By Hiroyuki Tomie
With craft beer culture flourishing throughout the country and Japanese brewers taking home prize after prize at international beer contests, there's never been a better time to acquaint yourself with domestic brews. Although excellent bottles from a wide range of breweries are readily available at specialist shops and even well-stocked supermarkets across town, artisanal beer is still best enjoyed straight from the keg. We recommend you head out for one of the city's now countless craft beer bars, many of which also boast excellent terraces.
Really picky? Check out our roundup of the best brewpubs in and around Tokyo
Seven great beer terraces
Sitting pretty on the top floor of a newish building on the south side of the station, this handsome Kichijoji spot charms with an almost laughably polished interior – marble counters, really? – but gets right down to business with the brew offerings. The seventh-floor terrace overlooks the station and is perfect for exploring the whopping 31 beers on tap. If you’re having trouble choosing, go for the three-beer tasting set. The thin but amply topped pizzas are also well worth consideration; we like the summer-only zucchini pizza.
One of the many Craft Beer Markets in the city, this is the only link in the chain that boasts Japanese-style tatami seating – on a spacious terrace, no less. As is customary at CBT outposts, Jimbocho Terrace carries 30 kinds of beers, most of them domestic and all available for ¥480 per glass (¥780 for a US pint), while the Thai food menu is unique to this branch. Don’t miss the Session Lager, brewed by Scotland’s popular Harviestoun Brewery to celebrate Jimbocho Terrace’s second anniversary. Its fresh flavour makes it the perfect companion to Thai grub on a steamy day, but make sure to try it soon: there’s a limited quantity available.
An oasis in the office tower jungle of Otemachi, this rather descriptively named eatery bathes in natural light thanks to wall-size windows and a partially glass-encased terrace. Pub grub including fish and chips, pizza and lamb chops is combined with a competent lineup of beers, including all six varieties turned out by the Kawagoe-based Coedo brewery. We like the classy, citrus-flavoured Coedo Marihana, which goes perfectly with 14's beef tendon and kujo negi pizza, while the Coedo Shiro, a fruity wheat ale, is best paired with some blue mussels – these are actually steamed in the same beer. The terrace is always popular, so consider heading over from 5pm, which is when the restaurant starts serving dinner.
Celebrating its 20th birthday this year, TY Harbor is a veteran among Tokyo’s brewpubs. It produces a range of Californian-style ales and porters, and the attached restaurant serves up straightforward, very decent New York-style fare. The canalside location is one of the few places where you can sit outside and drink on the waterfront, and the roof ensures a pleasant experience even on rainy days. You’ll want to start off with the Pale Ale, a refined brew with a strongish citrus flavour, but our seasonal favourite is the Wheat Ale, a light and fruity creation just right for the summer heat.
Open-air boozing, riverside views and barbecue come together on the second-floor terrace of the Lyuro hotel, opened along the Sumida River in spring 2017. All employees here are self-proclaimed pitmasters (barbecue experts) – hence the name of the restaurant – who'll eagerly serve you grilled or smoked treats including pulled pork and spare ribs to go with some craft beer. The suds come in around half a dozen varieties, including several from the August Beer microbrewery. Try the unfiltered August Original Pilsner or the light August White, and keep checking back throughout summer: Pitmans are planning on brewing their own beers later this year.
Beer behemoth Kirin's craft venture is part of Daikanyama's Log Road complex and has one of the nicer terraces in the area. It offers a six-variety standard lineup, including the refreshing Daydream white ale, made with domestic ingredients such as yuzu and sansho pepper, the crisp, bitter 496 and the rich, fragrant Afterdark, plus several limited-edition brews and so-called experimental beers that can be anything from exciting to ridiculous. We recommend trying the Beer Flight option, which lets you sample the entire lineup in 120ml taster portions. Note: you may feel the need to wash off any lingering corporate smell afterwards.
Step out of Okutama Station and you'll soon come across this traditional Japanese house with a pretty garden and a river running down in the valley just in front of the building. It's home to a beer hall that serves five kinds of homebrewed beers, including the fruity, moderately bitter Session IPA, plus two limited-edition varieties. 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 snacking on some beer-batter onion rings, 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.