As we travelled through Nagoya in a taxi – the previous night at Hop Buds had been a bit heavy – the scenery changed from one of hustle and bustle, to one of industrial. Sprawling factories in the northern part of Nagoya, dotted along the banks of The Shin River – another man-made part of the area. All of the factories appeared to be the same, with their typical dull grey exteriors, and a few signs posted above the doors so you know where you are. However, one building stood out from the rest, with its colourful, vibrant door to the warehouse.
Y Market Brewing opened this brewery in November 2018 as the demand for Y Market’s beers had outstripped the production capability at their brewpub in the Yanagibashi Market. From the outside, the brewery appears to be brand new – its sparkling, gleaming exterior looks out of place with the much older factories and warehouses in the area.
As you enter through the multicoloured door – you are treated to what appears to be the canning room. Except it isn’t. Every nook and cranny in the brewery serves a purpose. In the entrance area appears to be pallets of blank cans – 3000 or so on each pallet, all for the sole purpose of canning some of the beers brewed here. Unlike the brewpub branch, this brewery both cans and kegs the beers made here. Right in front of you is another shutter. But it’s not for entering the brewery – it’s where all the malts are kept. Nagoya’s weather ranges throughout the year – sunny to snowy, 40c to -10c at its extreme – so all the malts are kept in a climate controlled environment.
Y Market Brewing import their malts through one of Japan’s biggest malt distributors – Ohnishi Shoji – who supply malts from around the world, with countries such as Germany, The UK, and the US represented. These malts can also be bought in online homebrewing shops too which means the homebrewer can use the same materials that are used in Y Market Brewing’s beers. Forklifts are used to access the grains; however, they are still carried to the milling station, and sliced open by hand to ensure no metallic parts or dust enters the milling area.
While Y Market Brewing are more famous for their IPAs and pale ales, from time to time, they do make darker beers. With up to 60 bags of malt being used for each batch of beer, it can get time consuming to clean the milling machine, so Y Market go with milling the darker malts first – think chocolate, black, roasted barley, then the caramel or crystal malts, before moving onto the paler base malts such as two-row or Maris Otter. The milling machine is connected right to the mash tun via an overhead conveyor belt; however, some of the non-malt products, such as oats or rye, get milled in a separate machine. Wheat is a notorious difficult grain to mill – it can produce lots of flour and make the mash gummy, so this gets milled away from the malts and then transported up via a conveyor belt.
As you walk into the main brewhouse area, the space is immense. While Y Market have utilised the space efficiently, there is still a lot of room left for future expansion – something that is not a case of “if” but “when”. As you walk past the fermenters, looking overhead, pipes run above you – hot water, cleaning, wort – all going somewhere before ducking down behind stainless steel containers.
The brewing area is an impressive setup. Four huge tuns sit on top of a platform at the far end of the brewery, overlooking the fermenters and water tanks that stretch down the middle and the side of the brew house. The tuns are all computer controlled – in English as Kachi-san prefers it that way – though they are operated by hand and have the specific details such as mash temperature, chosen by the brewers. Unlike other breweries in Japan, Y Market Brewing also have a four stage hoprocket – the largest at the time of writing in Japan – connected to the system to impart more hop flavour than just boiling the hops normally.
Nakanishi-san mentioned it would be possible to do a double brew, possibly even a triple brew, on the current system if there were a demand for it. A brew from start to finish usually takes around 6 hours. That’s thanks to the two huge water tanks that collect water from the city. While that sounds unusually compared to other breweries that use underground aquifers or wells – something that sake in Japan is famous for emblazing on the bottle labels – the reason for this is that the city water is carbon filtered and then have its profile changed to suit the kind of beer being made.
The two huge water tanks contain both hot water for the mash, known as the HLT, and also for sparging, while the cold water tank contains water for cooling. This cooling stage occurs once the wort has passed through the whirlpool tank – one of the biggest we’ve come across on our travels for BeerTengoku. This huge tun is used to impart MORE hop flavours and aromas once the beer has begun to cool down as the boiling wort causes some of the more delicate oils to be evaporated off. Once the wort is brought into the whirlpool tun, it spins around the centre and then hops are added – this spinning effect is called the “Tea Cup Effect” and was first summarised by Albert Einstein – who’d have thought Einstein would have influenced how a beer is hopped? Then the wort is allowed to stand for an additional 20 minutes or so to allow the hops and trub to form a compact trub/hop pile in the center of the vessel. The wort is easily separated from the pile by pumping it out of an outlet located on the side of the vessel.
The wort is then pumped into one of the nine 3600 litre fermentation vessels that lie in the middle of the brewhouse. Each one of these is glycol chilled and all were full up when we visited. Some were of the Y Market Brewing regular line up, some were collaboration beers, while some were special beers for the Spring Keyaki Beer Festival. There is no in-house set yeast either – each batch of beer is brewed using liquid yeast from Wyeast that is specially imported over for each beer. Moreover, the meticulous nature of both Kachi-san and Nakanishi-san means when the yeast is about to be added, the whole packet is washed all over to ensure that no infections or wild spores are on the packets. This also extends to the cutting tools – be it a pocket knife, pair of scissors, or a much larger knife – everything gets meticulously washed.
Once the beer is deemed to be finished, it then moves onto one of the three BBT – known as bright beer tanks. These tanks are used to carbonate a beer before it moves onto either kegging, bottling, or in Y Market Brewing’s case – canning. ⅓ of every batch of beer is canned at this location, while the remaining is kegged for sales either in the taproom, the Y Market bar, or for bars across Japan. The canning machine itself is mostly automated and it is able to can 1300 350ml cans per hour, though think of the poor person who has to load the canning machine.
Once the beers are canned, washed, dried, they are then x-rayed to ensure that no metallic parts are inside the beers and also to ensure that the level of beer inside is the same for all the beers. If the beer is off at all, it is immediately discarded from shipping. When asked what happens to the beer, in the hope of a few “samples”, Nakanishi-san laughed it off and said the beer would not be for consumption. Random samples from each batch are tested to ensure they meet the rigorous standards and then the labels are applied.
The original plan was to use heat-shrink labels on the cans; however, the cans were being crushed when the film was being heated on the empty cans. Of course, heating the cans once they have beer inside is also not desirable so Y Market Brewing decided to go with the simplistic, but effective, single stripe down the middle. The beers are then stored in a giant walk-in fridge, that also stores the hops from Yakima Valley Chief, before the beers are shipped off for sale.
Perhaps the most important stop on the tour is the taproom, open primarily at weekends, where you can get some fresh beer from the bright tanks, or even some cans to takeaway. All of the Y Market Brewing staff drink there – it’s next door to their offices – and you can often walk up to meet and chat with them. While tours are not commonly done at Y Market Brewing, if you do get the chance, it’s a great brewery to see in action if given the chance.