Chateau Kamiya, located in Ushiku, Ibaraki is a brewery so steeped in the history of western alcohol in Japan, that it’s hard to understand why it isn’t bigger than it is. They’ve been making wine here since the Meiji era and were, along with the original Spring Valley Brewery in Yokohama, one of the first to be making beers brewed to a German standard. Even with the Tohoku earthquake in 2011 that damaged the facade to the chateau, the brewery is still going strong. They have resisted the urge to take the commercial brewing route, however; they are big enough to expand yet are not willing to as they want people to come and visit the grounds.
If you’re unfamiliar with Chateau Kamiya, then a history lesson is required. Heisuke Kamiya, for whom the estate is named, was born back in 1856 in Aichi prefecture, and learnt how to make sake barrels when he was eight years old. When he was 22, he moved onto winemaking, and in 1880 opened up a sake shop in what was then known as Edo (modern Tokyo). In 1894, he moved to France to study winemaking before returning to Japan and expanding the vineyard in Shinjuku in 1897 (Edo was still surrounded by countryside at the time, having only being made the capital of Japan in 1868), before moving to Ushiku in 1898 and expanding the winery there. During this time, the brewery experimented with making some beer using German techniques, though beer was not as popular in Japan then as it is now. Chateau Kamiya finally moved into making beer in 1996 when the Japanese government relaxed the beer license requirements, and immediately moved into producing German style beers such as dunkels, helles, and German-style pilsners.
Since then, though, beer tastes have changed and pilsners aren’t seen as being as exciting as they once were. Barley wines, IPAs, and chocolate stouts, along with barrel-aged beers, are the norm now with the traditional German styles being thrust aside. Chateau Kamiya has adapted, though, as is evident from the variety of beers that the brewery is able to produce, and produce well. India Pale Lagers, Chocolate Stouts and Barley Wines are among their seasonal list of beers that changes monthly; it shows how quickly Chateau Kamiya are able to shift their production around. All of these are produced using imported malts from either Germany or the UK and are mixed to the brewery’s own requirements.