Baeren Brewery and Beer Pub, Morioka
Last friday on the way to this years Ichinoseki beer festival, I decided to take a small detour to Morioka to visit Baeren Brewery and the Baeren Beer Pub.
Baeren Brewery started making beer in 2001 using equipment shipped over from Germany, some of which is around 100 years old. It’s the only place in Japan to have a “cool ship” (“koelschip”), used for cooling wort and spontaneous fermentation of Lambics – although Baeren doesn’t actually use it for their current beers, but hopefully they will at some point in the future (Allagash has a You Tube video on using a koelschip for a spontaneous fermentation brew here). Until a few years ago, the head brewer was also German.
While the Baeren website says you can tour the brewery, as I found out when I arrived there, that usually just means access to the viewing platform. But having contacted the brewery by email first and having made the trip especially from Tokyo, they were kind enough to show me around the brewery even though there was no brewer there to explain. Cool ship, fermention tanks, and aging tanks were off limits though.
Due to the lack of a brewer to explain and parts of the brewery being off limits, I’ve had to piece together info on the “off limits” areas from Japanese literature by the brewery itself and by phoning and mailing Baeren to get clarification on certain items, such as whether the cool ship is used. It’s possible I made mistakes interpreting the Japanese – apologies if that’s the case – but I’ve done the best I can to fill in the blanks from the “off limits” sections.
Now, onto the visit..
Baeren is situated in Morioka, Iwake prefecture. It’s about 2 1/2 hours from Tokyo by Shinkansen. The Baeren Beer Pub is located in central Morioka itself, by the river, but the brewery is on the outskirts. Bus 327 at stand 11 outside the station takes you to the brewery – there are very few buses though and if I was going again I’d just take a taxi; it’s only about 1000 yen for a taxi.
The brewery as seen from the side of the road. Difficult to miss.
Inside there’s a small reception area with bottles on sale to takeaway. There’s also a few chilled bottles available and one beer on tap (weizen on my visit). There’s no aircon in the brewery and the weizen at 300 yen didn’t even last long enough to take a photo!
I did recover sense enough to take a photo of this Iwate Wheat – part of a limited production run of 6000 bottles – not enough sense as to actually take a photo of it poured into a glass though.
This is the usual extent of a brewery tour – a long room with a viewing gallery showing the grain mill and beer making equipment at the end, with some photo displays showing the history of the brewery, equipment, and how the beer is made.
As I said, luckily I was able to go into the actual brewery. Through the door to the left of the viewing gallery takes you to…
…the malt, bottle, and general storage area. This is a pretty large room but I still had to use a fisheye lens to get all of the room in the shot.
Feeding the grain into the 100 year old grain mill. You can see too wooden strips either side and a wheel just above the grain bag – this grain mill is belt driven and grinds less than a handful of grain a second. I could hand grind quicker.
Next room is the Brew House with the 100 year old copper kettle in the front, which is used for both mashing and boiling, though not lautering (I confirmed this by contacting the brewery – they move the grain to a different tank for lautering).You can see the kettle being used in steps 2 and 7 in the center section of this explanatory display:
Here’s another shot of the kettle – full height this time. It really is a marvellous sight.
From here we get into off limits part of the tour – the coolship, fermentation tanks, aging/storage tanks. A bit of digging on Baeren’s own website revealed some details though.
From this page, we get very low resolution maps of the brewery:
The numbers represent:
- The brew house with kettle, pictured above (two floors high)
- Entrance hall and small shop (ground floor)
- Cool ship (second floor)
- Fermentation tanks (second floor)
- Storage tanks (ground floor; gravity fed from the fermentation tanks)
- Bottling area (ground floor)
This page has some photos of the cool ship and aging tanks:
This page has details of the brewery being built and photos of the aging tanks:
Back to the tour and it’s down to the bottling area.
Baeren has it’s own bottle recycling machine where old bottles are crushed to pieces.
From the bottling equipment at the back – why didn’t I take a photograph of that?! – bottles appear out of this belt.
They then go into this chamber for pasteurisation. No live yeast in Baeren bottles then! Just as well because bottles are not kept in cold storage.
After pasteurisation,the bottles are labelled here…
…and stacked in what seems like rather fragile Jenga like towers.
Of course Baeren has kegs too – I’m not sure whether they go through the same pasteurisation process, but I expect they do given the lack of cold storage.
Baeren has a large base of monthly customers, many of whom pick up direct from the brewery – but delivery is also possible, and there’s an online shop (details below). Here we reach the end of the line – the packing area.
And finally leaving the brewery itself. Be warned that buses from the area stop ridiculously early, but the brewery will phone a taxi on request. It’s less than 1000 yen to the Baeren beer pub…
…which was my next stop, back in central Morioka – there was no Classic available at the brewery and I wanted to try it before leaving.
Not sure of the reason for the recessed entrance – could get more seating in the bar if this was brought out street facing.
Inside the bar – it’s around 5pm, so still empty.
The front was booked up from 6pm, but I had to be out of there in a dash anyway.
My first taste of Baeren Classic – and a nice refreshingly dry lager it is too. Until a few years ago the head brewer at Baeren was a German, and that shows in the quality of this beer. One of the best Japanese lagers I’ve tried…
..and sitting drinking it overlooking the river can’t be beat.
Three more: weizen, alt, and schwarz. Difficult to photograph against the backlit window, especially when all you want to do is drink them – the brewery was roasting!
A quick photo on the frantic sprint back to the station to catch the Shinkansen, due to leave 10 minutes later. This is the river the beer pub overlooks – you can just see the pub next to the big tower on the right hand bank.
If this was Britain, my train wouldn’t even have arrived at the station by now. But this being Japan, it was smack on time – unlike me who was smack 30 seconds behind time and had to watch the train glide out of the station. Doh!
Baeren also has a year-round monthly delivery scheme – “B Club”. For 4200 yen (including delivery), you get 12 bottles – 2 monthly specials plus your choice of Classic or Schwarz or a mix of both (specified at sign-up). There’s no information about this online, but you can call 019-606-0766 to order. There’s a three month minimum sign-up period.
My opinion? It’s good to see a brewery using old equipment – but to be honest, unless there’s an event here or you are in the area, it’s not worth making the trip out here especially since brewery tours don’t seem to be standard and the most interesting part of the brewery – the cool ship – is hidden away. If you do want to try to tour the brewery itself, make sure you get someone Japanese to contact Baeren and confirm that you can see around the brewery rather than just looking from the viewing room. Baeren make very good beers though and if you are in Morioka, at least stop by the beer pub to give their beers a try (call in advance to get a seat overlooking the river!)