoto: six of the best spotsArea Guide
Although there’s no danger that microbrews, milk stouts and pungent IPAs will ever supplant the national love of cold, crisp lager, craft beer has made major inroads in Japan over the past decade. Much like the situation of Third Wave coffee in Kyoto, where the cutting edge cafe co-exists with the kissaten, craft beer bars have found a home in Kyoto, too.
Here are six of the best craft beer bars in Kyoto.
Set on a particularly pretty and quintessentially Kyoto covered shotengai, Beer Komachi has about the same esthetic as the other shops on the arcade: concrete and counter. The friendly staff are happy to explain and recommend any of the beers on tap with the evangelical fervor that unites craft beer heads across the globe. Brews on tap are rotated regularly but usually include a few selections from local breweries like Kyoto Brewing, Woodmill Brewery and Osaka's Minoh Brewery and Marca, as well as drafts from further afield in Japan and abroad. There are bottles, as well, and a small but thoughtfully curated sake list. Hop out from Higashiyama Station on the Tozai Line and find the bar, curtained behind sheets of plastic, with the smell of good food coming from Beer Komachi’s small kitchen.
While Beer Komachi flips the esthetic and architecture of a shotengai butcher shop, Before 9 occupies a traditional machiya. Its charms as a tavern aside, Before 9 happens to be an architectural gem. Put together by Tokyo-based Puddle Architects, Before 9 is a fine example of their mission to renew rather than reinvent existing spaces (they put together a sister location, Another 8, in Meguro, Tokyo, which saw a former garage being renovated to house a beer and sake bar). The machiya once housed a sake brewer, and Puddle’s design highlights the preserved elements by pursuing absolute minimalism with any additional fixtures, extending down to the taps, with irregular wooden handles set in a block of concrete. The atmosphere is warm, with the bar open to the street, and an area upstairs, occupying what would have been the merchant family’s quarters, particularly chilled out, with films projected on the wall.
Beer Pub Takumiya
A straight shot up Karasuma Dori from Kyoto Station, just south of the grounds of the Imperial Palace, on Oshikoji Dori, not far from Before 9, Beer Pub Takumiya’s nondescript facade is the gateway to a cozy backstreet beer bar with a solid selection of craft beers on tap and a deeper selection of bottles. With a solid food menu (oysters, fresh or deep fried, are part of the draw at Takumiya) and seats at the counter as well as tables, Takumiya invites you to linger, sampling as many of the taps as possible.
Beer Pub Ichiya
Kyoto's Ichijoji Brewery was part of an ambitious scheme to brew fine beer and also provide a place for intellectually and developmentally disabled adults. Ichiya is one of three shops opened by the brewery since 2011, with Ichiya focused primarily on showcasing beer (the other two shops include a gastropub and a steakhouse). This is a great place to try the Kyoto brewery’s beers on tap, but they rotate an interesting selection of guest taps from the usual suspects.
Spring Valley Brewery
Spring Valley Brewery’s taverns are a self-conscious riff on American-style brew pubs, importing the atmosphere and vibe, but setting them in interesting spaces (an old machiya near Nishiki Market, for the Kyoto shop, a brick warehouse in Yokohama, and a postmodern hunting lodge on Log Road Daikanyama in Tokyo) and stocking them with Japanese made beers. The SVB brews on tap are a bit more conventional than you might find at other taverns on this list, but the quality is high and the atmosphere is welcoming. This is the corporate side of the craft beer world, with SVB overseen by Kirin—part of their effort to capture sharp and monied consumers that have jumped ship from the megabrews and chain izakayas—but it’s tough to knock the execution.
Takanoya World Craft Beer
There are plenty of spots to try craft beers from Kyoto and Japanese brewers, but not as many spots to get American craft beers on tap—Takanoya is the spot, with a rotating selection of mostly American and UK craft beers on tap from breweries like Parallel 49, Brewdog, and Victory.
Top image: Craft Beer Kyoto: six of the best spots