月と太陽 Sun and Moon Brewing, Sapporo

As local beer drinkers here in the best city in the world, we know Sun and Moon (月と太陽) Brewing in Sapporo has a fantastic selection of craft beer.  While Sun and Moon calls itself a brewery, our take is that the experience is more like a restaurant, or maybe more like a wine bar; while it is (in some ways) a very nice place for a beer, it is maybe “too nice.” As we work on our list of the best beer bars in Sapporo, we present the following review for our readers.

(By the way, this review is for the 月と太陽 Sun and Moon Brewing “main store.” This location is near Tanukikouji i-chome.  They have at least one more restaurant in Sapporo, that is called 月と太陽 Brewing Miredo – this is not that place. This review is for the original location.)

Sun and Moon Brewery in Sapporo is next to Sosei River.  It’s easy to find: Take Tanukikouji all the way to the east end. Just after you pass by the soup curry place Delhi you’ll exit the Tanukikouji area and you’ll cross the street and pass through Sosei Kawa Park, immediately cross the street again, and you’ll be just a few feet (or meters, if that’s your thing) from their front door.

Speaking of the front door:

Sun and Moon Brewery has really nice aesthetics.  As you can see from this picture of the front door, the style is modern but has a strong, Japanese flavor.  This kind of presentation is more “Tokyo” than Sapporo (but as Sapporo grows up, expect to see more of this modern, clean design here as well).  The materials are a mix of “cost effective” concrete and plywood, but very well done.

Since we have certainly had some good beers at Sun and Moon, let’s start there.

Check out that selection.

If you read the fine print, you’ll see that all of the beers on that list are 月と太陽 beers.  The beer menu at Sun and Moon Brewery in Sapporo covers a wide range of tasty styles (and that includes a few very good IPAs).  We have been to Sun and Moon on several occasions, and have had some really delicious beer.  The beer itself is highly recommended.

Here is a look at the taps.  In that shot you can see more of Sun and Moon’s modern style; with the wood, and the taps, it’s all high-end and very nice.

And yet, by our standards, there are some qualities to Sapporo brewery Sun and Moon that we don’t like.

Before we get into what we don’t like about Sun and Moon in Sapporo, let’s do one more positive note:

The main “bar” area of the restaurant has maybe six to eight wide stools to sit on. And then, at busy times, has room for another six or so people at some standing tables (you can see in the far left of the picture above).  This small area of the bar is not really free-moving, but can be more social than most bars or restaurants in Japan.  I have personally met several people, and had some good conversation, at that bar area – particularly the standing tables (more bars should do that, to create a better social scene).

In a city of bars that seem to discourage talking to anyone that isn’t in your party, Sun and Moon’s bar area is better than average, but still not great.  For more social places, I would recommend Beer Cellar which also has some standing tables, and has one of the most social set-ups in all of Sapporo (as far as we can tell).  Beer Cellar is most certainly on our list of best places to drink beer in Sapporo, but as for Sun and Moon… we can’t say that.

Above is a picture of the back-half of Sapporo’s 月と太陽 restaurant.  We like the wood lined walls, and this picture almost seems like there could be a casual, “beer hall” atmosphere (where you might share a table and make friends), but sadly there is not (for something closer to that experience, check out Beer Hall Mustache).  These are all tables for groups.

You don’t seat yourself at Sun and Moon, and very often you need a reservation.  All those details take Sun and Moon away from what we personally love in a beer bar, toward more of a “bistro” vibe, more of “a date bar, but with beer,” which seems to be what Sun and Moon really aspires to be.

Here is a shot of the kitchen at Sun and Moon Brewery.

The vibe at Sun and Moon is not really a place to gather, to meet people, to socialize (in a broader way), with some good music (if there is any music at all, it was not memorable). The intention at Sun and Moon is to make a reservation, to come on time, to be seated in an assigned seat, to order food (in the izakaya tradition, which we like, but doesn’t meet our expectation for a “brewery”). Little small plates that are too small, too fancy, too expensive. The food menu would make more sense at a tea house.  (I can’t say that I like anything about their food menu at all). I would never take such a beautiful collection of beer, and subject them to such dainty pairings of food.

It is true that we are applying our knowledge of American or European beer bars to a restaurant that exists in Japanese culture; maybe that is not fair. But a “brew house” is not a Japanese concept. Neither is a “craft beer bar,” which is absolutely what Sun and Moon would want to be called.  So as they take on that classification, there are certain unmet expectations. For all these reasons, Sun and Moon’s main store is mostly a disappointment (and their downtown location is even worse, it basically has no charm at all).

Sun and Moon in Sapporo is “a place to take a girl for a beer” (if that girl doesn’t actually like proper beer bars).  Or “a place to take business associates.” It’s a “bistro” in a sterile way; like a wine bar that decided to swap in beer at the last minute and not change anything else.

Beer, as I see see it, has a tradition.  And to “dress it up” and “quiet it down” is to disrespect the origins of beer culture. So when a brewery makes these choices, it fails in important ways.

Above I make a comment about needing reservations; I have been here (on many occasions) when I wanted a good beer and was turned away at the door. In general, a man should never need a reservation to drink a beer.

For social reasons, a crowded beer bar might be better than a quiet one. In fact, it seems certain that is true.

Sapporo is ripe for some place that “gets it,” and establishing a proper, masculine craft beer bar. A beer bar that has open seating, a first-come-first serve atmosphere where you order at the bar, where you can easily say hello to (and clink glasses with) the person next to you, a place that serves a burger that comes with “a basket with fries” (instead of tiny plates of “liver” and “pasta” and all the other bistro fare that places like Sun and Moon try to deliver to beer drinkers).  It’s all too soft and uptight and “feminine.”

We basically trashed Susukino Brewery for the same reasons. A beer bar with “pink beer cans” (with flowers on them) and parfait for desert.  After one regrettable night there, I would never go back, and I would actively discourage people from going there. In terms of it’s vision of beer culture in Sapporo, it’s a terrible miss.

And if we wanted to really trounce the experience at 月と太陽 brewery further (and it would seem that we do), we’d suggest their insistence on the “QR code” as further proof they don’t know how to create a good experience.

We absolutely love the hamburg shop North Continent (which is maybe five minutes on foot from Sun and Moon), but we make a similar complaint in that review: The QR is this ugly, alien, anti-social thing that is being forced into what should be a warm, social, face-to-face experience. Absolutely soulless idea and a terrible mistake of modernity.

If I bring a friend to Sun and Moon, I don’t want them to be distracted by their phone.  I don’t want to be distracted by mine, either.  It would be better if we both put our phones away, entirely.  But every time you want a beer at Sun and Moon, they want you to use the QR code to a access a website… so now, instead of enjoying your friends and the atmosphere, you are “online shopping.”  You are in the real world, but Sun and Moon is so “modern,” they force your face back into your phone and online to buy a beer.  Miserably bad decision.

You can’t build a relationship with a QR code.  Sad.  Minus ten points.  Failure.  Again.

QR codes are ugly.  There is nothing wrong with a proper menu and giving your customers a chance to interact with the staff, to talk, to ask questions, to build rapport, maybe even get a recommendation.  The “online only” idea is a betrayal of anything that could be warm, social, personal, or friendly.

I almost feel bad writing this review, as the staff are so nice.  I mean that. And it’s one of the things that genuinely disgusts me about “QR” codes: You have a really good staff, and you set up this tech-dork system that keeps your beautiful people away from your customers.  I’m sure it’s good for your “accounting process” and for “efficiency,” but I literally never go to this bar anymore… as I would rather be face to face with real people. That is the whole point of going out.

Again, to all the staff and real people at Sun and Moon: much love.  I think your management team has a broken vision that is stopping you from being a better “bar,” and it’s not your fault.

It hurts to give this place such a bad review, as the staff (and the beer) certainly deserve better.

I sometimes complain about the prices at the craft beer bars in Sapporo. And just to pile on, it was Sun and Moon that originally made me take notice.  If you look at the picture of the beer menu we post above, you might notice that a little “pinky glass” of beer at Sun and Moon is ¥750, and a full pint is ¥1400.  That seems like a lot of money for a beer, and seems to fit the model of wine tasting more than beer drinking.

It was after paying these higher prices at Sun and Moon that Phred’s prices (¥800) at Beer Mugishutei seemed refreshing (and more reasonable) in comparison.  And while we were nearly driven out of North Island Beer Bar by the relentless house music, the beer there has much better pricing (and the food is a better fit as well).  Beer Kotan is also close by, and has an amazing beer selection (with totally reasonable pricing), and better food.

I have been going to Beer Cellar a lot lately, and I noticed that I am being inconsistent when I am more or less happy to pay ¥1400 for a pint there (and I am). While I’d prefer a better price, I like (the popcorn and) the social scene and the layout there so much better; I seem to be able to look past their prices.

If I am turned off by the “winebar” stiffness and the need for reservations at Sun and Moon, the price then feels more aggravating; paying too much for a pint of beer is another sign I’m in the wrong place.

So, even with great beer, good design, and a wonderful staff, Sun and Moon still feels like a loser to me.  And I intentionally call it a “restaurant,” as they seem to want to be that, and they work so hard to make sure we could never feel anything like a “pub” vibe.  So that is what they are; a restaurant, with a small menu of uninspiring food, and expensive beer served in little petite glasses. And as a man that loves beer, none of that sounds especially good to me.

If food and a restaurant experience was really what I wanted, I have better choices there as well. In this neighborhood, I would head over to Salt Moderate; which has incredible food (some of the best in Sapporo). Salt Moderate isn’t a great place to meet new people, but it has a fun, very comfortable vibe. And while they don’t brew their own beer, they have an extensive beer menu, and their Goose Island IPA is a personal favorite.

For another recommendation, we were totally impressed with Craft Beer Volta (on the other side of Susukino station, about 15 minutes away from Sun and Moon on foot).  They are also a restaurant, but with a really extensive menu of impressive food, and many, many beers on tap.  Volta is a better experience (top to bottom) than Sun and Moon (and probably less expensive, too).  Volta was a great time, and we can’t wait to go back there.

If you want good beer, a comfortable environment, and decent prices, you can do better.  We mentioned some excellent alternatives above.  We really want to like Sun and Moon.  And with a few important changes, the main store of (月と太陽) Sun and Moon Brewing in Sapporo could be a much better place. But for now, we’ll take our money, our friends, and our love for beer somewhere else.

We know we have better choices for good beer in Sapporo.

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