Is there a single more disappointing sign to come face to face with during a day of touring?
According to the Sapporo Beer website, the beer museum is regularly closed on Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays. Thus, like the well-organized travelers that we are, we arrived on a Tuesday afternoon ready to spend a few fun-filled hours increasing our knowledge of all things beer. But instead of an open door and a free beer sample, we were met with a dark, deserted building and a “closed” sign dangling from a locked door. We inquired at the gift shop (which was pointlessly and annoyingly open in spite of the museum closure), and we were told that because Monday had been a national holiday, the museum was also closed on Tuesday this week.
The neighbouring Sapporo Beer Garden was open, so we decided to have a drink. We had already come all this way, and when else were we going to have the opportunity to have a glass of Sapporo Beer brewed right on site?
Maybe it’s a placebo effect, but like when we tried Guinness in Dublin, I think beer really does taste better when you go to its source. After finishing our first glass, we were still undecided about what to do with our now plan-less afternoon, so we each ordered a second beer to sip while we mulled over our options.
After the last frothy drop was downed, we decided to make a quick stop back at our guesthouse to regroup and pick up a few things. As we exited the subway station, I noticed a poster advertising the Kirin Beer Garden, which just happened to be located only a few blocks away from our guesthouse. I was harboring some resentment towards Sapporo Beer for their inconvenient beer museum closure, and I decided (with the logic of one who has already had 2 beers at 2pm) that we needed to take revenge on Sapporo Beer. And what better way to teach a major Japanese beer company a lesson than to spend our money at the beer garden of one of their leading competitors?
We became even more pleased with our plan when we arrived at the Kirin Beer Garden and found out that it offered an all-you-can-drink special. For 1,500 Yen (about $15), we had 100 minutes to drink as many Kirins as our beer-hungry bellies could handle. We could choose from a dark brew, a lager, or a mixture of the two. My inner beer connoisseur thought a 50/50 mixture of two different brews seemed like a strange option, but it turned out to be pretty tasty.
Not surprisingly, by the end of the night we made sure our yen were well spent, but we definitely didn’t feel like drinking again anytime soon.
The next morning, we took the train from Sapporo to Otaru. While walking along Otaru’s waterfront, lined with Victorian-style street lamps, and attractive, old warehouse buildings, we came across the Otaru Beer Hall. We weren’t in the mood for beer, but this microbrewery, which was founded by a German brewmaster, was too unusual to just pass by. Inside the beer hall, the Bavarian theme was heavily played-up with polka music, medieval props, servers wearing dirndl, and a menu that included big soft pretzels and sausages.
All the ingredients in Otaru Beers, aside from the water, are imported from Germany, and the brewing process adheres to German brewing standards. This makes Otaru Beer an anomaly: an essentially German beer made right in the middle of Japan. Their caramel-y Dunkel brew was one of the best beers I’ve had in a very long time (sorry Kirin and Sapporo). Plus, they offered a free mini-tour of the brewery (hear that, Sapporo?)
Then again, my opinion is easily swayed by salty, soft pretzels (which I wish I could show you a picture of, but I was far too excited to stop and take a photo). Actually, you may notice that none of my photos of our impromptu beer tour are masterpieces because, as it turns out, drinking and steady photography are not exactly two peas in a pod.
Photos aside, I think we proved our point. That’ll teach the Sapporo Beer Museum not to close unexpectedly.
Where in the world is your favourite beer?