This article by Angela Schnabel first appeared on Tokyo Cheapo.
For just an hour of your time you can enjoy a free factory tour and beer tasting at Suntory’s Musashino Brewery in Fuchu, Tokyo.
Get off at Bubaigawara Station, catch the factory’s free shuttle, and you’re on your way to getting an up-close and personal look into beer giant Suntory’s Premium Malt brewing process. After about a 5-minute shuttle ride you arrive at the lobby and are promptly greeted by the friendly staff.
Your eyes are immediately drawn to the center wall that features the hallmark blue and gold Suntory logo, but before you go anywhere be sure to check in at the reception desk on the right side of the lobby.
If you have some time to kill before your tour starts be sure to check out the gift shop and the beer-themed photo props next to the logo wall so you can make your very own Suntory factory souvenir photo. If your tour begins right away don’t worry, you can visit these areas again at the end of the tour.
When it’s time to begin, you’ll take the elevator upstairs where you’ll be shown a short video about the quality of the spring water they use in their brewing process.
The first stop after the introduction is the hops display where you’ll learn about the type of hops that Suntory uses. You’ll even get to taste and smell a sample!
Next you’ll be led through a long hallway to the vat area where you can look inside a port-hole window that allows you to see what the vat looks like.
Then you’ll move on to the filling and packaging area. You’ll watch a short video about their process and you can look through the large windows that allow you to see the factory floor.
And now for best part of the tour: the beer tasting. You get to wet your whistle on some freshly brewed Suntory beer straight from the factory. After all, you worked hard learning all about the process on the tour, so you deserve a few cold ones!
Each guest can savor 3 frosty beers from Suntory’s selection of the day. You’ll also find Suntory-branded salty snacks on the table to pair with your brew.
After everyone gets their beer your tour guide will show you how to properly pour it so you get a nice foam, just like in the Suntory commercials.
True to Japan’s affinity for convenience and customer service, Suntory even offers a mail-order option where they will deliver fresh Suntory beer to your doorstep if you live in Tokyo.
After the tasting you head back down to the lobby where you can check out the gift shop and souvenir photo wall if you didn’t have time before the tour. At the gift shop you’ll find a variety of their beers, handmade glassware, t-shirts, key chains, and other gift ideas.
If you buy nothing else I highly recommend the Fujiyama beer glass, designed to resemble the iconic Mt. Fuji when a beer is poured into it. The Fujiyama glass won a Tokyo Midtown Award for its design and level of craftsmanship. It’s a little small (and a little pricey too at about ¥5,000), but its hand blown glass from a master glass blower and comes in an elegant bamboo gift box, making it a fantastic souvenir for yourself, or a unique gift for someone back home.
Important points to consider:
- Cameras are welcome, just know that there are some areas of the factory where photography and recording are not allowed. You’ll see signs advising where you can and can’t take pictures.
- The tour, handouts, and display placards are all in Japanese, so be sure to bring a native Japanese speaker if you want to learn about all the nitty-gritty details involved in beer brewing. Even without a native speaker to help you can still get the general idea, after all, beer is a universal language.
- Children and non-beer drinkers are welcome, as there are soft drinks and water available in the tasting room in lieu of beer.
- If you’ll have more than 10 people in your group you’ll need to make a reservation, which can be done over the phone, or on their website. Be sure to use Google Translate or the Google Chrome browser to help with making an online reservation.
Access: It’s about a 1.6-km walk from Bubaigawara station, or you can take the free shuttle on the south side of the station near the horse-mounted samurai statue.
Tour times: Monday-Friday 10:00 am-4:00 pm. Saturday, Sunday, and Japanese public holidays 10:00 am-11:30 am.
And if you really love free beer (and sake!), you can also check out the free tour at Ishikawa Brewery — the “Disneyland for beer lovers”.
Images by Angela Schnabel
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Kirin has cemented its entry into the craft beer market with the opening on April 17th of Spring Valley Brewery, a brewpub in Daikanyama. Another SVB brewpub has opened in Yokohama.
The name derives from William Copeland’s brewery, which was a pioneer of beer production in Japan and became the genesis of Kirin’s own brewery in the early twentieth century.
In July 2014, Kirin announced that Spring Valley Brewery would be a wholly new subsidiary, offering microbrews served at the two brewpubs sites.
The chic 200-seat Daikanyama space opens at a new development in the neighborhood called Log Road, located along where the tracks of the now underground Toyoko Line used to run.
There are six brews on tap: 496, Jazzberry, on the cloud, Copeland, Daydream, and Afterdark.
While the Daikanyama brewpub has opted for a wooden look, the Yokohama space is brick, in keeping with the spirit of the city famous for its foreign architectural styles.
Kirin has already experimented with craft beer-esque brews, including its Kirin Stout, so this isn’t such a giant leap for the 100-year-old company.
However, the major Japanese beer makers have been committing commercial suicide for too long. As young people drifted away from beer, their tactic was to create countless numbers of happoushu and daisan beers — fake beers, essentially — that got around the tax on beer and so could be marketed as cheap ersatz beer. As Japan continued to linger in recession, this worked to keep their annual sales afloat, especially as they were constantly devising new products to make mini spikes of interest. Beer became just another FMCG, as expendable and forgettable as any other snack in the convenience store.
Quality went out the window. Finally we seem to be emerging from this quagmire.
The initial response was “cool beer”, quite literally. Kirin and other major breweries started to market beer as a great drink for the summer through temporary drinking spaces in Tokyo. This was a big success and got younger consumers excited about drinking beer again, even if it was at “sub-zero” temperatures.
Concurrently we then started to see many types of “beer toys” from Takara Tomy and others, designed to help you create the experience of drinking freshly poured foamy cold beer at home or on picnic. The zenith of this was surely when Takara Tomy stepped in to make a product of the Frozen Beer Slushie Maker, which had previously only been available at Kirin’s special summer beer gardens.
And now we have come full circle: Kirin is a microbrewery again.
The Japanese craft beer scene itself has been around since the 1990’s. What’s really changed things in the past few years has been the explosion of craft beer bars, brewpubs and craft beer festivals all over the country, especially in the Tokyo area.
Foreign breweries have noticed. Scottish craft beer maker BrewDog saw enough growth in Asia that it opened its a dedicated bar in Roppongi.
There’s an interesting parallel to this: Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Budweiser tried to muscle in on the craft beer market in America by appearing at fairs and events with its regular lagers, and has started buying up craft breweries. In response to the growing popularity of craft beer, it even resorted to mocking the culture with a snarky Super Bowl ad that prompted a backlash. Kirin, be warned.
Japan is the land of characters. Every town has a mascot, every brand its own cute figure.
But while there is no shortage of home-grown characters, Japanese consumers also love to lap up foreign creations too.
The “Mr. Men” and “Little Miss” series of books by British writer Roger Hargreaves is not as famous as Charlie Brown and company, but that hasn’t stopped Evian from using the iconic 2D characters for a series of new packaging labels to vamp up its 750ml bottled water product.
Bottled water in Japan is a competitive market, and a growing one. Total revenues were $7,600.2m in 2013, representing a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.1% between 2009 and 2013. In the wake of the Fukushima disaster, the advantages of bottled water came even more to the fore and local consumers starting buying it more.
Water is probably the one natural resource that Japan has reasonably plenty of and so there are lots of domestic companies like Suntory and Kirin dominating the market (Coca-Cola is not far behind). The share in the market for Danone Group’s Evian is only so-so, meaning a stunt like this is a nice way to draw consumers’ eyes to their section of the shelf in the convenience store. After all, the water corner is not usually the most colorful of places and the various brands’ products can merge into one transparent watery image, with the potential consumer often left to scan the prices to discern the differences.
The “Mr. Men” and “Little Miss” rights are now licensed to Sanrio, the creators of Hello Kitty and My Melody. This new packaging tie-up is exclusive to the Japanese market, though it is part of a bigger global Evian-Mr. Men/Little Miss branding campaign launched last year.
The 750ml water with the new packaging designs are available from today (April 6th) across Japan. There are four types of labels, each based on a different Mr. Men or Little Miss character: Mr. Strong, Little Miss Sunshine, Little Miss Chatterbox, and Mr. Glug (a character made especially for Evian by Sanrio as part of the global Evian tie-up).
Eight types of special Evian-Mr Men/Little Miss LINE stamps will also be available free online from April 3rd to September 17th.
Get ready for Shibuya Beer.
So why not a craft beer for one of Tokyo’s most vibrant neighborhoods?
Shibuya Beer will go on release on “Shibuya Day” on April 28th. It will be served at Udagawa Cafe and six other restaurants in the Shibuya area.
This being a Shibuya-themed drink, the ingredients are understandably colorful. It features grapefruit and also Peruvian “superfood” maca, which is apparently a world first. The 5%-proof beer comes in 330ml bottles.
No surprise here that the drink is made by the always inventive Sankt Gallen, who recently gave us a cherry blossom-tasting brew.
Actually, scratch that: this is a bit of a surprise, since Sankt Gallen is not Shibuya-based. It’s located out in Kanagawa Prefecture! (But hey, Yo-Ho Brewing make “Tokyo Black” but they are based in Karuizawa, Nagano.)
Sankt Gallen’s frequently sweeter beers are popular with ladies. Part of the growing craft beer trend in Japan, which has manifest itself in an explosion of snazzy bars around Tokyo and beyond (including the much-publicized arrival of BrewDog), as well as lots of beer events and publications, has been the marketing of craft beer as an ideal drink for dates.
In the same way that Japan’s main beer makers have tried to experiment with “cool” beers and other special drinks and bars to appeal to a young demographic in the face of reduced sales, the craft beer brewers and bars have discovered that their offerings have a lot more versatility. They can use all kinds of interesting flavorings to make summer-themed and girl-friendlier brews, plus, being a little pricy anyway, they can also splash out in serving nice cuisine. The result is that craft beer bars in Tokyo are massive date night locations, and we don’t just mean for foreigners to take their latest squeeze. You can always find plenty of younger Japanese couples there too, looking forward to enjoying some nice food and unusual beers.
There is even a magazine for girls and craft beer.
As we reported last May, the “cool/cold beer” trend has crossed over from actual bars and restaurants to home “toys”. You haven’t lived until you’ve tried Kirin’s Frozen Beer at least once (for some, once is more than enough!).
Takara Tomy has led this movement of household beverage coolers, though the veteran toy maker has also had more than its fair share of imitators. Most are designed for beer, since the Japanese summer is ridiculously hot and humid, plus in any season, a frothy head on a beer is regarded locally as a good thing. With the help of these gadgets, you can pour yourself a draft-style sud even when it’s just out of a can.
The demand for these types of toy-gadgets is not only the Japanese obsession with frothy beer. Surprisingly many people aren’t aware how the angle of the pour affects the amount of foam, meaning there is a demand for convenient devices that can do the hard work for you.
One of the Takara Tomy Arts products is the Sonic Hour, a mini plate that you place your beer glass on to generate foam by ultrasonic waves.
Now the makers have created an update for 2015 — Sonic Hour Portable.
This is the mobile, handheld version that is even easier to take around with you.
Now the process is simpler. All you need to do is turn on the Sonic Hour Portable, place it directly on the glass (only partly filled with beer), and let the ultrasonic waves pass through into the liquid to generate a thirst-quenching foamy head.
The makers say it works best with ordinary glasses, rather than mugs or thick tankards (e.g. the classic Japanese jokki glass).
Since it’s so light and easy to use, slipping the Sonic Hour Portable (available in white or blue) into your bag or hamper when you go hiking or out on a picnic is one sure way to get that freshly pulled draft beer taste wherever you are.
The cherry blossom season always brings a gazillion sakura-themed products and campaigns. It’s easy to get tired of this, and yet every year still manages to bring a surprise.
Sankt Gallen Sakura beer goes on sale from February 24th. Could there be a more appropriate product for the cherry blossom? After all, the unspoken rule about the custom of cherry blossom is that it’s actually just an excuse to get horrendously drunk. Ambulances stand by at the major parks since there’s inevitably a few people who need to be taken away after passing out.
The Sankt Gallen Sakura beer is 5% alcohol — low for craft beer — and is made with cherry blossom and cherry blossom petals from Ina in Nagano, selected as one of the best places for seeing the annual bloom. The beer is meant to have the flavor of sakuramochi, the sweet pink rice cake covered with the leaf of a cherry blossom. Yes, this may not appeal to conventional beer fans!
Sankt Gallen is a Kanagawa Prefecture craft beer brewery that specializes in sweeter beers popular with female drinkers. For this new product it has used yaezakura, the “double” cherry blossom strain of sakura.
Sankt Gallen Sakura beer is priced ¥450 (under $4) per bottle, though like most craft beers in Japan you won’t be able to find it in your usual supermarket or convenience store.
Good things come to those who wait, they say.
But it’s bad news if you’re a hipster desperate to get your lips around a cup of black stuff from the latest trendy coffee shop in Tokyo.
The lines at Blue Bottle Coffee (“the Apple of the coffee shop world”) are so huge there are reports that people were waiting up to three hours just to get in on the first day on February 6th. Let’s be exact here; this isn’t a night club or a restaurant. It’s a small coffee bar in a slightly run-down part of Tokyo (Kiyosumi).
It begs the question: How far can the hipster third wave coffee shop boom go in Tokyo?
From the faux warehouse feel of Cream of the Crop Coffee to the curated vintage of Fuglen, the watered-down diner serving watered-down beverages that is On the Corner in Shibuya, the chic uber-minimal Omotesando Koffee, the you-cannot-relax fussiness of Obscura in Sangenjaya and the IMA Concept Store in Roppongi, and the despised snobbery of Bear Pond Espresso in Shimokitazawa — haven’t we now had enough of these places?
Is there room for any more entries into this already very crowded market?! Judging by the anticipation on Blue Bottle Coffee’s first day, it would seem yes!
People starting queuing hours before the branch opened. At 10:30 in the morning the line was stretching down the road just to get into Blue Bottle Coffee, where a cup will cost you around ¥500. 200 people lined up patiently in the early February chill to get their hands on an individually brewed cup of coffee made from beans roasted for a full 48 hours, as Blue Bottle is famous for.
Blue Bottle was founded in California in 2002 and plans to open another central Tokyo branch in March. No surprises that the second outlet will be in Aoyama.
About the opening CEO James Freeman said: “Tokyo has always been an inspiring place for me, from the architecture to culinary traditions. I’ve always hoped Blue Bottle would have a home here. Opening in Kiyosumi has been a wonderful collaboration between our new and dedicated team in Tokyo to the Bay Area transplants who have moved to Japan to help us brew delicious coffee.”
While the hipsters are waiting in line for their over-priced roasted beans, they could feast their eyes on the recent Japanese translation of the James Carr hipster satire comic: Hipster Hitler.
Can’t afford to go to those expensive Tokyo cafes where they serve up latte art? Haven’t yet got your hands on the 3D Latte Art Maker Awa Taccino?
Then try the Deco Latte Coffee Art Sheets.
These are literally how they sound. You place the flavorless edible sheets on the top of your coffee drink. After two minutes they will sort of melt into the drink so the person being served won’t know that you didn’t create the image out of foam.
Ideal for giving a guest a special extra treat with their drink, there are three sets of 10 sheets in this all-in-one pack: the regular strips with a variety of images messages in Japanese and English, plus Snoopy and Rilakkuma versions.
As always, there is the prerequisite slightly wacky TV commercial.
This is how it works.
And when all else fails, you can also make your own 3D latte art with the Awa Taccino.
Create your own latte art coffee foam sculptures with the 3D Latte Art Maker Awa Taccino by Takara TomyWritten by: Japan Trends on November 10, 2014 at 10:46 am | In PRODUCT INNOVATION | 6 Comments
Japan has gone a bit coffee-crazy in recent times. We have seen lots of rather tony cafes and espresso bars opening up around Tokyo for hipsters to sip on froth. Starbucks is the second largest chain of coffee shops. Even convenience stores have also started offering real coffee drinks.
And certain baristas have created a social media storm in a coffee cup. Yes, it’s the latte art trend.
This essentially involves turning the foam of a cafe latte or cappuccino into a temporary sculpture floating on the top of the drink.
While some have bordered on the truly over-the-top, Kazuki Yamamoto in particular has impressed customers with his artistic skills creating animal figures and sculptures so cute you don’t want to start drinking.
If you don’t have the budget to go to these plush cafes around Tokyo, Takara Tomy has come up with a neat cooking toy so you can make your own latte art at home.
The 3D Latte Art Maker Awa Taccino is the latest in Takara Tomy’s growing line of kitchen toys.
It is a special blender gadget that can dispense the milk foam onto the top of your coffee without you having to take a lengthy apprenticeship under Monsieur Yamamoto et al. Instead, just a minute or so to blend, and then control the foam as it comes out of Awa Taccino.
All you need is some milk and then the Awa Taccino will blend and dispense the milky foam in a way that’s easy to control and “sculpt” into your choice of latte art.
For the final touches, use syrup or chocolate to add extra features like a mouth, eyes, ears and so on.
Here are some ideas to give you inspiration.
The 3D Latte Art Maker Awa Taccino is now on pre-order and will be available in early December.
Oh, and Takara Tomy made this funny commercial.