Craft beers have proliferated in Japan since the deregulation of beer production in the mid-1990s. One of the early leaders in micro-brewing is Kiuchi Brewery, an Ibaraki brewery that started making sake in 1823 and first produced beer in 1996.
Kiuchi Brewery’s beer is branded Hitachino Nest, with a cute little owl on the label. It can be found in various locations in the Kanto region, but is perhaps tastiest when imbibed at the Hitachino Nest taprooms in Tokyo’s Manseibashi neighborhood and Shinagawa’s station building or at the Hitachino Brewing Lab in Tokyo station.
Even better to fully explore and enjoy the broad variety of beers, ales and ciders produced by Kiuchi Brewery (not to mention their sake and shochu), head to their original headquarters in Naka City in Ibaraki, an easy summertime outing for those based in or around Tokyo. Located just half a kilometer from JR Hitachi Konosu station on the Suigun line, the traditional buildings of the brewery complex contain a showroom/shop, a taproom/tasting bar, a pleasant garden/courtyard with seating, and a popular soba restaurant. Some brewing still takes place there, too.
Although this is a compact site, there is so much going on here it is hard to know where to begin. Visitors can enter directly into the showroom/shop, or pass from the street directly into the garden area through a broader gate, adorned with sake barrels and the traditional cedar ball signaling the sake is ready for drinking. Even if you’ve come in search of tasting its artisanal beer, Kiuchi Brewery’s full range of products is available here.
The wide variety of alcohol drinks produced at Kiuchi Brewery are on display in the showroom/shop, together with all kinds of alcohol consumption accoutrements and Hitachino Nest-branded goods. There are even some displays on production methods.
It’s fascinating to observe what a variety of beers are produced under the Hitachino Nest label. Ales include a pale ale, a white ale, an amber ale, a strong Belgian ale, Japanese classic ale, red rice ale, Ambai (salty plum) ale, a “normal” IPA and “Daidai ale”, an IPA made with local mikans. There is also a Weizen, an Espresso stout, a sweet stout, Hitachino Nest lager, Mosaic lager, and an award-winning Yuzu lager. There are a number of other special brews, as well as hard cider (usually known in Japan as “cidre” but referred to by the store staff as “apple wine”). Speaking of “hard” liquor, there is also umeshu (so-called plum wine, but really a plum liqueur), shochu (some people refer to this as Japanese vodka), gin and even whiskey.
One fun feature of the showroom/shop is the mixed bags available for purchase–six cans of beer or five bottles of sake or shochu. What a great way to get a sampling of the variety produced here, and they’re packed in a re-usable canvas tote bag. There are also sampler gift boxes and delivery can be arranged.
If you want to taste before you make a purchase to take home, there are a number of Hitachino Nest beers on tap. Buy a glass, or select three for a tasting board. In fine weather, sit out in the central courtyard/garden to enjoy your drink.
On busy days, Nakaya, the on-site soba restaurant, is so popular that patrons often have to wait (good time to get a tasting board from the taproom and enjoy the garden). Nakaya is particularly proud of its locally-produced soba, said to draw on the Kiuchi Brewery’s sake brewing methods. Of course, the staff are happy to recommend sake or beer pairings for your soba order.
Once you’ve thoroughly explored the complex, had soba, had a tasting, and learned about the brewery and its processes, if you’re curious to explore the quirkier delights of Naka city, head east-southeast from Kiuchi Brewery on Highway 315. Just 1.4 kilometers away stands Japan’s largest Bishamonten statue. Sixteen meters tall, he’s so big and green that you’ll wonder if you aren’t more drunk from your tastings than you thought you were. (Friendly reminder: Don’t drink and drive in Japan.)
PS: If you haven’t got time to visit, check out their online shop.
© 2022 Jigsaw-japan.com and Vicki L. Beyer
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