Though it's long been regarded as the essential destination for beer enthusiasts in Tokyo, Popeye actually started life as a Western-style izakaya. Its transformation into a specialist craft beer haunt has been slow but spectacular: it now boasts an unrivaled 70+ beers on tap, all kept in impecable condition and most of them produced by Japanese breweries. They even have their very own small brewery these days.
There's table seating for groups, but the most fun to be had is at the bar, where the friendly and knowledgable staff entice drinkers with unfamiliar tipples. It isn't the cheapest place in town, and the stodgy food selection falls a long way short of the quality of the beer – but if it's the latter you're after, Popeye is hard to beat.
Having opened a full-scale craft beer empire since, the first Tokyo pub opened by the Numazu-based Baird Brewing Company is very relaxed: all brick walls and wood panelling, with a long central table that's perfect for communal drinking. It's primarily an outlet for Baird's own brews, which tend to be pretty damn fine: we're particular fans of the Teikoku IPA and Angry Boy Brown Ale, available year-round (¥1,000 for a US pint).
Check the blackboard above the bar for guest beers from the likes of Rogue and Brewdog, and keep an eye out for Baird's own seasonal specials. Don't miss the New Haven-style pizzas either, and note that this is a non-smoking venue.
The first Tokyo outpost of Belgium's famed Delirium Café is located in the heart of the Kasumigaseki office district, meaning it's crawling with salarymen on most nights of the week. Though it can't hope to rival the 2,000-plus beer selection of its Brussels counterpart, it boasts upwards of 60 bottled varieties, with around a dozen available on tap. The food menu includes Belgian staples such as steamed mussels and carbonnade flamande beer stew alongside cured ham and Hokkaido venison.
The sister shop of Kawasaki craft beer haven Sal's Bar isn't quite as snooty as its counterpart, though the atmosphere is more reminiscent of a wine bar than a beer hall. The draft selection – a fairly equal split between American and Japanese microbreweries – gets served in 200ml and 350ml glasses that encourage drinkers to sample a wide variety, and it's the only place in town that serves bottled and draft beers from Indiana's Three Floyds Brewing.
One of the boldest ventures in Tokyo's craft beer boom, this spacious, chrome-and-concrete bar occupies a prime slice of real estate just across the street from the Bunkamura in central Shibuya. It's the work of Teruya Hori, a major player in the craft beer scene who runs online retailer Goodbeer and also built the bar's state-of-the-art tap system.
With over 40 craft beers on draught – predominantly Japanese and American microbrews – Goodbeer Faucets has one of the largest selections in the capital, and the calibre of the menu has improved a lot since it first opened. Keep an eye on their Twitter account if you want to catch some of the more unusual offerings, as they tend to go quickly. Pints cost ¥200 less during happy hour (Mon-Thu 4pm-8pm; Sun 3pm-8pm), and the food menu is also worth investigating.
This Belgian-style beer pub is a copy of its original Brussels location, with a little bit of Japanese flair thrown in for that local feel. The changing craft beer lineup ranges from ubiquitous Belgian beers to a few Belgian-Japanese collaborations – think a yuzu-infused weissbier for example, brewed in Kyoto with guidance from the Belgians.
Staff are knowledgeable and always up for a chat, while prices are similar to those at other craft or import beer pubs in the area (from around ¥850 for a regular glass). Their food menu is worth a gander too. BBP is set to hold beer-centric events in the future, so keep an eye on their Facebook page for updates.
Shimokitazawa's high temple of craft beer is actually two shops: Ushitora One is a sit-down affair (reminiscent of Ryogoku's Popeye) with a food menu that stretches from sauerkraut to shepherd's pie, while Ushitora Two is a cozy standing bar that serves up kushiage and oden alongside the drinks. Between them, they've got 35 beers on tap, almost all of them from Japanese breweries and some of them practically impossible to find elsewhere. Both bars are completely non-smoking.
Planted right in the middle of one of Tokyo's busiest office districts, Craft Beer Market caused a minor sensation when it opened in 2011. Not without due cause, either: with all of its beers priced at a flat ¥780 per US pint, the 40-seater pub is undercutting the competition by a few hundred yen per drink. Choose from 30 draught beers, including local heavyweights like Baird, Aqula and Iwate Kura, plus the occasional imported microbrew.
They've also expanded across the city in droves, with locations in anywhere from Awajicho and Jimbocho to Nihonbashi, Koenji and Kichijoji, all of which have their own unique (and decent) food line-up.
Opened by a trio of American homebrew enthusiasts back in 2011, DevilCraft immediately stood out on the increasingly crowded Tokyo craft beer scene, for a simple reason: it was getting noticed because of its food. While you can always count on finding some top-grade offerings amongst the 15 draft beers on offer – sometimes including contract-brewed recipes by the owners themselves – it feels as though many customers are going for the Chicago-style deep dish pizzas as much as the beer.
Easily one of the most stylish additions to the Tokyo craft beer circuit, Lush Life looks more like a high-end dining bar than a pub, all soft-lit pale wood surfaces and minimal decor, with an ornate siphon coffee maker perched at one end of the bar. There are a dozen beers on tap, including both Japanese and international microbrews and some rare-in-Tokyo selections. The food menu looks considerably less interesting at first, but even run-of-the-mill offerings like beer-battered onion rings and peperoncino spaghetti are done with real flair.
Welcome to that rarest of Tokyo British pubs: good music, no ersatz trappings, no chain-smoking salarymen, and a good range of beers and ales on tap, with regulars like Old Speckled Hen, Yona Yona Real Ale and Baird IPA jostling alongside a selection of guest tipples from Japanese and foreign microbreweries. The kitchen's baked potato with beans, toad in the hole and fish and chips will have the limey contingent yearning for home, and the results are invariably tasty, even if they aren't always entirely accurate.
In 1998, Ichiri Fujiura became the first non-American to win the Homebrewer of the Year award – too bad that homebrewing is actually illegal in Japan. 14 years on, the suds enthusiast got the last laugh when he opened a craft beer pub that was to house his very own 'nano' brewery. The Tharsis Ridge Brewing Company project never came to anything, but Fujiura's bar nonetheless continues to serve up to 21 draft microbrews (a couple of them hand-pumped) from Japan and overseas.
One of the forerunners of the Tokyo craft beer boom, it's been almost a decade since Vivo! both relocated and dramatically increased the number of brews on tap after it first opened in Ikebukuro in 2003. The generic decor of its basement location leaves a bit to be desired, but there's no faulting the selection of domestic and imported microbrews – which (unusually) you can order in both US and UK pint glasses.
Step out of Okutama Station and you'll soon come across this traditional Japanese house with a pretty garden. There's a river running down in the valley just in front of the building, completing the beatific scene. It's home to a beer hall that serves five kinds of homebrews, including a fruity session IPA and a light golden ale. They've got their own hop field a 20-minute drive away too, so it's all very local.
Having a glass in the garden while listening to the sound of the river and admiring the trees around you will make your clock tick slower. Those visiting Okutama for rafting or hiking will want to keep Vertere in mind – even if it's only for a quick break while waiting for the train home.
Youthful brewmaster Kakyu Nomura quit his job as an advertising executive to open this brewpub in 2009, serving his ‘tezukuri’ (handmade) beer in a cosy, wood-decked interior that he also made himself. There are usually four or five ales on tap, starting from as little as ¥390 for a glass tankard, and you're unlikely to have the same drink twice – the recipes are constantly being tweaked, with a batch number to indicate which one you're getting.
One of Japan's most established microbreweries, Swan Lake marked its 15th anniversary by opening this dedicated pub in May 2012, just a short stumble from Tokyo Station, a move that has sparked a veritable citywide chain since. The Niigata brewery's own beers – including its award-winning Amber Ale and Porter – are available in hearty UK pint glasses for ¥950 a pop, and you should definitely try the barley wine while you're at it, though the selections from other breweries feel a little overpriced in comparison.
Tucked under the railway tracks near Shinbashi Station, the nautically themed Dry-Dock is certainly one of Tokyo's most distinctive beer joints, with a sunken bar area, portholes for windows and a ship's wheel on the counter. It's also got some unorthodox ideas, not least an enthusiasm for Asahi Super Dry that some microbrew enthusiasts might consider tantamount to heresy.
It may seem like overkill to include two of Baird Brewing's pubs in this list, but the Harajuku Taproom isn't merely a clone of its Nakameguro sibling. Cosier by far, and with much of the seating clustered around the bar area, it's probably the more welcoming option for lone drinkers or couples, while the menu favours izakaya-style offerings like kushiyaki skewers, tamagoyaki egg rolls and gyoza.
There are always twenty or so draught Japanese microbrews on offer at this compact basement bar, which sits right on the main drag in central Roppongi, with the likes of Sankt Gallen, Shiga Kogen and Iwate Kura well represented. Other places may be cheaper, granted, but there's only one bar we know of in Tokyo where you can order a round of Daisen G Weizen at 6am in the morning. Above-average food, friendly staff and free Wi-Fi add to the appeal.
It's hard to imagine spending a whole evening in this bare-bones shrine to Nagano booze, but it'd be a good place to start one. This standing bar across the street from Shinbashi Station stocks a wide range of Nagano-made sake and (mainly bottled) craft beer – and it serves them at retail prices. Expect everything from the ubiquitous Yona Yona Ale to Shiga Kogen IPA and Oh! La! Ho! golden ale, plus a couple of brews on tap.