A small red shuttered lot in an nondescript apartment building is not usually where you would expect to find a brewery. However, lying in a busy suburb between Hiyoshi station on the Tokyu Toyoko Line to Yokohama and Shin-Kawasaki on the JR Yokosuka Line, is Kazekami Shuzo (Brewery). In operation since 2015, the brewery is the result of the efforts of Tanoue-san, the sole brewer and, as we were to find out later, also label designer, bottler, seller – basically the engine of the brewery.
So why here, in the middle of a suburban area, with KFC and McDonalds around the corner, and apartment blocks either side of you? Cost, it seems, was the issue: the premises were cheap to rent out and also conveniently located near Tanoue-san’s house. The small premises meant that the initial setup, all built by Tanoue-san himself, was perfect for relatively small (150L) batches that could be kegged or bottled. It’s an understatement to say it’s impressive – nestled in between racks is a grain mill, alongside three large chest freezers used as fermentation chambers (a homebrewing trick), while the kettle, mash-tun and hot liquor tank are located under what appeared to be sheet stainless steel, directing the steam up and out of the building.
It all started in a familiar way, with Tanoue-san experiencing homebrew for the first time. Something of a grey area in Japan, homebrew is legal as long as whatever is produced is beneath 1% ABV. Authorities do not enforce this law, however, and the accidental batch going over 1% is considered acceptable as long as it’s not for sale or public consumption. Tanoue-san realised that there were more flavours and styles out there on the market than the usual craft staples of pilsner and IPAs. Discovering Belgian beers convinced him that there was a market for rich, bold beers in Japan that wasn’t being attended to, and off he went, trying some of his own recipes.
Tanoue-san knew his future lay in brewing beer, but the road to get the brewery up and running, in comparison to other breweries we’ve interviewed and visited, seemed a much more laborious and trifling process. To get a brewing license in Japan, there is a lot of bureaucratic application forms that have to be filled out at set times. Tanoue-san lamented the fact that during the eight-month application process, no beer could be brewed and nothing could be done in terms of advertising the brewery. During those eight months, Tanoue-san could be found working in bars, trying to ascertain what beers he liked, what flavours were out there, and most importantly, his own niche in the market.
At the time of writing, Kazekami Shuzo makes three beers, including a Christmas Ale for the first time. All of the beers are bold in flavour and high in alcohol, with the Belgian IPA the lowest at 7%. Tanoue-san likes his beers rich and full, and the adjuncts in them are perhaps more on the unusual side. His desire is to create beers that exemplify this – there are plenty of bold IPAs out there, but how can he make something different that stands out?
The Belgian Tripel contains camomile and ginger, along with linden, which is the edible leaves and flowers of the basswood tree- something BeerTengoku had never heard of before trying the beer. The Belgian IPA is brewed, like the others, with the same strain of yeast that famed Belgian Trappist Monastery brewery Westmalle Brewery uses in their beers.
Pretty much every brewery makes a by-the-books IPA, so Kazekami’s take was made to show off the Belgian yeast and its bold flavours, in conjunction with a balance of Hersbrucker hops. The stout, the strongest at 9%, also contains cloves and rinden, and hides its alcohol content very well. (add links to beers). The Christmas Ale we tried was full of complex flavours, such as star anise, vanilla and chocolate. When it had warmed up a little we also got a hint of strawberries.
Initial feedback from customers indicated that the flavours were bold and powerful, and the beers were eminently drinkable. When we asked Tanoue-san which of his beers was his favourite, he told us that he didn’t have one- even though all of his beers are to his liking, he said that he is consistently striving to improve upon some aspect of the flavour.
While Kazekami Shuzo is a young brewery, Tanoue-san already has big plans for what he wants to achieve – bigger and bolder beers that can hold their own in a thriving craft beer market that doesn’t appear to be slowing down. At the time of writing, it’s quite hard to find Kazekami Shuzo’s beers outside of the immediate area – even though he manages the entire brewery by himself, apparently running an online store is a bit beyond even his capabilities. The beers can be found in Le Petit L’Ouest, Marcian, and also on tap in Living Yokohama.