Sake Gumi
IMG_4042 Our Japan trip last month was a jam-packed, 5-city tour with barware factory tours, sake brewery pit-stops and a visit to a craft brewery! Niigata Beer has been around for 17 years now, brewing beers for the local market, and also making beers for other companies looking to outsource production. They do this quite often in Japan, for sakes as well. We drove out of Tsubame City in Niigata prefecture about 40 minutes, eventually through a narrow, windy road on a hill to get to the brewery. We got a little lost, but were pleasantly greeted by these fellows: IMG_4113 IMG_4112 IMG_4110 IMG_4115 You could imagine we were all quite confused. Was this the brewery? There were no signs anywhere except for this "entrance" sign. IMG_4114 We were indeed at the correct address and we were greeted by the master brewer Eiji Yoshida. We were asked to wear slippers and inside we went. After inquiring with a few breweries if we could get a tour, Niigata Beer was the only brewery who was willing to show us around. I gathered that they don't get inquiries that often, but they were very kind to let us take a peek inside their operations. And even let us stay for a beer tasting! IMG_4030 IMG_4031 Niigata Beer's "Sakura": IMG_4033 Niigata Beer's "Wasabi": IMG_4038 Yet to be labeled: IMG_4046 Niigata Beer's signature brew: IMG_4042 Niigata Beer brews this line for Miyajima Brewery, the "Caramel Blend": IMG_4043 Niigata's own "Blueberry": IMG_4058 In the walk-in: IMG_4036 They must have had hundreds of varieties of beer in the walk in. Many were yet to be labeled, and some were for other breweries, like Miyajima. They are quite prolific for such a small facility. Keeping track of their beers: IMG_4047 Banana, watermelon, tea, strawberry, tangerine, "Kaeda", sakura, "Unagi", wasabi, chocolate, and three kinds of apple beers. Crazy! Getting ready to ship out: IMG_4062 I was able to find this Niigata Beer in a can at liquor shops around town. Also the Blueberry. Fermentation tanks: IMG_4082 Our tour guide and master brewer, Mr. Eiji Yoshida: IMG_4084 IMG_4087 IMG_4092 IMG_4094 Wall of bottle labels: IMG_4066 IMG_4067 IMG_4068 We are trying to get the Wasabi, stay tuned! Label machine! IMG_4076 This is a cider that is also outsourced to Niigata Beer by Aoki Sake Brewery. IMG_4074 This cider is made from the water source at Aoki Brewery. They bring over their water and Niigata brews this cider for them. A great service! We actually visited Aoki Brewery as well. Stay tuned for that report. Here are cases of the cider headed out for Aoki, which is also in Niigata prefecture: IMG_4095 Once we saw the daily operations of the brewery, Mr. Yoshida was kind enough to lead us upstairs for a beer tasting. IMG_4098 This is Sakura, Niigata Beer Co.'s owner's Shiba dog: IMG_4103 She was so mellow! IMG_4105 We tasted eight of the company's beers. Here are my tasting notes: Sakura, 4.5% ABV: Flora, light, fruit, bitter finish, like a sparkling wine Wasabi: Mild, scent of wasabi, slightly spicy, fruity Wasabi Green: Bitter finish, peach, lighter than the regular Wasabi Wasabi Black: Shoyu, bitter White Truffle: Strong scent of truffle, refreshing, they grow the truffle on their farm! Golden Kirsh, 7.7% ABV: Fruity, coming soon to Umami Mart! Niigata Beer: Floral, tart Espresso, 7% ABV: Shoyu, chocolate IMG_4106 We unfortunately did not get to meet the owner, who started Niigata Beer in 1998. These days he is raising cattle and trying to get into farming. He's the guy in the top right hand corner of this poster: IMG_4109 Thanks to Mr. Yoshida and Ms. Junko Kamegai for hosting us! IMG_4107 We'd love to start carrying as many Niigata Beers as they become available in California. Stay tuned!
Column: Brewery + Distillery Visit
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3 comments

  • yay! i have not had any of those beers yet. I will be in tsubame-sanjo for a few weeks this june and will have to bike over and find a place that sells them. thank you so much. Sanjo makes a ton of tools and is home to Yoshikin as well (global, henkel, wusthoff) their rice beer is totally delicious. thank you so much, i will introduce my Niigata family to this beer!!

    joel on

  • Fantastic article, the photos are great, such a treat to go on this ‘inside tour’ of the brewery. Crazy how many varieties! ‘Unagi’?? Looking forward to your opening of the Umami Mart bottle system!

    Mark on

  • Joel, We went to Yamaya, a liquor shop in Tsubame which blew us away. It was awesome. I did find a couple Niigata beers there. We tried to visit Echigo brewery, who make the Koshihikari beer, but they do not provide tours.

    Have fun!

    Kayoko on

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