Brussels Beer Project Shinjuku: Co-Creating New Styles of Beer

The craft beer market is booming in Japan right now, and there are a multitude of craft beer bars to choose from in Tokyo, serving both local and overseas creations. The Brussels Beer Project Taproom in Shinjuku is taking beer brewing to the next level with its wide range of inventions selected by their community. They also serve great food, including Belgian specialities, and hold regular live music events.

2019-02-22   Bars & Restaurants, Tokyo,


Breaking with Tradition

It isn’t unusual for a brewery to operate its own chain of bars: Baird Beer taprooms, Hitachino Nest brewing labs, and Delirium Cafes (by Belgian Brewery Huyghe) are good examples. Less usual, is to achieve the same result using crowdfunding, especially in a country like Belgium, with its crowded beer scene.

Brussels Beer Project, or BBP for short, started making craft beers in 2013, after its two co-founders managed to raise enough money through successive crowdfunding campaigns. Rather than stick to traditional styles, their concept was, and still is, to create about 20 new beers a year, and then let their community of beer tasters choose the best one.

This beermat best defines Brussels Beer Project brewing philosophy

The lucky winner will stay in production, and so the number of beers on offer increases over time. Each one is said to be co-created, referring to the synergy between brewers and tasters. Occasionally, beers are retired or revived: they even have a graveyard in the beer section on their website. Since they alway need to come up with new beers and styles, their creations often contain unusual ingredients like mango or bread!

The names of past beers created by Brussels Beer Project

Another interesting aspect of their business is, that they try to make new beers in collaboration with other microbreweries. For example, in Japan, they have worked with Kyoto Brewing to create Zenith Zest, a saison beer made with Yuzu. A great way to tap into the local knowledge of Japanese ingredients!

Inside the BBP Taproom

I had never heard of Brussels Beer project till my Belgian friends visiting Japan told me about their wonderful beer creations. Amazingly, they already had a branch in Shinjuku, opened in May 2017, thanks to the support of the local Belgian beer bar chain “Brussels”. It’s their third taproom, after the original one in Brussels and second one in Paris (they just completed another crowdfunding for a fourth one). I finally visited them in the autumn of 2018 – I was so impressed that I’ve been back a few more times since!

Co-creation is a key concept for Brussels Beer Project

The location can be a little tricky to find since its down an unlit narrow side street, a few minutes from the busy Koshu Kaido Avenue, 10 minutes on foot from the South exit of Shinjuku station – turn left after the Kamo soccer shop and then right, before the Family Mart. On the weekend you can see a long line extending past the popular “Shin Udon” restaurant next doors. The outside facade, resembling a brick house, is quite striking. The bar is spread over two floors, with a second counter area for bottled beers on the 2nd floor to ensure that customers are served rapidly wherever they sit!

In warm weather, you can even sit outside

The wooden interior is very typical of other craft beer bars I’ve been to in Tokyo. There is a very long counter where patrons can chat with the staff. There is a lot of space between tables – good for tall people like myself. Although the first floor is mostly bar stools and high tables, the 2nd floor has a number of regular tables. Spotlights provide the necessary lighting, so that you can appreciate the colour of each beer. Background music is jazzy hip-hop like Sound Providers and Jazz Liberatorz.

Lots of space to enjoy craft beers and good food

Experimenting with Ingredients

The most exciting thing for me is the high number and wide variety of draught and bottled beers. Even though they are all produced by the same brewery, each beer tastes quite different from the next one. They also have a guests beers from other breweries – Japanese and Belgian. The drink menu has basic information about each beer in English, but you can also check their website for more background on each beer.

The 15 beers on tap today

In addition to the alcohol percentage, the menu also includes the IBU or “International Bitterness Units” which measures the amount of hop acids in the beer which can give it its bitter taste – the higher the number the more bitter the beer should taste. I use the words “can” and “should” since, just like the sake meter value for Japanese sake, a number of other flavours can change the final taste, so it should be used as a rough guideline only.

Their website includes another interesting piece of information on each beer, the EBC, which describes the colour of the beer: the higher the number, the darker the beer. Some beers can be as low as 4 (Wunder Lager, co-created in 2018) and as high as 120 (Dark Sister, co-created in 2013).

Jungle Joy has an EBC of 21 – you can appreciate its lighter colour
On the other hand, Babylone is slightly darker with an EBC of 38

Beers one should definitely try are:

  • Grosse Bertha, a german “hefeweizen” (similar to a white beer)
  • Babylone, a Belgian IPA (made with bread)
  • Delta IPA, a Saison IPA (using passion fruit)

The last one was also Brussels Beer Project’s first official beer, selected back in 2013. Most beers on the menu have a classic BPP Bitterness; however, my favourite was the Tarte Tatin, a strong winter beer with apple and caramel notes – unfortunately it’s not one of the regular beer (originally a 2017 limited edition) so its tap presence isn’t guaranteed. Just make sure to give each beer a good sniff before drinking since their aromas are quite unique!

Most beers come in two sizes: Regular, 350ml (around 1050 yen) and small, 160ml (around 800 yen) – check their Facebook page for updates on guest beers. If you don’t know what to pick at first, they do a “beer flight”: choose three of the beers on tap, each served in a 100ml glass (around 1500 yen), or come on a Thursday night for their “Bottom Less Free Tasting” plan (see below).

Some unusual BBP creations on display behind the bar

This taproom also has a great food menu to go with the beers (last order at 10h30). I’m a big fan of their very long merguez sausage – a spicy beef sausage (around 900 yen). If you are at a loss at what to get, you can’t go wrong with a portion of Belgian fries (small 400 yen or regular 800 yen). The taste is comparable to what you would get in their country of origin – light and crispy. However make sure to eat them with mayonnaise!

The perfect dish to accompany Belgian beers

Bottomless Tasting and Live Jazz

I happened to visit on a Thursday night and was surprised to discover that they just had a one-hour-all-you-can-drink plan (around 2000 yen), which is on every Thursday night and is called “Bottom Less [sic] Free Tasting”; it includes all tap beers on their menu, even those from other breweries – what a great way to discover all the beers on their menu!

Beers are served in smaller, 100ml tasting glasses, and you also have to sit on the first floor, since that is where all the taps are located. It’s important to note that there is no table charge at BBP, so this is probably one of the best deals in the area. The staff are very attentive, and so if you are diligent at ordering, you can easily try half a dozen or more beers within the hour!

Taps adorned with the Brussels Beer Project logo

They hold regular live Jazz events on the 2nd floor by a group called “Les Sonorites du Voyage” – one of BBP staff is part of the group (or one of the group members works there). The next performance is February 10th. Entrance is free, but you are expected to leave a music tip at the end. I was present at one of these concerts in December and had a great time – I was sitting literally centimeters away from the players. The 2nd floor has a really high roof, so the acoustics are excellent. If you are a Beer and Jazz lover, this is definitely an event worthwhile attending!

The instruments are awaiting the players

Read about another Belgian Beer Bar in Shinjuku on the Tadaima Japan website:

Beer, etc…Belgian Beers and More in Arakicho, Shinjuku

For smartphone users, please click the link below to go to the Tadaima Japan website which includes additional location details:

Brussels Beer Project Shinjuku – Co-Creating New Styles of Beer

If you chose to visit this restaurant after reading this article, don’t hesitate to tell the staff you found out about them through the Tadaima Japan website.

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AUTHOR

David

David

Writer / Translator

I’ve been in Japan for over 10 years although it feels shorter because I am constantly discovering new things and new places. Sometimes it can be hard to get the full Japanese experience because of cultural differences and linguistic barriers. For that reason, I want to share what I have learned in order to enhance your experience in Japan. Having said that, figuring out stuff on your own can also be fun. In any case, I hope you can find here whatever you need in order to make your stay a success.

Information

Address 2 Chome-20-16 Yoyogi,
Shibuya-ku,
Tokyo-to
151-0053
Hours Monday to Friday 5pm-12am
Saturday 3pm - 12am,
Sunday 3pm-10pm
Price ~3000 yen
Close None
Access 10-minute walk from
JR Shinjuku Station
South Exit
Phone 03-5388-5523
Language Japanese
Website https://www.beerproject.be/en