Exploring Okinawa's Craft Beer Scene

Okinawa has a bustling - sometimes over-the-top - craft beer scene.

Little known fact about Okinawa, and even my Japanese friends from Kyushu didn't seem to be aware of, is that the island has...bull fighting. According to this website [HERE], there's about 20 fights taking place each year. Travel TV host, writer and former chef Late Anthony Bourdain actually goes to one of those fights; yakisoba in one hand and illicit gambling money on the other. Someone has uploaded the short content on YouTube [HERE] but I am sure you have your own ways of finding legal/illegal links online. The full show is a lot of fun. The only downside is that you see Tony. People taking their own lives is something I will never understand.

Another little known fact? The island is ripe with craft beer breweries. The smallest Japanese island packs a punch when it comes to numbers. There's actually more breweries than Kitakyushu (the place I currently reside) and Fukuoka (biggest city in Kyushu) combined. I know this because I actually sat down and did the math with the craft beer map that the boys have collected [HERE]. While the map has a few pubs missing here and there, it paints a fairly accurate picture of the brewing scene not just in Okinwawa but in Japan as well. 

Perhaps the most bizzare location for a craft brewery had to be right above the most beautiful cave that I have ever been to. Usually caves are notoriously slippery, clumsy, tight-y affair. Gyokusendo [HERE] had proper, well lit pathways and I digged the way the cave used lights to accentuate the natural beauty. So it was a big surprise when I walk out of the cave and find a brewery staring right at me. Okinawa Sango Beer by Nanto Brewery had the usual suspects of stouts, pales and other usuals but was fairly pleased to see inclusion of Saison. The Belgian style is hardly explored here in Kyushu. For some reason though, I saw the island's scene embracing the style in a consistent manner. Everwhere you go, you had at least a Saison on the menu. 
Okinawa Sango by Nanto Brewery
Ukishima Brewery, on the other hand, was a no-nonsense place. Everything kept simple, the location and settings felt familiar and the brewery had clear german influences. Reminded me of the time in Korea when you looked at the menu and you saw Golden, Weizen and Pale Ale perfectly lined up in every bar that you knocked on. I picked up the IPA, chatted a bit with the bartender and off I headed to the next brewery. A brewery that is actually run by a German.
Ukishima Brewery

Wolfbräu is both a coffee roaster and an on-site brewery serving authentic, handcrafted German brews. The place is run by a Japanese-German couple into their retirement age but you could see that they were still going strong. I got to speak with both of them and frankly, found their story more intriguing than their beers (named with an assortment of Wolf names I can't remember. I didn't even know there were that many types to be honest). Would love to go drop by and make small chat again. 

Handpumps are not something you get to see in Japan. In fact, in all my years travelling around the Asian region, I have strangely never come across them. Not in fashion in Asia as I understood until I heard about this place near the American Village that still had old fashioned pumps serving beer and my heart, mind, body and spirit had to go to pay homage. I's Public Ale House proudly displayed the pumps and the owner was more than willing to explain how they work while he poured me a glass of Oyster Stout. I mean, the beer's literally used oysters to brew. 

I's Public Ale House

A modern approach to serving beer would be at Okinawa Brewing Mihama Cafe. The place had 24 taps with beers ranging from barrel aged, dry hopped, sours, new englands to you name it. Perhaps the perfect one-stop-spot to introduce a lesser beer experienced audience to a newer, more complex world of beer styles. Their house beers included a Wheat Ale, Pale Ale and IPA. While I like to go local, I couldn't resist ordering Epic Brewery's Big Bad Baptist. 
Okinawa Brewing

Another apt place for beer tasting would have to be aptly named Taste of Okinawa. The good thing about this place is not just that there's some really good deals during happy hour, but you can actually do a proper beer/food pairing. Beers on bottles are from all over Japan and selections are decent. Tap wise, there's a bit limitation on the styles as they are locally sourced. 
Taste of Okinawa

A perfect place to end the day, relax next to the beach and enjoy a wide ranging gourmet meal would have to be at the heart of American Village, at Chatan Harbor Brewery to be precise. The setting reminds me of those big American breweries in California, however, the beers were largely OK. There was this limited edition style where they served more foam than beer. Apparently, the experience is on the foam. In all these years of drinking and tasting good beer, I have actually never come across such a bizzare idea.  
Chatan Harbor

As I am writing this, Okinawa is under state of emergency with COVID-19 cases rising exponentially for the first time. If you ever do travel to the place, do take precautionary measures as most people weren't actually wearing masks in and around the American Village. 

Stay and drink responsibly.


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