ES Craft, Sapporo

As a part of our research for our article on the best beer bars in Sapporo, we wanted to hit one of the last “craft beer bars” on our list. Below we bring you our review of ES Craft Beer in Sapporo.

ES Craft Beer bar is located about two or three blocks south of Susukino station. It’s in an alley very close to the main Susukino intersection.

As you arrive, all of the wood and hardware used in the architecture feels very much like an English pub. I am only guessing, but I assume this was a former Western bar, perhaps bought by a Japanese guy. Is that right? It is just a guess. If it ever was an English pub, it has departed from any strict sense of tradition long ago.

If that bar seems a little cluttered and messy, I’d agree.  Strange choice.  Although I do appreciate the bottle from Stone Brewing Company (that is a very good brewery from southern California).

I had heard ES beer bar in Sapporo was was a craft beer bar, and I was expecting beer on tap; I think there are maybe four taps, total. At least one is Sapporo Classic (good local beer, from Sapporo, beat city in the world… but not a craft beer). One is Pilsner Urquell (which may be a good beer. but is an extremely mainstream Czech beer). And while there was at least one good craft beer draft (more on that later), nearly all of the special beer is in…

Cans. And bottles. Some 30, to 40, or 50 choices in cans and bottles. Like putting a small liquor store in a “bar.”

Maybe “selling beer out of the case” is popular worldwide and I am just the last one to know about it. At my old favorite beer bar back in the US (it was certainly a “craft beer” establishment, maybe 20 beers on tap), they had a small cold case with around 10 different kinds of beer in cans and in bottles, but the vast majority of total beers served in beer bars comes off the tap. It wasn’t until I came to Sapporo that I started to see this more scenario, where that is a preference for selling a wide variety of “pre-packaged” beer in a bar.

I don’t dislike it, but it still strikes me as unusual – and my natural proclivity is to head to the bar, look at the list of beers on tap, and have a beer poured for me in a pint glass. That is my preference. But that is not really how it works at ES Craft beer in Sapporo.

Above the cold cases where they keep the beer, ES presents you with a couple of signs to help explain what you’re looking at, and their pricing system.

On the left half of the sign, they are trying to break down the categories of beer.  Lagers and ales, primarily (classic categories).  And then allowing for some other categories of beer (like IPAs, porters, a category they call “fruits ale”) to coexist. The large callout of Hokkaido Craft seems odd to me, as most of the beers in the case are obviously imports.  And I can’t be 100% certain, but there are probably as many mainstream, non-craft Mexican beers (like Corona and Tecate) in that case as there are local beers.

There is also a pricing structure based on little colored tags they put on the cans and bottles in the case.

I don’t personally come to a bar to drink a beer out of can.  I know that even in my country, there is a tradition of a Pabst in a can, or a bottle of Bud, and that never stuck me as wrong.  And even here in Sapporo several places I like, including the top two spots on our list of the best beer bars in Sapporo have these cases full of cans and bottles.  Why am I accepting (and even interested) in one instance but not in the other?

I think the overall flow and presentation of ES doesn’t hit me right.  It’s just a mess to me.  So I’m more resentful in general, and suddenly harsh to ES for doing the same thing Phred does at Beer Inn Mugishutei (where it seems kind of cool).

I am going to talk about the one thing I liked about ES Craft (which has very little to do with them), but to add one more odd or uncomfortable element; ES Craft is another one of these bar/restaurants that wants to use the QR code system. That ugly little digital square, that takes an otherwise social night, and forces us to look at our phones. It is a terrible idea. And it is an especially bad idea when people might have questions, because their website “ecommerce” answer to “hospitality” is miserably bad at explaining things.

So, back to the beer:

What beers were on tap? It wasn’t obvious. Oh, I have to log into a website to find out? You have three plus guys working there, but we don’t get to talk to them, or ask questions, we are supposed to treat a night out as an “online experience.” I can’t believe restaurant owners think it is a good idea. And again, especially bad as they have an unusual “help yourself to the cans and bottles” part of the bar, and then a full bar, and beer taps. Which part do I do online? Which part in person? Meh.

We are a long way into this review, and we haven’t had any beer yet, and that was basically what it felt like as I arrived.

My friend and I sat at the bar.  But because the bar is so cluttered, you can’t really see the guys behind the bar. And the way they want you to use the QR system, I had my friend try to help me understand what beers (if any?) they had on tap.  It was all in Japanese (not a bad thing), and with some effort, I managed to pick one of the beers that wasn’t an obvious mainstream beer… but because I couldn’t ask any questions, I had no idea what it was.

We thought it might be some kind of ale.  It was ¥1500 (which makes it one of the most expensive beers in all of Hokkaido).  I rolled the dice, and waited for it to show up.

It arrived in a beautiful imperial pint, and for the first time, I had found something I liked about ES Craft.  And I took a sip, and…

It was a sour. If you know my reviews, (unless I am at Beer Bar Mustache) I am pretty predictably going to order an IPA (in fact, I am at Beer Cellar as I write this, and I do, in fact, have an IPA in front of me).

So to end up with a sour, was… actually awesome.  It was by far the best part of my experience at ES Craft.

So, to add a modicum of sunshine to this otherwise dreary review, allow me to introduce Derailleur Brew Works (very cool website, great art) and their delicious ¥1500 sour called NEW WORLD’S END GIRL FRIEND.  As we’d say in America, it was worth every penny.  I’d order it again in a second, as long as they serve it someplace other than ES Craft, because if you can’t tell by now… I’m not going back to this place.

There is also food, by the way. And random books strewn about.  And board games and puzzles (the one in front of us was broken).  Yeah, it’s a big mix of things, and kind of a circus. Maybe “ES” is short for “mess.”

So… I think you should pass on ES Craft. You can do better, for sure.

If you like good beer, you should immediately click over to our list of absolute best beer bars in all of Sapporo.

On that list, we will tell you that we love Beer Inn Mugishutei (and we most certainly do).  And as I mentioned earlier in this piece, I’m in Beer Cellar Sapporo right now (great place).  And the same night I was at ES Craft, we left after one beer and walked a few blocks to Beer Kotan (which has a wonderful selection of beer on tap, and the best prices in all of Sapporo).  And while I think Susukino Brewing is also a particularly bad choice, if want to drink craft beer nearby, The Craft in Susukino is a much better choice; better prices, cooler atmosphere, 30+ beers on tap.  And if you want to eat, Craft Beer Volta is nearby.  And Salt Moderate is maybe five minutes away, and it also a much better choice.

Sorry ES Craft.  Win some, lose some. As for me… I love a chance to prove I write honest reviews. If I say I like a place, it’s because I like it. And if I say I don’t… it might be Maltheads in Sapporo sucks too.

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