If you ever asked me to name a city in Japan that is woefully lacking in good beer places considering its size and reputation, I’d almost certainly say Kobe. I don’t know why it’s so lacking. And you may be thinking ‘I don’t know why he’s put it on here if that’s true’, and you would have a decent point. I’m trying to give you some options if you’re traveling around a bit though, so don’t shoot the messenger. (And actually, Kobe has significantly upped its game recently, almost making the above comment redundant). Most of these places are in Kobe but there’s a solitary mention of a place in a different city, not so far from Kobe at the bottom and there is also a big city in Hyogo that I am intending to visit some time soon, (now added!), so perhaps when that happens this might be a bit less Kobe-centric. Until then, here are some places, and I would encourage you to bear in mind what I said above before deciding to visit Kobe for beer tourism.
In Tha Door
Haven’t been to the new incarnation of this place. In fact we didn’t even make it to the one before that either. Seems they move around quite often! This is a brewery that hasn’t got the greatest reputation but I’ve heard are improving. And there’s a funk/soul/urban vibe to the music they play which is probably reflected in the name. New place isn’t very convenient, but given the dearth of options in Kobe, if you’re in town for more than one night you’ll probably be giving it a try.
Brewpub Starboard Kobe Beer
Slightly confusing, as this place is, (or perhaps was), run by Rokko beer as their city centre brew pub. Can’t remember ever seeing the brewery part of the brewpub though if I’m being honest. Their beers used to be under the name Starboard but now are called Kobe Beer. The place still retains Starboard in the name though. I’m not sure if the change in name is a marketing thing or due to a change in ownership, but given how many Rokko beers are on tap, if it is the latter, it obviously was an unacrimonious split. Around 15 taps, split roughly three ways between their own beers, Rokko beers and some imports. City centre location and nice feel to the pub but their beers aren’t completely my cup of tea.
Kobe Minato Beer
Perhaps a bit tricky to get to, but really only a few stops on the train from Sannomiya. Tiny place with seats for about five if you budge up and a brewery that seems to have unbelievably been squeezed into a cupboard. Three or four of their own beers on tap and some light pub snacks along with some more substantial stuff too. Actually had quite a lot of fun here and that wasn’t completely due to us having just won a football match with a last minute goal.
Have never been here as it’s new and was closed on the day we were in town, but I’ve heard it’s a beer shop with a focus on modern and imported type beers… I think.
Open Air is a fairly recently opened brewery in Kobe that now also has a city centre taproom. Most of the seating is on the second floor but there’s a small counter at street level too. 12 of their own beers on tap (if I remember correctly), and some nice food options too. The beer was very reasonably priced too, and they also had a beer flight. The place was quite popular so it might be worth booking if you want to go there. Felt quite trendy but wasn’t excessively so. Had a really nice time here and the staff were very nice, keeping our reservation even though Shinkansen delays meant we were over an hour late.
Beer Space On Tap
Kind of surprising place hidden away in the basement of a hotel. Look out for the sign and go down the stairs from the main road or go into the hotel lobby and take the lift down. Around eight taps of what I recall being all Japanese craft with a bottle and can menu with some rare and expensive imports. When we visited late on Sunday it was because it was the only place still open in the area, but it was actually quite nice. The barman was very friendly and welcoming. Prices were not the cheapest but the glasses were bigger than I thought they’d be. Seems like during the week they have a group of regulars as the barman told us about organised brewery visits they all do together. Nice!
Not so far away from Kobe, Akashi brewery makes traditional European style beers which tasted much better on tap at the brewery than they did in bottles. Not meaning to criticise the bottles, but maybe sometimes lagers don’t seem to really shine when they’re not freshly poured. Didn’t seem very popular when I went on a Saturday lunchtime a few years ago and I think I actually had to go downstairs to order as they didn’t have anyone working full time in the second floor beer cafe. I have good memories of this place though and would definitely go back again. As far as I can remember they make Nihonshu too and maybe that’s their focus but the beers were good and the view out on to the beginning of the Seto Inland Sea was nice and would been even better on a day with decent weather.
Himeji was a really nice city to visit with lots of nice and fairly new beer places. Also the people seemed really warm and friendly. One thing I was quite surprised by was how the staff at lots of places were recommending their competitors’ beers and bars. There seemed to be a real community feel to the scene. I would definitely head back to the city to see how all these places are getting on.
Unlike the rest of the places in this Himeji section, Egret is a little way out of the city centre. But it’s only one stop on a train that is quite regular, so it’s still pretty convenient. Perhaps this is the brewery that has made it out of Himeji the most; I’ve seen it on tap lists of bars elsewhere. Quite a small but cosy space. There’s a counter for about eight and then a small table for four (I think…). Six taps of their own beer on and a beer flight available. Beers served in three sizes, and as a guide for prices, the moist expensive US pint size cost ¥1200. The brewer used to work at Daisen so you know he knows what he’s doing. Nice food menu available too, ranging from snacks to pizzas and other larger dishes. Oh, and a big selection of other booze too. And WiFi and daytime opening!
Himeji Hatoya Bakushu
Another Himeji brewery but not 100% sure of how it works. I think the company is a booze distributor that has a brewery (somewhere) and this is their Himeji station standing bar, in the basement of the shopping centre in the station building. I couldn’t find any other taprooms on google maps so I guess this is the main place. I was a little bit suspicious about this vagueness and the fact that their bar was so convenient, but the beer was really a nice surprise! Eight taps, six of which were their own and two local guests. Beers served in two sizes with their own beers costing ¥990-¥1045 for a 425ml serving. The guests were a little bit more. Limited food items. Lots of daytime opening. Lots and lots of it! But beware as it closes quite early. And there’s WiFi in the shopping centre.
Free Spirits Brewing
Maybe the brewery that seemed the closest to what you might imagine for a fairly recently opened Japanese brewpub. The building has three floors with the brewery being at the bottom, the main bar in the middle and with some more seating at the top (I think. I saw some coats hanging up and some beers heading up there). Six taps but they only had five on, all of which were their own beers. Forgot to take a picture of the menu, but as far as I can remember, the prices seemed quite reasonable. Lots of food available. Nice atmosphere and felt a bit like a small izakaya.
The newest place to open and another brewery, but it hasn’t quite started brewing yet. I’ll hold off writing too much about it till they have started, but will just state that it’s on the main street towards Himeji castle, is a pretty big place with lots of seating and looks interesting. We visited and had a couple of guest beers as we hadn’t realised that they were yet to start brewing. The staff were very nice and helpful and seemed enthusiastic about the project. I think it will be a popular place when they’ve started brewing. It’s difficult to say as we were there in the daytime, but I would guess that out of the other breweries mentioned, this place would have most appeal to people who aren’t beer geeks, as they also seemed to have plenty to offer to your friends or relatives who don’t use Untappd and plan their holidays around brewpubs. Plenty of daytime opening and WiFi.