The store is run by a man who “hardly used to drink at all.”

When it comes to the term convenience store, it’s hard to think of a place where they live up to their name better than right here in Japan. Whether you’re in the market for a tasty snack or something to drink, your local convenience store has always got your back.

But while convenience stores are full of food, drinks, and other amenities, they aren’t the first place that springs to mind when people think of specialty stores. For example, if you were struck by a sudden urge to drink craft beer, you might find yourself looking up breweries nearby.

Luckily, those who live near the Yokohama Hammerhead complex in Kanagawa Prefecture need look no further than their local convenience store, which has over three hundred different craft beers in stock from all over the world.

▼ Yokohama Hammerhead is a seaside shopping complex.

Located about 12 minutes away from Yokohama’s Minato Mirai Station, Yokohama Hammerhead is a stylish bayside complex that is also a popular sightseeing spot, and also doubles up as a cruise ship terminal.

It was at around 7:00 a.m. that our Japanese language reporter Haruka Takagi, strolling around the bay, spotted the convenience store in question.

While it might not be immediately clear, the store in question is a famous American chain of convenience stores with two numbers in its name, and rhymes with ‘Schmeven-Eleven’.

The convenience store may look like a regular run-of-the-mill store — there’s the usual supply of things like ice-cream…

…and snacks…

…but that’s not why Haruka was there. No, Haruka had heard a rumour that this very convenience store might be home to the widest selection of a certain thing in all of Japan.

And as Haruka wandered around the store, her eyes came across a colourful cabinet.

That was full of craft beers!

Yes, this was a convenience store with an impressive selection of craft beers.

At a quick glance, Haruka counted around fifty varieties of craft beer, with brands from both Japan and abroad. And while Haruka was impressed with the sheer amount of beer available — certainly a considerable amount more than your average convenience store selection.

But Haruka didn’t have much time to marvel at the large variety of beers on offer before she spotted a sign nearby.

▼ “But wait, there’s more! Beers from Japan and around the world!”

The sign promised even more craft beers and provided a mini-map to their location. So Haruka made her way to the back left corner of the store to continue her craft beer adventure.

▼ Even more refrigerated cans…

▼ …plus a selection of bottled beers, with some beer snacks close by.

According to Haruka, the photos she took don’t even come close to capturing just how much beer was available in this store. The sheer variety of craft beer was much more than that of even a liquor store, and she couldn’t help but wonder about the person who owned such a convenience store. Surely it was someone who loved beer as much as Haruka loves wine.

So Haruka hunted down the owner, Mr. Nakayama, and asked him a few questions.

Haruka: This is a little different than your average convenience store. Why so many beers?

Mr. Nakayama: Well, when the Yokohama Hammerhead first opened back in 2019, this was originally just a regular convenience store with a couple of Yokohama souvenirs. But we weren’t selling much, and then the coronavirus hit a few months after we opened and our sales got even worse.

Haruka: Yokohama… now that I think of it, The Diamond Princess quarantined cruise ship was stuck in Yokohama too, right?

Mr. Nakayama: Right. Our store is mostly aimed at tourists, and once COVID-19 hit Japan the number of tourists dropped. It got so bad that we had to close the store, and while we were closed we came up with a plan to drum up business. That’s when we came up with the idea to sell craft beer!

Haruka: So the idea didn’t necessarily come about because you’re a huge fan of craft beers?

Mr. Nakayama: Not at all. In fact, I hardly used to drink at all. But beer always sells well and Yokohama is said to be the birth place of Japanese beer, so I thought, why not?

Haruka: I’m pretty surprised that someone who isn’t into beer decided to open a specialty craft beer convenience store.

Mr. Nakayama: Well, since re-opening the store I’ve fallen in love with craft beer. I’m pretty addicted to it now, haha!

Haruka: So what made you decide to have such a huge selection?

Mr. Nakayama: There’s a brewery here in Yokohama called ‘Yokohama Beer’. We started selling their products, and from there we got in touch with more and more breweries and beer importers. We set a goal to be the best beer convenience store in Japan.

Haruka: I really don’t think you’d find a store with such a wide selection like this anywhere else in Japan. It’s like a paradise for beer lovers.

Mr. Nakayama: It’s a place where beer lovers and also newcomers are welcome. Specialist craft beer stores can be a bit intimidating to some people, especially if you’re not familiar with craft beer. As we are also a convenience store, we hope people can come in and look around at their own pace. We hope our store can act as a starting point to anyone wanting to get into craft beer.

Haruka: By the way, how often do you change the line-up of beers on sale?

Mr. Nakayama: We restock about three or four times a week, and the turnover is quite fast. We probably have a whole new selection of beers every one to two months.

Haruka: That makes it quite hard to find your favourite beer then, right?

Mr. Nakayama: Perhaps… but just choosing and sticking with one kind of beer is a waste. There are so many different flavours of craft beer available, so it might be fun to try out a new flavour every now and then. You can have fun picking a new beer by its flavour, or where it’s from, or even what the can looks like.

Depending on when you visit, the store can have between 300 to 500 different varieties of beer on sale. Some beers are rare and difficult to procure even in the countries where they originally came from, so Mr. Nakayama recommended that Haruka take her time choosing the right beer, and to treat the experience like a sort of treasure hunt.

First on Haruka’s beer treasure hunt check list was the most expensive beer on sale.

Schmoojee Mango Orange Pineapple Puffsicle — 2,376 yen a can (US$20)

At the time of her visit, the most expensive beer on sale was the Schmoojee Mango Orange Pineapple Puffsicle. Technically, it is classed in Japan as a happoshu and not a beer (happoshu refers to beers with less than 67 percent malt content). The Schmoojee Mango Orange Pineapple Puffsicle contains mango, orange, pineapple, and marshmallow as well as barley.

It sounded more like a dessert than a craft beer, so Haruka bought one to try out at home.

At a glance, it seemed more like fruit juice than beer. There was very little carbonation and not a lot of head; a far cry from Haruka’s image of what beer should look like. It was also quite thick, and as she cracked open the can she was immediately met with a tropical aroma.

Haruka’s mouth was already watering at the smell of the beer alone, and as she took a sip, she was immediately met with a wave of sweet, refreshing orange and mango, mixed with the punchy taste of pineapple. The aftertaste was a mix of marshmallow and barley — it was quite a combination!

While it was a pricey beer, Haruka definitely felt she got her money’s worth with this one.

Next on Haruka’s treasure hunt list was unusual beer that you couldn’t find anywhere else in Japan. She found three craft beers that fit the bill for this one, so bought all of them.

▼ From left to right — Double Cherry Coffee Break Cupcake Sour from Sweden, Bruery Terreux Frucht: Cucumber from the USA, and Chimay Dorée (Gold) from Belgium.

First up was the Double Cherry Coffee Break Cupcake Sour (990 yen, $8.71), a Swedish craft beer (also considered a happoshu in Japan) made with sweet ingredients such as cherries, coffee beans, and vanilla. Haruka had never heard of a ‘cupcake sour’ before, so she decided to give it a go.

The packaging made it seem like it would have a very candy-like smell, but the actual smell was closer to a chocolate-y coffee.

As for the taste, at first Haruka felt it resembled wine more than beer, and there was very little carbonation. But the more she tasted it, it felt closer to a cherry bon-bon. Having said that, the beer had quite a sophisticated, adult taste — very different to what the design of the can suggested. Haruka thought that it would go well with a beef dish.

Next up was the Bruery Terreux Frucht: Cucumber (1,052 yen, $9.25). Another happoshu beer, the ingredients were simple enough — malt, cucumber, wheat, and hops. The beer was said to taste like cucumber, too. Haruka was reminded of the time Pepsi decided to make a Pepsi Cucumber, and while she wasn’t particularly keen on the idea of another cucumber based beverage, she decided to use this beer as a chance to experience different cultures, as this beer was from the USA.

The scent of this beer was close to pickled cucumbers. The liquid itself was a little cloudy, too, like it had cucumber pulp in it or something. It was with great trepidation that Haruka took a sip…

▼ “What the heck?! It’s so sour!”

Sure, there was a faint taste of cucumber, but it was hidden amongst the overwhelming rush of sourness that left Haruka’s taste buds writhing in agony.

If she had to say whether or not this beer was delicious… she’d have to come down on the ‘not’ side.

Last up of ‘Unusual Beers’ was the Chimay Dorée (Gold) (565 yen, $4.97). While this was seemingly a regular old beer from Belgium, the backstory was what made Haruka want to try it, as it was a beer drank only by Trappist monks living in abbeys and those visiting the monasteries.

The liquid was an amber gold colour, and it was easily the most carbonated of all the beers she’d tried so far (although it still wasn’t anywhere near as carbonated as most Japanese beers.) It could be confused for just a regular beer at first glance, but with ingredients like orange peel and coriander, the taste was sure to be unique.

It tasted delicious! It was the closest thing Haruka had had to a ‘real’ beer out of all the beers she’d tasted today. It had a crisp, refreshing bitterness and a citrusy, herbal taste. There were no strange smells or tastes; just a refreshing beer with a high-class feel.

Haruka tested four completely different craft beers from all around the world, and not only got to enjoy some delicious drinks, but also learned that there’s a whole world of beers outside her stereotypical image of what a beer ‘should’ be. She recommends this store whether you’re a fan of craft beer or not, as it’s a good chance to experience new flavours and tastes. And who knows, you might even end up falling in love with craft beer, like Mr. Nakayama did.

And if Mr. Nakayama happens to be reading this, we have a suggestion for his next craft beer venture — making a Frankenstein craft beer, like Japanese YouTuber Hajime did.

Photos: ©SoraNews24
● Want to hear about SoraNews24’s latest articles as soon as they’re published? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter!

[ Read in Japanese ]