Travelling into Nagoya is perhaps one of my favourite trips. Everything you want to access is immediately around you – no changing of trains to get from the station into the city centre (Shin-Yokohama), no walking around to get away from the ominous building (Kyoto), and no buses needed to get to the actual city (Kanazawa!). And with Nagoya, it’s impossible to avoid the Yanagibashi area of Nagoya, both in terms of history and drinking.
The Yanagibashi market is open from early in the morning, supplying local restaurants and bars fresh produce, and also local citizens, looking for the freshest fish that have been brought into the port. The market has been around since the beginning of the Meiji era (around 1868). In the mornings, the market used to be full of hustle and bustle; however, as time has moved on, and supermarkets have taken over the roles of these individual shops, the area started to become dilapidated.
Enter in Sakaya Okadaya, which opened back in the 1920s during the Taisho era, one of the few remaining sake bottle shops in the market. Located at the northern end of Yanagibashi Market, the shop has a varied selection of sake, wines, and also craft beer for sale, while also working as a distributor for bars in the area too. The parent company of numerous bars in the area has allowed Sakaya Okadaya to be able to dip their toes into opening craft beer bars in the Nagoya area.
The first bar, Craft Beer Keg Nagoya, opened in 2009 and was the first craft beer bar dedicated to domestic beer after Beer Circus, the taproom for another local brewery, Morita Kinshachi, closed back in the late 00s, due to a lack of demand for local craft beers. 2009 is also another important year as locals have deemed it to be the start of craft beer in Nagoya – a bold claim to make, but seeing as how numerous bars have opened since then, it’s hard to disagree with them.
Yet, the Yanagibashi area failed to see any benefit from this sudden uptake of domestic craft beer. The president of Sakaya Okadaya, Yamamoto Yasuhiro, grew up in the local area surrounding the market; however, seeing it change over time, he knew that something had to be done to rejuvenate the market. Seeing the crowds though in the evening frequenting the local bars led to the idea of opening a brewery – a first for the centre of Nagoya.
With the market playing such an important part of Yamamoto-san’s growing up, it was only natural for the area to play a huge role in the brewery. However, it was decided that rather than opening a brewery – mainly due to the area of land needed and also the financial demands from the outset – a brewpub would better suit the area. As an homage to the area, the brewpub was named Y Market Brewing and opened in March 2014.
Kachi-san, the head brewer at Y Market Brewing, was supposed to be off work on the day we went; however, what was supposed to have been a quick drop in to pick up some beers for a baseball game, (he’s a fervent Yomiuri Giants fan), ended up being a chat with Nakanishi-san as well about the aspects of brewing. Both Kachi-san and Nakanishi-san have a long and storied history with craft beer in Japan. Kachi-san started out at Kisoji Beer, which unfortunately closed in 2018, and Nakanishi-san began brewing at Ise Kadoya, still going strong in 2019. However, neither of their journeys into brewing were as straightforward as they make out to be.
Kachi-san began his adventures into craft beer overseas in Canada, and not in Japan. He was studying as an exchange student, but found himself to be running out of money and in need of more – studying overseas is a very expensive method of learning. Picking up a job at a local bar meant more money and also more access to locally made beers, rather than the big macro beers. It was also in Canada that Kachi-san also met Luc “Bim” Lafontaine, the famed Canadian brewer with over 20 years experience, with who has had experience in Dieu du Ciel (Canada) and also in Japan at Ushitora, and now owns his own brewery, Godspeed back in Canada. Lafontaine convinced Kachi-san to spend some money to begin homebrewing and a brewer was born.
Nakanishi-san started out at Ise Kadoya beer, one of the oldest craft beer breweries in Japan, working there until March 2014. His brewing history, while not as traditional as Kachi-san, started out in high school while classes in biology piqued his interest in fermentation – something that is the norm rather than the exception in countryside schools. Unlike universities and schools overseas, no Japanese universities offer brewing courses to potential brewers as none of them possess the requisite brewing license needed to legally brew beer. Nakanishi-san managed to find an opening in 1999 and then followed the “traditional” role of brewers in Japan – working and studying on the job, becoming head brewer in 1999. However, when Y Market came calling, he knew it was a chance for him to carry on with his learning of foreign styles of beers, in particular, American beers.
With the two brewers on board, and the brewpub ready to go, the whole application for the initial brewing was relatively painless. The original plan was for a 500 liter system, but a a brewery in Tottori had recently closed, so a 1000l system was purchased and is still used to this day. Kachi-san and Nakanishi-san began brewing beers that they wanted to drink, with Yamamoto-san giving them free reign – which has paid off for both parties.Y Market Brewing started out with pale ales and IPAs – both of which are heavily American influenced – so much so that predominantly American hops are used in the beers.
Both brewers were in firm agreement when it came to the kinds of beers that they wanted to make – ones that have drinkability. Beers can be high or low in terms of alcohol, hops, or malt, but they have to be drinkable – and not just one or two, but numerous times. The repeat beers that you can easily drink and come back for more. While there are some stalwarts among the Y Market Brewing lineup, for example the Sky Pale Ale series, the limited editions and seasonals are usually made from ideas the pair share and want to try.
The naming behind the beers isn’t as random as some of the names appear to be. The Sky Pale Ale series all contain a colour – Purple Sky Pale Ale, Yellow Sky Pale Ale, Orange Sky Pale Ale and so on, all stem from experiences that the pair have shared. The Purple Sky Pale Ale comes from some cloud system that Kachi-san experienced in Canada – thick, dark clouds along with some hot and humid weather, while Yellow Sky Pale Ale reminds them of the yuzu, better known as a Japanese citron, while the Orange Sky Pale Ale, as you’ve already probably guessed by now, reminds them of the orange colour found in the unknown fire rumoured to be seen in Kyushu called a “shiranui”.
In 2015, Y Market Brewing began to bottle some of their more popular beers as an experiment to see if there was a demand for them. However, in the small brewpub space, the bottling capability was low and Y Market Brewing enlisted the help of Gotemba Kogen, in Shizuoka, to help brew and bottle some of their beers. As the popularity of Y Market increased though, the 1000l started to hinder, rather than help the growth of Y Market Brewing. At maximum capacity throughout the week, and beers selling at times faster than they could make the beers, there was a need to open a new brewery.
In November 2018, Y Market Brewing opened up their new brewery in the northern part of Nagoya city, about 8kms from the city centre in a small industry area just north of the River Shin. The brewery has a much larger capacity with over 30kl available for fermentation and also 3 bright beer tanks too. The system itself also incorporates equipment that would be more common in an American brewery rather than your usual Japanese brewery, with a whirlpool tank (used for imparting more hop flavours after boiling and during cooling the beers), four hop rockets in succession (at the time of writing the most in Japan for a single brewery), and also a portable hop tornado, made famous by Sierra Nevada.
In 2019, Y Market Brewing moved from bottling their beers to canning their beers – a process that should see them continue to expand. ⅓ of every 3500 liter batch goes into canning, with the rest going to kegging for sales to bars across Japan. This new brewery though hasn’t meant the closure of the original brewery in the taproom. Beers that are popular are brewed on the much larger system and test brews are made on the taproom system. If the beers become popular, such as the Lupulin Nectar or the La Mosique, then they will be canned for future sales.
The move to canning hasn’t been easy. If you’ve picked up, or seen the cans, their simply coloured label on the side wasn’t a deliberate design process. The main issue faced with canning the beers was that the original label used on the can was made on a film that would end up crushing the can when it was heat shrunk to fit the can. As such, the label idea came in; however, Nakanishi-san did joke about what colours would come next as they use more and more of them up on the labels. Both Kachi-san and Nakanishi-san are interested in collaborations with both domestic and overseas breweries too with Cascade, Culmination, 50/50, and Heretic have been done or in the process of being planned.
Y Market Brewing have come a long way in a short amount of time, with good reason. Two brewers at the helm who are clear about their goals, with a president entrusting them with full control – a rarity in the business minded environment of Japan. Next time you’re in a craft beer bar and see Y Market Brewing, remember that it all started out because someone believed craft beer could save a small area of a city.