So, BrewDog have arrived in Japan. Although to be honest, they were around quite a lot beforehand anyway, but now they have their own bar located in the heart of Tokyo’s foreigner’s playground, Roppongi. BrewDog have long been a divisive ‘marmite’ type of company (probably not a good reference for anyone who is not British, but this basically means, people love them or hate them) and I think this is something that they have tried to cultivate. After all any publicity is good publicity. Personally though, I waver. When I was living in London and they opened their first bar in Camden, I was a regular, trying all of their new beers and plenty of their guests. However, what started out as a very reasonably priced place slowly and almost imperceptibly became one of the more expensive places in town. So, it was with some reservations that I visited their new bar in Roppongi.
First impressions were that it is a great looking place. I do like their bar designs; a kind of slightly industrial minimalism but still quite comfy. There are a lot of hard surfaces, but it doesn’t feel like you are in a factory or something. It’s a nice place to have a drink and the Roppongi bar is the biggest one of their bars I have seen so far I reckon. The front section is taken up with a few booths and a few more tables. The back raised section has lots of seating, some at counters, some at high tables. Also, importantly as I suspect they will often be busy, there is a fair bit of standing room. When I visited on a Sunday afternoon, they were plenty of free seats, but at the same time, there were quite a few people in for what is a not very popular drinking time in Tokyo. There is no table service, you order and pay at the bar as you go, which I guess is the way it pretty much has to be in a place that will probably get very crowded.
So, more importantly, the beers. There are 20 taps, normally split half and half between BrewDog beers and guests. You can get beers in a multitude of different sizes, 189ml, 284ml, 378ml and 568ml. You may have spotted we are dealing with UK pint measurements here, so if you are more comfortable with pint sizes, the sizes are 1/3, 1/2, 2/3 and 1 pint. The very nice taplist board behind the bar (bizarrely sponsored by Virgin Atlantic!) mainly deals with 1/2 and 2/3 prices though, so these are what I will mention here. I mention that the taplist is very nice because it has a station departure board effect when a beer is added or removed. If you have no idea what I am talking about, it’s a digital version of this effect. Not sure why I found it so exciting, but I did.
All of the expected BrewDog staples are in place, along with seasonals, prototypes and special one-offs. So, if you are after BrewDog beers this is the place for you. However, the prices might make you change your mind. 1/2 servings of their own beers range from ¥750-¥1000, and 2/3 servings from ¥950-¥1400. This is my big big reservation about the place. Punk IPA, which I guess is their flagship beer is at the lowest end of these prices, but if you compare with other places in Tokyo who sell the same beer it’s a bit shocking. Given that the regular large serving in Tokyo is normally US pint (473ml) and that you can get US pints of Punk in other places named on this blog for between ¥780 and ¥900, the 378ml serving (about 20% less volume) of their own beer in their own bar for more money starts to feel like a bit of a rip off. I wonder if perhaps we will see BrewDog beers less often in other places now, particularly the cheaper ones.
As for the guests, they are generally served in the same sizes, and prices for 1/2 pints range from ¥750-¥1000, with higher strength stuff naturally coming in smaller sizes for a bit more money. 2/3 pints range from ¥1100-¥1300. Out of the ten guest taps, a couple were Japanese and these were Baird and Minoh, so not exactly unusual selections. Since I visited I have also seen they’ve had Hitachino Nest. Japanese guests are retailing for similar prices to other imports. The other day I noticed Hitachino Nest’s Espresso Stout for ¥1300 for 2/3 pint. Have seen this around for significantly less. The other guests were also not so different from what you see elsewhere; Mikkeller, Nogne, Green Flash, 8 Wired etc. One of my favourite things about BrewDog bars in the UK is the guests, which normally are a mix of interesting imports and more local beers that you don’t often see. I remember getting amongst others, some great Evil Twin and Dieu de Ciel beers at the Camden bar. However, given that the bar in Roppongi is actually run by BrewDog’s Japanese importer, I believe, this might explain why the guests are a bit familiar. This might also explain the higher prices of all the beers to a certain extent, but at the same time, if other bars can afford to sell it cheaper after buying it from this importer, you have to wonder why they don’t themselves.
So, you can see what my big moan is. I am worried that these prices might even creep up when they have established their regular customers, as they did in the Camden bar. Aside from my price-related whinging, it’s a nice enough place. The staff were nice, and there seemed to be a guy, possibly the manager, who was wandering around presumably keeping an eye on people to check that they were being sufficiently punk. As an aside, bizarrely they played the same Interpol song seven times in a row when I was there and I seemed to be the only person who noticed. I left before they made it into double figures. It’s a pleasant place to have a drink, but I’m not sure it’s really at all affordable. I will keep an eye on their online taplists on their facebook page, as according to their printed menu they will be getting some stuff in from the UK that I miss and have never seen in Japan before, (Magic Rock) and in these kind of situations I might bite the bullet and cough up the cash. But this is how beer geeks work isn’t it? If something is exciting enough, it’s worth a bit of extra money. The problem is that here at the moment, the significant amount of extra money required is just for the same old stuff that is for the most part available elsewhere cheaper.
BrewDog Roppongi is highly recommended if you want to try rare BrewDog beers (which certainly won’t make it to so many other places) and money is no object to you. I fear that in spite of their desire to make people drink ‘good beer’, their prohibitively high prices will mean that the bar is a place that is for the most part populated by tourists, businessmen on expenses and people who want to buy into the ‘punk’ experience and can afford it. Not sure this really fits in with what their marketing department wants to sell as being their demographic. I can’t really work out their ‘punk’ thing. They like to portray themselves as the alternative and underground, but there is a significant feeling that they are trying to wring as much money as possible out of their drinkers. Can you really be punk and a rampant capitalist at the same time? Perhaps, but I guess it depends on your definition of punk. It certainly sits a little uncomfortably with me. But anyway, I don’t want to bang on too much about negatives. If you want BrewDog beers, good quality guests and you want to drink them in a nice looking bar, this is the place for you. And when they get some of the more exciting guests in that they have promised, I’ll be heading back there and enjoying them.
Japanese breweries on tap when I visited:
Saturday, Sunday & Holidays 15.00-00.00
5-3-2 六本木, Minato-ku, Tokyo
From Roppongi metro station, turn right out of exit 3 and take the first right. Go down the hill a little and take the first left. Ahead of you the road splits left and right. Take the right fork and BrewDog is a couple of buildings along on the right hand side opposite the back entrance of the 7-11.