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Making beer at the Kiuchi Brewery, Ibaraki

19 October 2009
Kiuchi Brewery welcomes you

Kiuchi Brewery welcomes you

How would you like to make your own beer at a Japanese brewery? Well you can, at the Brew on Premises facilities of the Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki, and in spring 2009 – before I started Beer in Japan - I did just that.

You’ll probably know Kiuchi better as the maker of the Hitachino Nest range of beers – they are one of the better distributed craft beers in Japan and have a distinctive owl symbol. They were also the first Japanese craft brewery to export overseas and today they remain almost the only Japanese craft brewery to export consistently. In 2009 they paired with Brooklyn Brewery to brew Brooklyn Lager under contract for Brooklyn Parlor in Japan.

The brewing room

The brewing room

Kiuchi is one of only a handful of brewers to offer BOP facilities in Japan. Here’s how it works: You choose how much beer you want to make – the minimum is 45 x 330ml bottles, at around 600 yen a bottle. The BOP instructor will then discuss beer ingredients and types of beer and help you design the style of beer that you want to make. For the rest of the day, you’ll be making the beer – from crushing the grain to mashing and boiling hops - until it’s ready for fermentation. Kiuchi will then ferment the beer and deliver the bottles to you  – with labels you design – a few weeks later. Very popular for weddings, apparently.

Grain

Grain

Book showing the grains that make up Nest's beers

Book showing the grains that make up Nest's beers

At around 600 yen a bottle, it isn’t cheap – being about roughly 75% more expensive that just buying one of Kiuchi’s beers instore – but that’s not the point: it’s your beer you’re making, to your recipe, and it’s a really cool thing to do.

Hops

Hops

Explanation of the different types of hop

Explanation of the different types of hop

The instruction was in Japanese only since Yukie, our instructor, didn’t speak English. Since I went with someone Japanese and I’m familiar with the beer making process, that wasn’t a big problem. (Staff in the nearby bar and the owners do speak English so maybe they could arrange something if you’re going in a group that doesn’t speak Japanese – you’d need to check.)

There were two of us so we made two different beers. Since arriving in Japan, one of my favourite beers has been Hitachino Nest White Ale and I was keen to find out the recipe, so that was my first choice. The second beer we chose to be an IPA. This was a bit of a challenge since Hitachino Nest doesn’t actually make an IPA – the closest is the Japanese Classic Ale.

Orange peel, coriander, and nutmeg - all ingredients in Hitachino Nest White Ale

Orange peel, coriander, and nutmeg - all ingredients in Hitachino Nest White Ale

Yukie’s initial suggestion for an IPA was bittering with Northern Brewer and flavour and aroma coming from Cascade. In addition they would dry hop the beer with Cascade, something which would take some creative thinking because the BOP is not set up for dry hopping and they’ve never attempted it before. It was a fairly respectable suggestion – but I wanted to use something different from Cascade, which is a fairly standard American IPA hop, so I asked Yukie about alternatives.

She discussed the various hops they had in pellet form (NB, Perle, Chinook, Cascade, Challenger, Saaz, Styrian Golding, Hallertau, Kent Golding, and Tettnanger) and fresh leaf (Cascade and Sapphire). In the end, we changed aroma and flavour to 50% Cascade and 50% Challenger (supposedly spicy) with Sapphire being used for the dry hop. I hadn’t heard of Sapphire before but after a quick look on the iPhone, I found this writeup of it on Beer Wikia:

Sapphire – A new breed of hop that is starting to replace the Hallertauer Mittlefrueh variety, which has become more and more susceptible to disease and pests. Shares many of the Hallertaur Mittlefrueh characteristics and is very well suited as an aroma hop. This hop is distinguished by a sweet and clean citrus aroma that has a hint of tangerine. (Alpha acid 2–4.5% / Beta acid 4–7%)

Sounded very nice indeed. And here it is, measured out:

100g of Sapphire for 15L of beer - lovely!

100g of Sapphire for 15L of beer - lovely!

Dry hopping is usually done after fermentation so that the hop aroma doesn’t escape with the CO2. Yukie said it wouldn’t be possible for us to do that so instead we left the hops in the beer during the entire fermentation process, wrapped in a weighed down net bag. It wouldn’t give us a rich hop aroma, but at least it would add flavour and was a step in the right direction. I appreciate Yukie trying something new for us.

Yukie demonstrates fly sparging

Yukie demonstrates fly sparging

The whole process was pretty easy and professionally controlled – I’ll write more about the technical details for each beer with the recipes at the end. Yukie controlled timing well – not surprising because on the previous day she’d had over 20 people making beer – weekends obviously get busy! Lucky for us we had the whole place to ourselves with it being a weekday and the other people who were due to brew cancelling.

After making the beer, we had a quick look at Kiuchi’s old brewing setup, before they moved to a larger factory.

The old brewing setup

The old brewing setup

Tanks - max size around 1400L

Tanks - max size around 1400L

It’s an indication of the scale of success of the Kiuchi brewery that the old equipment, which is no longer in use, is as big as the brewing setup most other Japanese craft brewers are still using.

After brewing, we needed a drink – so we went to the bar at the brewery and tried some of Kiuchi’s beers, wines, and sake, including the hard to get Red Rice Ale and Japanese Classic Ale.

Tasty

Tasty

It’s while drinking that I spotted a guy outside with a beard walking around, and after a comment of “Isn’t that guy with the beard walking about the owner?” to the bar staff, she asked if I wanted to talk with him. Less than a minute chatting to Toshiyuki Kiuchi and he invited us to a private tour of the new brewery! Result.

The new brewery is huge. The beer making section is imposing by itself…

Where the beer magic happens

Where the beer magic happens

What happens if I touch this?

What happens if I touch this?

…but that doesn’t even hint as to what lies past there – room after room of fermenters, lagering tanks, yeast cleaning tanks, and a huge new automatic bottling setup. I lost count as to how many tanks I saw but it must have been in the 40-50 range.

A few of the smaller tanks

A few of the smaller tanks

Some more

Some more

And more - with the new bottling line on the right

And more - with the new bottling line on the right

The bottling line runs between rooms

The bottling line runs between rooms

The buckets that homebrewers often use for fermentation? Here they were used for blow off. The sound of bubbling from this bucket containing the blow-off tube from a 4700L tank was orgasmic:

I think we have a bit of fermentation going on in this tank

I think we have a bit of fermentation going on in this tank

Returning back to the bar and trying some more beer while ordering a keg of White Ale to be delivered back to my house, Youichi Kiuchi strolled by and asked whether we wanted a tour of the main factory – no shortage of offers to see it then! – and at closing time, after finding out there wasn’t another train out for another two hours, he offered to drive us to Mito, where there’s a larger station and Kiuchi’s restaurant. I was much appreciated.

In Mito, rather than get the train back, on a whim we decided to head to the Kiuchi owned restaurant in the hope of trying their Pilsner which is only sold there. It took us quite a while to get there since we got lost a couple of times – why we didn’t ask to be dropped off there, I don’t know! – and when we got there they’d run out of Pilsner (will I ever get to try it?!) but we did bump into Toshiyuki Kiuchi again and he gave us a free sample of an English ale which they only sell in that restaurant. They really should make those beers – Pilsner, Ale, and the JCA and Rice Ale – easier to get.

Two days later, the keg of White Ale arrived – about 11,000yen for 15L with free delivery. They didn’t even charge us the keg fee, instead saying “Well if you don’t send the keg back, we’ll send you a bill!” Here it is hooked up to the kegerator I bought from Yahoo Action:

Yum!

Yum!

The craft beer that started my love for Japanese craft beers – on tap, in my house. Now that’s nice!

A few weeks later the bottles arrived, complete with our labels:

Let's Drinking with Enjoy OUR IPA and Let's drinking White Ale

Let's Drinking with Enjoy OUR IPA and Let's drinking White Ale

Five lovely boxes of beer (and an empty keg!)

Five lovely boxes of beer (and an empty keg!)

14 more bottles than anticipated (yes, I had to pay for the extra!)

14 more bottles than anticipated (yes, I had to pay for the extra!)

The finished product

The finished product

And how did they taste? Fantastic. The While Ale turned out very much like Hitachino Nest’s own White Ale – maybe a little more nutmeg, but their commercial white ale can also vary in strength of nutmeg with the taste fading as the beer matures. Now late 2009, the nutmeg is more subdued. The IPA? I’d say it turned out more like a strong pale ale, but lovely gorgeous caramel taste to it and vibrant finish.

Here’s the technical detail on how the beers were made, including the recipes.

Process

All grain, of course. Boil volume on both was 30L. The aim was to bottle 15L, but I’m guessing there was about 20L (maybe more) after boiling – some was wasted in the cooling pipes.

For mashing the White Ale, there was 10m at 40 degrees, recirculate 5 x 2L (out through the tap at the bottom, pour back onto the grain), then 10m at 50 degrees, recirculate 5 x 2L, bring temp to 65 degrees, recirculate 2 x 2L, then 40m at 65 degrees, recirculate 5 x 2L, iodine test, then temperature was brought up to 76 degrees for 10 minutes filtering (take out wort slowly from the tap and pour back in slowly) and then lautering (sprinkling on 76 degrees water while taking out wort and pouring into another tank for boiling).

For the IPA, the 40 degrees step was dropped with the times for 50/65 increased.

Hops schedule – the times shown the actual times I was brewing. ie. started brewing at 13h 40m.
1st hops: 13:40; 2nd: 14:00; 3rd: 14:10; 4th: 14:14; End 14:15
At 14:15, whirlpool then leave for 10m, then cool and bucket.

Let’s drinking White Ale

This was to be as close to Hitachino Nest White Ale as possible. While we were told this was the same recipe, when visiting the new brewery I saw White Ale being made. Our recipe had the orange peel ground with the coriander – but in the brewery, orange peel was in a bag in the whirlpool tank, so some adjustment has obviously been made to reproduce the White Ale recipe on the smaller homebrew-like BOP system. Still, coming direct from the brewer and adjusted by themselves, it’s as close as you’ll get to the real thing. In fact it wouldn’t surprise me if this wasn’t the original experimental recipe, which was then later modified for commercial brewing.

2 Row: 4700g
Wheat: 2200g

1st hops: 20g, Perle pellets
2nd: none
3rd: 30g, Styrian Goldings pellets
4th: none
End: 50g coriander, 30g dried orange peel, 8g nutmeg

Make sure you use a grinder to grind the coriander and orange peel – crushing the coriander with a rolling pin doesn’t give the same result. The ground coriander and orange peel are added with the nutmeg directly to the wort before whirlpool – there’s no bag used.

I would also advise that after fermentation is complete, you taste the beer daily and rack it out of the primary once it has a taste that you like. If you leave it too long, you could have a dominating orange peel taste.

The commercial version of this can sometimes have a strong nutmeg taste and sometimes a subtle nutmeg taste – this recipe came out towards the stronger end, the nutmeg subduing slightly as the beer aged in the bottle. However that was made on Kiuchi’s equipment. If you are homebrewing this, I’d advise keeping with the ratios Kiuchi suggests for the first time before varying the recipe, and monitoring that beer over a period of time to see how the taste changes as time passes.

Let s Drinking with Enjoy OUR IPA

The recipe was calculated for an IBU of 42 and alcohol of 7.5% (no hydrometer was ever used so I can’t verify this). If I was making this at home, I’d hold back on half or all of the 100g of Sapphire and dry hop with it.

Pale malt: 6400g
Munich malt: 1200g
Crystal 60L: 800g

1st hops: 33g, Northern Brewer pellets
2nd: 10g each of Cascade, Challenger pellets
3rd: 50g each of Cascade, Challenger pellets
4th: 100g of Sapphire fresh leaf in a hop bag
End: remove Sapphire before whirlpool and put into the bucket