When I travel to a new place the first thing I do is look to see if there is a good brewery I can visit. As soon as I learned that I would be traveling to Japan, the first thing that popped up in my mind was “how close will I be to the Hitachino Nest brewery?”. The brewery can be reached in about 160 minutes via train from the Narita International Airport. Most visitors to Japan do fly in thru Narita, so from the airport you can take a simple train ride north to the Mito Station and you will be moments away from enjoying the freshest Nest Beer in the world.
For those of you that do not know, Hitachino Nest is Japan’s premier craft beer. The Hitachino Nest Beer brand was created in 1996 by the Kiuchi Brewery. Founded over 180 years ago in 1823, the Kiuchi Brewery has an epic story that you can read more about here. From their inception, nest has been winning medals and accolades around the globe. Nest beer is easy to recognize with its iconic owl character, this is one of my favorite logos. If you have not tasted any of Hitachino Nest’s beer I recommend that you search your local bottle shop, for Weizen (my favorite) or White Ale (my first nest beer).
Nest Is Best…
If you are coming to Japan, you better come here!
If you live in Japan, why haven’t you been here yet?
When we arrived at the Kiuchi Brewery we walked thru the entrance gates and into the courtyard. Standing around I was soaking up the scene just looking around at the buildings when an old man slowly walks past and with a huge smile he slowly says “good..day…”. The weather was fantastic in the high sixties, looking up to a sunny, completely blue sky, we knew the simply put “good-day” statement was so true. It was going to be a really good day Employees of the Kiuchi Brewery were passing thru the courtyard pushing carts of sake and shochu from building to building all smiling, very friendly folks here that show that the positive craft beer vibe is global. I guess it helps when your job involves making beers and spirits that people love.
Our hostess for the day was Miss. Huruna Katsuyama, thank you very much for spending time with us. We had a great experience. To begin our brewery tour we took a car ride down the road to the Hitachino Nest brewing facility. Our tour began with an introduction to the head brewer Mr. Kouji Tani. Kouji-san walked us over to the first building and it was all about the grains. The building contained two large silos one filled of pilsner malt, and the second of Maris Otter (one of my favorite malts). Maris Otter is a British barley / base malt with slightly more flavor than the standard American 2-row. Maris Otter contributes hints of bread / biscuit flavors. The two main silos were hard plumbed (in a bit of a close looped system) to a large grain mill, and there was also a smaller mill used for milling specialty grains. Sorry I did not take any pictures of this building.
Next up on the tour was the brew-house. When we entered, we took off our shoes and placed on clean slippers, and Kouji-san put on his brewers boots. At the entrance of each building we entered there was a shoe wash system. This is great to see such an effort is put in to keeping things clean. Lucky for us it was cleaning day, so no beer was being brewed, this makes for a perfect day for a tour. This brew-house is impressive and configured in a very nice manner. The room is filled with stainless steel vessels for decoction mashing, brew kettles, sparge tanks, filter / aeration, and a large heat exchanger. As a home brewer all of the big boy equipment impresses me, but in particular this scaled up heat exchanger really impressed me. I said “nice chiller”,Kouji-san smiled and said “thanks”, I am sure this is the same feeling as when some one compliments how bad-ass you car is, who doesn’t like compliments?
The next building we entered was focused around bottling and packaging. As we entered this building we past thru a tasting room, with an awesome bar made out of a very old-retired sake barrel. We stopped here for some pictures and discussion of the Kruski’s bar (in my basement). After the discussions and short photo shoot was finished we entered the packaging room. This bottling line was impressive, sorry that I can not remember what exact run rate was. Kouji-san offered us a glass of beer straight from the tank. If nest is best, than fresh nest is best-est! The ale we sampled was a bit of an “ancient ale” named Nipponia. This beer is brewed with a Japanese breed of Kanego Golden barley, first developed in 1900. The beer is hopped with Sorachi Ace (a Japanese-bred hop known for its bright citrus / lemon flavor). This ale is available stateside in 18.5 oz bottles.
After our brewery tour we visited the tasting room and I started with a flight of small samples of white ale, weizen, and pale ale. The weizen is my favorite of the three. Next up I wanted to have some of the sake and shochu. I had a small sample of the Kiuchi No Shizuku. This spirit was smooth and tasty and the method used to create it is very unique. It started off as Nest White Ale, and is distilled until it reaches 30% alcohol by volume. This is then aged in oak barrels with coriander, orange peel, and hops for one month. Then more Nest White Ale is added to this intensified White Ale and it is distilled again to a 50% ABV and oak barrel aged again for six more months. Finally it is filtered, and bottled at an ABV of 43% (86 proof).
Mr. Youichi Kiuchi, the boss and owner, comes over to welcome us to Kiuchi Brewery and proceeded to hang out and chat with us. It was great to hear his stories about his beer and how international the Nest Brand is. One of the questions I asked was “which Nest beer he liked best” and he said “his beers are like his children and he could never choose one as his favorite”. Great answer! While we continued to tell stories he reached down into a cooler and Kiuchi-san began to pour out a few glasses of Commemorative Ale. This beer was so good, so many layers of flavor, I wish I had a bottle to drink now as I type up this post. The story behind the beer is just as good as the beer itself. The label says “this beer was brewed specially to celebrate the new year. Please enjoy while you forget the troubles and worries of the old year”. This beer is brewed with five malts (pale / munich / crystal / chocolate / wheat), four hops (styrian goldings / hallertauer / tettnang / saaz), and five spices (coriander / orange peel / nutmeg / cinnamon / vanilla beans). The beer is brewed as an eisbock, which means that after fermentation has completed the beer is partially frozen and ice (made up of primarily water) is removed. This increases the strength of the beer. The commemorative ale is then allowed to bottle condition for six months before it is sold. Wow is this beer good, I have already requested the local beer store to ask the distributor and importer about it. This beer is now officially on my permanent ISO (in-search-of) list.
For those of you reading this in Japan, the Kiuchi Brewery also offers brew-on-premise. What this means is you can brew your own beer right here, with help from the Nest Crew. They will provide recipes or help you design your own. This is a great team building activity, or just a way to get your feet when in the world of brewing. For those of you not in Japan, Google search brew-on-premise in your home town and go brew some beer!
Haruna-san recommended that we eat Sake Soba at the Nakaya Restaurant which is located on site at the Kiuchi Brewery. We enjoyed these unique soba noodles that were prepared with house sake in place of the standard water typically used to make soba noodles. We also had vegetable tempera with rice cake. Look, there is even cherry blossom infused salt, so good. We ordered a few more anniversary ales with lunch. Later Mr. Kiuchi brought over a round of special beer that has not been released yet. The beer is called Dai Dai Ale, it is an ipa brewed with the Japanese traditional tangerine. They do not have exact plans yet, but I sure hope they bring it to the US soon, as I want to fill up my fridge with it.
What a finish, to a great day! My face hurt when i left because I had a permanent grin for the past few hours I was here. Of course I brought back some souvenirs, here are some pictures of the beautiful ceramic hand painted glassware at the Kruski’s Bar.