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Enjoying Domestic & International Craft Beer in a Casual Style at [Beer Bar Felt] (Naha City)
post : 2021.03.24 07:00
Just a three-minute walk from the Miebashi Yui Rail Station in Naha, along the Kumoji River and away from the crowds and noise of Kokusai Street, is Beer Bar Felt, a bar specializing in craft beers with an eye-catching pink logo painted at its storefront. The owner of the bar is Tomoko Oshiro, who says, “I love beer so much that I want to drink it every day.” She left Okinawa in her 20s and lived in Osaka, and that’s when she first drank the famous Minoh Beer, a local craft beer brewed in Minoh City, Osaka. Tomoko-san was shocked. “This is beer? I had no idea that beer can be this good!” Since her first encounter with Minoh Beer, she was thoroughly hooked on the world of craft beer. Later, with her mounting curiosity that she couldn’t hold back, she hopped on a plane and headed to Europe. She traveled across countries known for their love of beer like Holland, Belgium, and Germany, and drank her heart away.
Tomoko-san opened Beer Bar Felt in March 2011. After returning to Okinawa and working an office job, she always kept her dream of “opening my own bar someday.” And that’s exactly what she did. At that time, there were very few microbreweries in Okinawa and just a handful of bars offered craft beer. She started Beer Bar Felt to offer people in Okinawa a place to enjoy craft beer, and set out with her passion and hopes for people to “get to know how great craft beer is,” and also her personal wish to “drink great beer every day (laughs).”
In the beginning, she was feeling her way around, offering Awamori, Shochu, wine, and other drinks along with beer from two taps. She wanted to offer more, so she increased the number of taps to six in 2018 and began to offer just craft beer. Tomoko-san got licensed as a beer sommelier and beer taster, renovated the bar, and had a grand reopening as a craft beer specialty bar.
It was also around that time that Tomoko-san welcomed her long-time friend and schoolmate from junior high school, Akiko Higa, as a bar staff. Since then, the two have come to be known for their fantastic smiles and great energy, and the regulars nicknamed them Rinko-san and Akko-san. The duo’s friendly customer service is a reflection of the bar’s concept of “being sincere and casual.”
“In Japan, people may have preconceptions that craft beer is more expensive than the major brands and is something that they might hesitate to try sometimes. But in Europe, people would swing by the bars and enjoy casually. I thought that was wonderful and wanted to start my own bar where people can enjoy craft beer in a casual style like that. That’s how I came up with the name, Felt. Not silk nor velvet, but the common and familiar fabric, felt. That’s the concept that I wanted to keep.”
When you peek inside the bar through the glass door, you’ll see customers at the counter enjoying their beer and Rinko-san and Akko-san engaged in lively conversation. I can understand people being drawn to this lovely sight and stepping in the door. In fact, I was one of those people.
The first thing you’ll see when you take a seat is the list of day’s beer on tap. There are six varieties of beer of the day, from brewers like Nara Brewery in Nara Prefecture, Japan, Brew Dog from Scotland, West Coast Brewing from Shizuoka Prefecture, and others. All the selections are based on “what Rinko-san wants to drink,” and selected from various breweries from Japan and abroad. Before you head out to Felt, you can check their website to see the list of Today’s Beers that they update every day.
“Craft beer has a diversity of styles like wine, and there’s enjoyment in the selecting process. I want more and more people to discover this joy, so I make sure to offer a lineup of six varieties every day so my customers can enjoy the different and wonderful tastes of each kind, like IPA, which has a nice kick, and the dark stout, the fruity white ale, and others. All of these craft beers are brewed in various places around the world, so I hope people can enjoy the feeling of being in these places as they drink. As for Okinawan craft beer, on some days we offer Cliff Beer that’s inspired by British ales. I hope that customers will try Okinawa’s craft beer, too.”
For those of you who’d like to try various kinds, go for the set that offers three varieties of craft beers in 180ml mini glasses (¥1,500 including mixed nuts). On the day that I went, they had Tonkoko, a milk stout by Brew York in England. The aroma and taste of this stout left me amazed and speechless.
“This craft beer is characterized by complex tastes like cinnamon, vanilla, and others. Since the alcohol content is high, at 8.5%, I recommend people to enjoy small amounts at a time. Another interesting thing about craft beer is that as the temperature of the beer changes, the flavors also change. I think people will enjoy the new tastes and discoveries that come with each sip.”
Craft beer from the tap is also available to go in plastic cups. You can also bring your own growler and get it filled up, too. What’s more, they also have a great selection of craft beers in cans that you can enjoy at the bar or to take with you. Most of these canned craft beers are from abroad and all have unique designs. You can choose from the information on the label, or just choose your favorite design. This is all part of the “fun in choosing”.
For snacks and side dishes to accompany your beer, they offer a wide variety of dishes prepared in-house, like potato salad with salmon belly, smoked cheese, and other delicious fares. Their fish & chips are particularly popular, and many customers say, “This goes so well with beer!” They use Hoki (blue grenadier or whiptail fish) which has a great texture and delicious taste, and the batter has a mixture of Guinness Beer so it's delightfully fluffy and crispy. The popular fish & chips from Felt is delicious even when cold, and many people order it to go to enjoy later.
The year 2021 marks the 10th anniversary of Felt. Looking back, Rinko-san says, “What I enjoy the most is when customers say, ‘This is beer?’”
“I enjoy being here every day, seeing people who didn’t really like beer to begin with, but completely changing their opinions after getting to know craft beers. And some customers who didn’t have a clue about craft beers are now more knowledgeable than us (chuckles). That’s what I enjoy. At our bar, we don’t boast our knowledge or show off with information. We feel that there really isn’t a right or wrong, and we just want our customers to freely find that ‘truly delicious beer’ and enjoy themselves. I started this bar because I wanted people to enjoy craft beer more regularly, but nowadays, more and more breweries and bars are offering great craft beer, and that makes me happy. I hope more people will get to know and enjoy a great variety of craft beer, and they can say, ‘Today, we’ll go to this bar, and tomorrow, to that bar.’ It would be wonderful to enhance our ‘beer life’ in Okinawa in the future.”
Beer Bar Felt
Address: 2-19-2-102 Makishi, Naha City, Okinawa
Hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday from 17:00 to 23:00 (Last Call)
Friday from 17:00 to 24:00 (Last Call)
Saturday from 15:00 to 22:00 (Last Call)
Closed: Sundays, Mondays & Holidays
*Prices are current as of March 2021.
Okinawa CLIP photo writer, Norie Okabe.