Back in August I went to the Ichinoseki beer festival. On the way there I visited the Baeren brewery and beer pub in Morioka – you can read about that here. On the last day of the festival I visited Sekinoichi, maker of Iwate Kura beer, also located in Ichinoseki.
The Ichinoseki beer festival features over 60 Japanese craft breweries and Wataru-san, brewer of Iwate Kura beer, is one of the main organisers. Partly because the brewery staff are busy at the event and partly because the brewery plays down their involvement in the festival so that other breweries don’t feel there’s any favouritism going on, it wasn’t possible to get inside the brewery during the festival – but I was allowed in to roam around the viewing areas. Not a full brewery tour then – but, as I found out, there’s a lot more at Sekinoichi than just the brewery.
As you can see from the map at the top of this article, Sekinoichi is not just a single building – there are the beer and sake “factories”, a large shop, more than one restaurant, and even a museum. The photo above is the entrance to Sekinoichi. The white building in the middle houses the museum and one of the restaurants. To the right (not shown) is the shop, and at the back right corner is…
…the beer factory, as Google translates it from the Sekinoichi website. There’s a restaurant in here too.
This is the brewery – as seen from the side viewing room. Below is the brewery taken from the front viewing platform:
Taken with a fisheye lens so that I could match the diagram showing what all the equipment is:
Translated from the Japanese: A – Filtration tank; B – Hot water tank; C – Boiling tank; D – Cooling tank; E – Fermentation tank; F – Maturation tank (conditioning tank); G – Boiler.
Here are some of the conditioning tanks. You can also see there’s a kegging and bottling area next to the door also. I have to confess I’m not entirely sure what the two tanks at the bottom left are but they are labelled “Samaru Tank” in Japanese and this page implies they are insulated temperature controlled tanks so I’m guessing they’re used for yeast – but that’s just a guess because I don’t see anywhere for yeast storage. They could be for sake, or conditioning, or anything – I had no-one to ask.
Close-up of the filtration tank, hot water tank, and boiling tank. And how is this equipment used?
Well, according to this diagram, the mashing and lautering is done inside A, the filtration tank, and transferred to C – the boiling tank. This is confirmed by the description of the process on Sekinoichi’s website, at the bottom of this page.
Interestingly, it’s quite a different process from Baeren’s system, where mashing and boiling are done in the same tank.
Having seen all I could see of the brewery, I made my way to the shop. Sake is also made at Sekinoichi and there is free sampling:
Sake is available to buy both in prepacked bottles as well as direct from the tank, bottled fresh:
Sake sampled, it was onto the museum. There should be a small entrance charge of this – a few hundred yen – but with staff at the festival, it was open for free.
Inside there are various pieces of old equipment used at the brewery throughout the years.
This tank was used for making Nihonshu – Japanese sake. You can climb down the ladder and go inside.
There’s loads of old equipment sitting around. It’s quite fascinating to see…
…though all signs and explanations are in Japanese only.
From the museum to the restaurant. It’s sometimes possible to pick up vouchers near the station or in hotels in the area to get a free small glass of beer if you visit the restaurant. I didn’t have any vouchers but some friends of mine had brought extras and shared them with me – thanks guys (and gals!)
Behind the beer is a cup of water. That’s not as boring as it sounds – the water they serve at the restaurant is the same water they use for the beer, from the nearby mountain region.
Next up, Iwate Kura IPA – and from the food menu:
After a few of the “normal” beers, I decided to try something a little bit different:
Passion ale – a new “beer” made with passion fruit. I found it quite refreshing actually. Main course:
Mochi is rice cake. As well as the mochi, the fondue also came with vegetables and cooked sausage for dipping. Definitely an “interesting” dish – interesting like the last beer:
A sparkling fruity beer with natural blue dye. Sold as a “wedding” beer, it’s definitely one of the more unusual beer concepts I’ve tried.
Sekinoichi’s website is here. There are access maps there and you can buy beer online also – the website is all Japanese though.
Surprisingly, Ichinoseki Beer isn’t available in many bars or off licenses in the town. Apart from the brewery, the only places I saw it being sold were the omiyage stores at the station. Shame on Newdays, Lawson and other convenience stores for not stocking the local town beer.
My opinion? Despite not being able to get a good look around the brewery, it was still fascinating to visit Sekinoichi. The town of Ichinoseki is a relaxed place in itself, and wandering around the grounds of Sekinoichi and from building to building is also very relaxing – I almost felt like I’d stepped back in time and was spectating on the past. There’s definitely more to see here than at some other breweries.