In late August, BeerTengoku ventured out to the Kiuchi Brewery in Hitachi-konosu, Ibaragi. When we saw on the map that it was in the countryside, we didn’t realise it would be the proper actual countryside where trains are one-man cars. The driver drives the train, collects tickets, and so on; the trains run on single tracks, and the biggest shock, you can not use your PASMO and there are no English announcements. So after a four-hour trip, being stuck in the middle of nowhere without a clue where to go didn’t bode too well. Luckily we bumped into one of the workers who just happened to be meeting some friends, who took BeerTengoku to the Kiuchi Brewery in the sweltering sun.
Whilst Kiuchi Brewery may be better known overseas for their range of Hitachino Nest beers, it is worth remembering that first and foremost, Kiuchi Brewery is a nihonshu, or sake, brewery, which are known as shuzo (酒造), which means sake brewery. If you search for those kanji, Kiuchi Brewery is the first listing. It was only when Toshiyuki Kiuchi took over that the company moved towards brewing beer in the mid-nineties. Since then, they have branched out to making wine as well, but today was about the beer. And the occasional sake.
Haruna Katsuyama was our tour guide for the both the sake brewery and also the beer brewery as well. Throughout the tour, Haruna displayed an impeccable amount of knowledge and thorough understanding of the beer process. Not to disparage other places, but when you have someone who loves drinking the product as well as making it, the passion shines through. Each step of the way, Haruna described what was going on, why it was happening, and what the end result was.
Starting at the front gate, the Kiuchi Brewery for Hitachino Nest looks tiny compared to other major craft beer breweries in Japan, such as Baird Beer Shuzenji, but it’s important to remember that over 60% of the Hitachino Nest range is sold overseas, which explains why it can be difficult to find some of their products domestically. This place is like the TARDIS for you Doctor Who fans. It is much much much larger on the inside than on the outside. This was no more evident than in the milling room, where two 10-ton giant malt hoppers were three-quarters filled a piece, ready for the next milling and mashing. Haruna had some of the malts on hand that Kiuchi Brewery use and handed them out for tasting; a very pleasureable experience that was akin to Jelly Belly beans, where you can mix and match flavours and tastes.