It seems easier to get a Japanese permanent residence visa than to get a tour around the Chateau Kamiya brewery. You can easily see it from outside, but the frosted up windows from the permanently running aircon means it’s tough to what is happening inside. Moreover, with eleven fermentation tanks taking up most of the storage room, you can’t see what it happening in there either. So the only thing left to do is get a tour though during the Golden Week Festival, tours are limited to 10 people per group, and three groups per day. So with haste and fortune, Kakui-san gave BeerTengoku a personal tour around the brewery, with no holds barred and (almost) no questions forbidden.
Chateau Kamiya has an annual production of around 80kL of beer per year, though they are on a happoshu license as well as a beer license, so it’s hard to determine the quantity of each. However, everything starts off in the lab, which was one of the most hi-tech areas we’ve seen in a brewery in Japan. Erlenmeyer flasks are dotted around between burettes, condensers, microscopes and amino acid analyzes along with devices for measuring IBUs of beer electronically and pH level detectors. All beers are quality controlled and checked using this instrumentation and most importantly, all beers are first made on a small scale and then tested. Kakui-san thoroughly explained what each device is used for and the steps involved in the processes in getting a new beer approved. If a beer fails in any of the aforementioned processes, the batch is dumped and remade, though he’s happy to admit that no batches have been dumped.
As much as I didn’t want to move on from the lab, all those toys looked so much fun and I could have spent the rest of the day asking questions about them and playing with them, Kakui-san was eager to show me around the rest of the brewery. 80kL sounds like a lot of beer but it puts Chateau Kamiya in the midrange of Japanese craft beer production. During peak times, the restaurants and annual beer festival gets through between 10kL and 20kL of beer a month with the rest of the year being around 5kL to 10kL a month depending on the weather. This production was higher up until 2013, when the parent company Oenon started to reign in the locations where Chateau Kamiya draft beer was sold on tap to just the local restaurants, where around 500,000 visitors annually visit.
The lab has its roots firmly in the background of Godo Shusei’s research side which allows Kakui-san and fellow brewer Sano Rie to keep a firm control of the quality of the product as well as enabling them to cultivate and grow their own yeast, such as the Sakura-kobo, a yeast extracted from some of the 500 cherry trees located on site.