On Tuesday 12th August, BeerTengoku bravely faced the elements of a potential typhoon and thunderstorms to go down to the new brewery by Baird Beer in Shuzenji, Shizuoka. A mere three hour trip door to door, and a slight “diversion”, BeerTengoku finally made it after a gruelling 50 minute hike, getting lost thanks to the lack of updates to Google Maps.
Chris Poel, head brewer, although he attests that he is not a head brewer, merely managing Bryan Baird’s baby, gave BeerTengoku a thorough tour around the Baird Beer brewery in Shuzenji facilities. Chris Poel has been at the Baird Beer brewery for six years now and certainly knows his way around brewing beer with experience of home brewing himself. Starting at the Numazu brewery, Chris has seen plenty of changes and was on hand to talk about the Baird Beer brewery.
The first part of the tour starts off with the milling machine. With the original Baird Beer brewery setup, it was possible to mill about 2kgs of malt in 10 minutes. The machine above is able mill about 12kgs in a minute. Pretty impressive action there. As the whole brewing process is still semi-automated, someone has to load the malt at the bottom of the machine. Chris also showed us where they store their fresh hops in the brewery. Many breweries in Japan use pellet hops, hops that have been desiccated and then compacted into pellet form that unfortunately lose some of their hoppiness; however, they use fresh hops bought in and chilled. At times, the Baird Beer brewery have been in the fortunate position of being able to sell their surplus hops onto other craft beer breweries, another indicator of how supportive the industry is of each other.
Following on from the milling room is the main brewing away. It’s important to remember that all of these rooms are connected by a myriad of pipes and tubes that run around under your feet as you pass around. Unfortunately, on the day BeerTengoku went, the brewing process was not in action, but on the flip side, we were able to see inside the mash tun, lauter tun and also inside the hoppit.
For BeerTengoku, the hoppit surprised us most. An ingenious machine that allows the Baird Beer brewery and other breweries to add various flavours, such as oranges for their Carpenter Mikan Ale, and pass the mash and beer over them, adding flavouring. In essence, it appears to be a giant tea strainer. It looked small from the top yet go downstairs and look back up; it is as big as the other tuns in the brewery.
These tanks hold a lot of beer. To put them into perspective, Baird Beer has a happoshu licence, so in one year they have to brew a minimum of 6000L of beer. On the first system, that’s 200 brews a year, averaging 4 times a week. The tanks on the right hold 6000L each. The tanks on the left hold 12,000L. And then there was space behind where we standing for even larger tanks in the future. It is safe to say that Baird Beer have built this factory to last and with computer technology assisting Chris and the other brewers, it has been built for the future. Some would say it was lucky, yet Bryan and the other brewers have only had to dump 2 patches of beer in the past 14 years due to a failure to secondary ferment, yet this computer technology will ensure further successful batches year upon year.
Once the beer has fermented it is then moved across to the storage tanks in preparation for bottling. Again, Baird Beer really have built for the future with a current capacity of 4 6000L storage tanks but space for many more. Chris and company have a dangerous task of climbing ladders and connecting hoses for bottling but he would have you believe it isn’t, especially when he mentions that they can go much higher than their current two storey solution now.
The bottling plant is also semiautomated, no manual pressing the crown caps on to the bottles one at a time. The bottles are still loaded on by hand, but from that, the cleaning, labeling, filling, and capping are all automated. With the ability to clean, label, fill, and cap a bottle in less than a minute, the Baird Beer brewery can bottle over 100 beers a minute. There is also a kegging system too that cleans, steams, and fills a keg in less than 5 minutes. The bottling and brewing process does depend on certain conditions and what beers they are brewing, but Baird Beer’s continuous path to becoming one of the biggest, if not the most adventurous, breweries in Japan shows no signs of abating with this brewery.
The final part of the tour took us to the pilot system also known as the brewery for the Baird Beer Numazu branch and also used for brewing beers as part of the Nide brand. Much smaller than the main production area, Chris talked about how the differences between the two systems allow them to train new brewers and also allow them to test out new ideas and future recipes as well.
Overall, the tour last for about one hour; however, this did include a short chat with Bryan Baird in the office. The tour usually takes around 30 minutes and finishes off in the taproom upstairs on the third floor for beers. With plans in 2015 to open a campsite just across from the Baird Beer Brewery, it is well worth coming down for a tour, some beers, and then some bed.
Baird Beer Brewery Tour Booking and Directions
To make a booking for the tour, phone on 0558-73-1225
Baird Beer Brewery is open daily, weekdays midday to 9pm, weekends and holidays 11am to 8pm.
You can get a taxi from Shuzenji station, the closest station, that will cost around 2,000yen.
I’m seriously considering taking a trip down to Shizuoka just to check out some beer.