Something's a-brewin’: A tour of Japan's Namamugi’s Kirin Factory

Travel
Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi
Photos by Takahiro Takiguchi

Something's a-brewin’: A tour of Japan's Namamugi’s Kirin Factory

by: Takahiro Takiguchi | .
Stripes Japan | .
published: October 10, 2017

Much like in America, beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan. Whether it’s a BBQ, family gathering or just a good ol’ party, there’s usually a cold beer to be had.

In Japan, five major brewers - Asahi, Kirin, Suntory, Sapporo and Orion – compete for their share of the national beer market.

Also like in America, some of these breweries offer tours to the public that give a glimpse into the beer-making process.

One of the leaders, Kirin Brewing Company, has its factory in Namamugi Town, Yokohama City. So, if you are located on any of the major U.S. military installations in the Kanto Plain, a quick two-hour-or-less commute will take you to the free attraction they call Kirin Yokohama Beer Village. If that’s not enough, two words – free beer.

The brewery tour lasts about 60 minutes and includes a 10-minute film before touring the facility. Through the brief, we learned that Japan’s first breweries were founded in Yokohama in the late 1800s, and the current Kirin Brewery Company was established in 1907 when two of these first breweries united their operations.

A guide who speaks Japanese, in addition to Chinese and English, took us and the other 20 participants up for a tour of the fermentation tanks and the canning and bottling areas. From above, we saw thousands of cans of beer running through factory machines at an incredibly high speed. According to the guide, 2000 cans of beer are filled and packed each and every minute.

Cutting-edge 3-D mapping images and illuminations were used to show up how they mash, filter, boil and ferment beer during the brewing process.
You are allowed to touch, smell and pick up raw materials, malts and hops. To my surprise, the malts were not bitter, but rather sweet and crispy, and when I crushed some green hops in my hand, they made a fresh bitter aroma.

At the end of the tour, Kirin offers a free 20-minute tasting of its products, including a pilsner and a stout. All the beers were fresh and very tasty, and a staffer even taught us how to pour canned beer into a glass the right way.

This is definitely a must-see attraction for any beer lover, as I would surely go back.

Tours are given for groups between 2 to 100 people every 30 minutes, and are available from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Although tours are conducted in Japanese, multilingual guides can help you translate.

Online reservation for the free tour is available in Japanese at www.kirin.co.jp/entertainment/factory/yokohama. The booking process, however, is very easy and simple, so you can ask one of your Japanese coworkers or friends to help it.

Brewing process
1. Ingredients – Barley grains are soaked in water to germinate to produce malt.
2. Mashing – Malt is crushed and gently boiled to produce a malt mash.
3. Filtering – The mash is of filtered and pressed out the malt extract (two times).
4. Boiling – Hops are added to produce distinct aroma and bitterness.
5. Fermentation – Yeasts are applied to the cooled malt extract, then fermented at low temperature in the tank.
6. Maturation – After one or two months of maturation, the beer is ready to be enjoyed.

– Source: Kirin Brewery Company

Kirin Beer Village

Open: Tues. – Sun., 11 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Location: 1-17-1, Namamugi, Tsurumi-ku, Yokohama City, Kanagawa Prefecture (7-minute from Namamugi Station of Keikyu Line)
URL: www.kirin.co.jp/entertainment/factory/yokohama/
Tel: 045-503-8250

 

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