Brew your own craft beer
The only thing better than quaffing an ice-cold brew on a summer’s day is when that brew happens to be your own. Those of us accustomed to the “U-brew” trade back home have long since found out that that doesn’t fly in Japan—or does it?
Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki, known for the Hitachino Nest Beer you may have seen in bottle shops, offers a “brew-on-premises” product that lets you visit the brewery, choose your style (ale, stout or wheat) then do the labor preparing your own beer.
It’s only about a 1.5-hour train ride out to the brewery in the town of Naha, near Hitachi-Konoso station. You can take a cab to the site, but why not just give them a call when you get there and ask them to meet you at the station?
With the help of the Kiuchi staff, we started with a consultation (and a little tasting) to decide the style of beer (we went with a light and citrusy Weizen, or wheat ale) and even the color, level of bitterness and alcohol content that you desire (more tasting involved). This is done by choosing—and smelling—a variety of different hops and malts from a dispensary of green buds that wouldn’t be out of place at a harm reduction club in Colorado.
Once you’ve made your choices, it’s time to brew. The staff will walk you through measuring, milling and mashing the malt in a large copper kettle filled with 55-degree water. The temperature is closely monitored to ensure saccharification, which takes about an hour. The mashing activates enzymes that break down the complex starches into simple sugars fermented by the yeast.
Once this is all mashed up you have a wort, which must then be separated from the chunks of soggy bud at the bottom of the tank (called “lautering”), rinsed with fresh water to help with the final aroma and mixed with the hops. Kept on a very steady boil, the hops are added in stages as the water evaporates until it’s at the proper consistency and ready to be transferred to a clean fermenter for a quick chill. This gets your masterpiece ready for the yeast to do its magic converting the sugars into alcohol. This is the start of the wait process. It’ll take about three weeks of maturation before the goodly amber nectar is bottled on the Kiuchi premises and shipped off to your abode.
While waiting, you have the chance to create a custom label using Kiuchi’s templates, which you can then upload to their designer. These will arrive along with your precious cargo, whereupon you can begin slapping them on your bottles and boasting about your newfound fame as a master brewer. Total cost? ¥630 per bottle (¥567 weekdays), brewed in batches of 45.
The folks at Kiuchi also make nihonshu (they started 190 years ago as the Kikusakari Sake Brewery) and soba noodles from buckwheat grown in the fields for this process. Be sure to visit the Kura + Soba Nakaya restaurant located on-site to slurp and sip the freshest sake and noodle combination around. The noodles are handmade (you can watch while the master noodler kneads, folds and chops) using sake in place of water.
As you head back into Mito, you can also visit Sake + Soba Nakaya in the Keisei department store for more Kiuchi products and meals. If you still need one more sip of Hitachino craft beer before the long trek back to the city, True Brew, the brew pub at Mito station, awaits as you leave. From there, it’s an agonizing three weeks as you wait for your personal batch of ale or stout to arrive and share with friends and family—or not, your choice.