While to say that there is a revolution brewing in Nagoya’s craft beer market is something of an unconscionably bad pun, it is also something of an understatement. There can be no doubt that all across the city the sounds and smells of a burgeoning craft beer industry are really starting to build. The latest, perhaps most innovative, and with 120 American and Japanese beers, by far the largest of these is HopBuds in Kamimaezu.
Despite having grown up in San Diego, the epicentre of America’s craft beer explosion, Jamie Orehek never really had much of a taste for the stuff. However whilst living with his wife Kayoko in Singapore he found himself craving an Indian Pale Ale (IPA) and did what any rational beer lover would do: paid $150 for a case to be imported and proceeded to savour it, sharing between them a solitary bottle each week.
Now hooked on the stuff the pair began to follow the hop on vacation, taking holidays to renowned craft beer destinations. So, when they decided to return to Kayoko’s native Nagoya, the creation of HopBuds was only a matter of time.
Jamie has been impressed by Nagoya’s burgeoning beer revolution, but he felt like “there were many places offering similar beers, a similar service, which meant that you invariably saw the same faces.”
With this in mind, they decided to take inspiration from Japan’s historical beer culture. The shop itself is all warm, hard wood, handcrafted by Jamie himself. The tables are supported by tokobashira, and two shelving stacks are built into the kanji for ‘sake’, ‘bitter’ and ‘barley’. However it is not just the modernised classical décor that harks back to history, but the theme of the store itself does so too.
“Kakuuchi is a traditional style,” Kayoko explains. “It is a bottle shop in which people can either take away or sit down and enjoy their beers. We don’t sell food – you can bring your own if you want, or even order Domino’s – so it’s a special license and that means we can keep the prices down.”
The beauty of maintaining low prices, according to Kayoko is that it attracts different people, people who don’t necessarily want to spend a lot of money on a beer, and perhaps wouldn’t have much experience of craft beer. But to say that HopBuds’ immediate success is wholly down to their competitive prices is to perhaps overlook other equally impressive qualities, which is to say their fantastic beer range, and the warm ambiance.
“I don’t know if it’s the layout,” muses Jamie, “but we have a really nice atmosphere here. All sorts of different people come in, and they just mingle with each other. Maybe someone will pick up one of the more expensive bottles, and they might ask someone on another table, a complete stranger, if they want to share both the beer and the cost. It’s a great thing to watch.”
As if on cue the first of the evening’s customers pops by. Ray is Japanese but grew up in San Diego too, is a big craft beer fan and, judging by the fact that he is wearing a HopBuds cap, this isn’t his first time here. He happened to come across it one day when he was skateboarding past, and instantly fell in love with the place. But why?
“Well the beer is good quality,” he explains. “There are good customers, good people. Jamie and Kayoko are good humble people. It’s an amazing place.”
One of the great things about the craft beer community is that they are really supportive of each other. When setting up HopBuds Jamie and Kayoko spoke to people all over the country including Bryan and Sayuri Baird of Japanese brewery Baird Beers and Phred Kaufman at Hokkaido’s Ezo Beer. Closer to home the guys at Nagoya’s Brick Lane and Fujita-san from 23 Craft Beerz have been essential while working through their growing pains. Everyone, they say, was welcoming and supportive, meaning they could really hone their idea, and it is an idea that the beer nerds – I am assured that this is a label worn with pride – seem to enjoy.
After Ray picked up a bottle of Rogue Ale’s Sriracha Hot Stout to share with his friend, first timer Masaki, he is joined at his table by Andrew, the man behind Craft Beer Chubu Facebook page, who enthuses about the HopBuds beer selection.
“I will go to four different places, but I end up coming back here because I can’t find their beers anywhere else.” To illustrate his point Andrew shows me bottles of Yamabushi Apricot Saison and Tamamura Honten’s 10th Anniversary IPA, both of which he tells me that you can only get at HopBuds, before pointing to the ultra rare glass of Snow Monkey IPA in my hand. “Jamie showed me some of the stuff they had and,” here his eyes widen in what could only be described as a collector’s rapture, “I was like…ooooookaaaay!”
Andrew’s friend Alex agrees, citing the “great selection of unusual beers” that keeps him coming back, which is hard to disagree with when you note the aforementioned Sriracha Hot Stout and the Rogue’s Beard Beer, that uses wild yeast cultivated from its brew master’s beard (and has a banana-y taste).
“I believe we have the best selection in Nagoya, hands down,” Jamie claims, an assertion that I doubt could be disputed. But he does not want to stop there. “Most places get their beers from one supplier, but we get them from everywhere. We want to have the best selection in Japan.”
It’s a worthy goal, but with all of those beers I wondered if it made selection difficult, particularly for those who may not be so au fait with craft beer. It is a concern that Jamie has some sympathy with.
“People don’t want to feel stupid, so maybe they start on one of the two draft beers.” But fortunately Jamie knows his suds. “People can ask me what to drink, it’s okay to feel stupid. I’m happy to help.”
Perhaps a case in point is Yamazaki-san, who lives nearby and had never even tried craft beer before he walked past HopBuds and wondered why people were drinking in the shop.
“It was a surprise, but now I come here four or five times a week,” he says. “I have now drunk about 70 cans of Modern Times Fortunate Islands in the last two months. I am their number one regular customer. Now I like American beer and the quality is great, so I keep coming back.”
So it doesn’t matter whether you are a beer nerd, or know nothing at all, HopBuds has something for everyone. For me, while I am massively impressed by the low price and the broad range of their beers (and will be doing my best in future to work my way through as many as possible), and though I am genuinely excited by this new innovation in the Nagoya scene, it is the atmosphere that puts it a cut above the other places of its ilk. There is a genuine warmth in the bar that is emphasised by the beautiful natural wood of the décor, that is encouraged by the customers as they mingle with friends new and old, but originates with Jamie and Kayoko, who are knowledgeable, sincere and delightfully friendly hosts.
HopBuds couldn’t be a more appropriate name.
What I drank:
Ballast Point Mango Even Keel
Snow Monkey IPA
Speakeasy Oak Aged Barley Wine
What I took home:
Rogue’s Beard Beer
Ballast Point Pineapple Sculpin
Shiga Kogen Tamamura Honten’s 10th Anniversary IPA
Rogue Farms 7 Hop IPA
Padre Nat’s Tepache
Hopbuds Craft Beer Bottle Shop & Tasting Room
Head south out of Kamimaezu Exit 3 straight down Maezu-dori. Take the 7th left (Sonenji temple is on the corner). Go two blocks and Hopbuds is directly ahead on the 1st floor.