The great Shibuya Station beer-lover's pub crawl
Shibuya is well known for its glitzy clubs and stylish cafés (or trashy gyarus hanging out on curbs), but the entertainment area also offers an excellent selection of bars and pubs that cater to beer lovers. Here are five locations where you can find pints of craft and rare beers.
The Aldgate: 19 taps, reasonable prices
The Aldgate (Udagawacho 30-4, Shibuya-ku, tel. 03 3462-2983) is quite a contrast with the other restaurants on Center-gai in Shibuya. This English-style pub has 19 taps that serve up a great balance of imports and Japanese local brews. They also offer several exclusive brews for beer hunters. Aldgate Ale and Harry Porter are favorites, and recently they've started serving Jack the Ripper IPA -- a nice, dry IPA with a long hop finish that is contract brewed exclusively for The Aldgate by Baird Brewing.
Beers are expensive. Glasses at around ￥650-750 and pints ￥950-1,050 but The Aldgate is still the best value of these five pubs, especially since the bar provides free Wi-Fi service. Altogether there are 19 taps, with three to four of the taps serving guest beers and the others the excellent range of regulars.
The Aldgate occasionally opens early in the mornings for major overseas sporting events such as rugby matches and the Super Bowl. If you're interested in attending, it's advisable to make friends with the staff. This may also let you occasionally request a song from their impressive record collection.
Craftheads: 18-taps, gourmet prices
Craftheads (Jinnan 1-13-10, Shibuya-ku, tel. 03 6416 9474) offers a wonderful basement environment decorated with unfinished concrete and hardwood furniture. The owner has an exclusive import agreement with Three Floyd's Brewing in Illinois, so this is the only place where you can find their beers in Japan. You will pay a premium, however, with 650ml bottles starting at ￥3,400 and going as high as ￥4,800 for beers like Dreadnaught IPA, Popskull Imperial Brown Ale and Dark Lord Russian-style Imperial Stout.
The draft 'pints' at Craftheads are a bit skimpy, generally served in glasses and almost always a finger or two short of the top. This combined with the high prices (￥500-800 for half pints, ￥900-1,500 for a pint) means a visit to Craftheads will do significant damage to your wallet in addition to your liver. Craftheads has a 30-tap capacity but is limited by the space in their refrigerator which allows them to serve 17-18 beers at a time. The beers are a 3:2 ratio of import beers (generally from the U.S. West Coast) to local Japanese craft beers.
Cataratas: Limited-seating, maximum prices
Cataratas (Sakuragaokacho 16-14, Shibuya-ku, tel. 03 3461 6615) is run by a couple that went on a round-the-world vacation before opening up their bar (check out their photo albums from Bavaria, Angkor Wat and more.) It's a tiny counter bar deep in the basement with eight counter seats and two tables. They have six taps and don't waste their time with low quality beer. They always have the freshest offerings from quality breweries such as Stone, Maui Brewing and other well known U.S. breweries. If you drink enough pints (and you will have to drink upwards of 100), the couple will put your caricature on the wall.
Beers are extremely expensive, with half pints at ￥1,000 and pints at ￥1,500. They also offer 50-plus bottled beers from around the world with an average price of ￥1,200. Just remind yourself that you're also paying for the excellent company of the super-friendly couple.
Amusement: German beers, saloon atmosphere
Amusement (Sakuragaokacho 2-9, Shibuya-ku, tel. 03 3464 7971) is an exercise in juxtaposition. The bar is decorated like a saloon, plays Dixieland jazz and offers beer from Oregon and Germany on tap. The Oregon beer is from Rogue Brewing, imported and relabeled with Japanese names by Ezo Beer. The German beer varies by season and consistently includes some of the most famous names such as Hofbrau, Spaten, Franziskaner and Paulaner among others.
Small sizes cost ￥850 and large sizes ￥1,050, and the German beers are served in 300ml and 500ml servings. Look closely at the wall and you'll notice that 1990s rock band Mr Big has left its mark. They signed the wall when they visited the bar on January 1, 1996.
The Griffon: Ji-biru heaven
The Griffon (Shibuya 2-22-6, Shibuya-ku, tel. 03 3498 0839) is a young bar with an impressive selection of Japanese craft beers on tap. You'll be hard-pressed to find as diverse a selection of ji-biiru. There are 16 beers total, only a few of which are not Japanese.
Guiness and Hoegarden are served in pints for ￥980, but all the Japanese beers are ￥900 a glass and come from high quality breweries such as Sankt Gallen, Minoh, Shonan Beer, Preston, Kinshachi, Fujizakura and Yona Yona. You'll also see rare beers marked with 珍しい」(mezurashii) on the side. These are hard-to-find beers from breweries such as Tono Beer, Tanaikogen Beer and others. The low lights and loud pop music lend the venue a more Shibuya flavor than the other pubs on this crawl.