Tuesday, February 1, 2011

"Nest is Best": A visit to Kiuchi Brewery

I had the pleasure to first taste Hitachino Nest Winter Ale at Momofuku Ramen in New York. Not only was the beer excellent, but it had a picture of an owl so of course I could not get over how cute it is. So after discovering that Paul, one of my buddies in the Keio IP exchange program also likes it a lot I decided to "google" the brewery.

Kiuchi Brewery is located in Hitachi in Ibaraki Prefecture. I randomly shot them an email through their website asking if a bunch of international "Hitachino Nest fans" could come visit the brewery. To our delight they where super enthusiastic about us visiting and trying their products, so we decided to give it a shot.
*How can you not love this owl? I dare you*
After riding a mix of local trains, the metro and the Shinkansen (bullet train) for about 2.5-3 hours we got to Kiuchi Brewery. It is in a VERY rural area in Japan, so at this point we knew the trip was going to be awesome or a complete disaster. Turns out the booze gods were smiling on us.

Turns out that beer is a very recent development for Kiuchi, which has been brewing Sake at this location for 180+ years (it was established in 1823). The first thing that struck us was the traditional Japanese architecture of the brewery.

 * The magic happens behind those doors*

The brewery welcomed us and we decided to first have lunch at the soba restaurant that is part of the brewery. Its a good strategy to start a brewery tour on a full stomach.

 We had to strategize on the best way to taste as many of their beers as possible, so we decided to each get a different one and share.

 I got the winter "celebration ale", a beer that is only brewed for new year's. It was fantastic.

They guys got a Weizen, Amber Ale and IPA. I really enjoyed the Weizen, it had a honeyed taste to it and I think it would be really enjoyable in nice weather. My lunch was also very good, it consisted of warm soba noodles and a dipping broth full of delicious winter vegetables. I have had hot soba and cold soba noodles, but never warm soba.

The brewery tour started after lunch. Our awesome guide Tomoko-san guided us through the sake brewing process. We actually went INTO the brewery, it was awesome that they allowed us to go it and took the time to show us around.

 * A new cedar is hanged when sake is brewed*

* We left our shoes at the door and put on these plastic slippers, no nasties from the outside come into the brewery*

Tomoko-san took us through the sake making process!  

*Washing and soaking*


 * Filtering*


After the tour of sake making, we went to the section of the brewery where you can do your own microbrews. We were so excited and where willing to start brewing right away. But the brewing process takes four hours, we did not have enough time.

Lastly, Tomoko drove us to the expanding beer facilities, where we got to see the brewing tanks and meet the master brewer! His favourite Hitachino Nest beer? The New Year Celebration Ale.

 * Nest IS best*

*Nest Fans and the Brew Master*
 Lastly, we came back to the main brewery and finished trying their beers ( we recommend the Sweet Stout, very nice!). Then we moved on to sake, and ended with shochu. It was a fantastic experience!!! If you are traveling in Japan and want to have a fantastic, different and authentic day trip, shoot an email and visit Kiuchi Brewery. I promise you will not be disappointed.



  1. Hi Andrea, I just wanted to say thanks for this info about the Kiuchi Brewery! I live near there and I am currently planning a day there for myself and some of my other friends in the area...it's nice to know we are in for a great day :)

  2. Ooooh, I'm totally going to Kiuchi Brewery next time I'm back in Japan! Thanks for all the details.