YOKOHAMA, Japan - Kirin Brewery was established in 1907 in the city of Yokohama, the epicenter of western culture in Japan at the time. After its original production base near the port of Yokohama was destroyed in the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake, the company relocated operations to its current Yokohama location.
Kirin Yokohama Brewery today has the capacity to produce about 2,000 cans of beer and other beverages a minute. It is open to the public for free guided tours that introduce the manufacturing process of the popular Kirin Ichiban beer brand and the history of Japanese beer. The tours are especially popular among families with children.
A roughly 80-minute tour allowing visitors to "savor the great taste of Kirin Ichiban" is offered every day except Mondays, when the brewery is closed. Along the way, visitors can watch videos explaining the history of Japanese beer and the brewery, and also take a look at the manufacturing method particular to the brand.
Production involves boiling down barley to make mash, and then removing the chaff so the wort can be squeezed out. The bitterness and fragrance of the beer derives from adding hops to the wort and boiling it down again.
The entire process takes place in a preparation chamber installed with nine boiling kettles, each 12 meters in diameter. Visitors can learn what goes on inside a boiling kettle from projection mapping displayed on the floor.
Kirin Ichiban is made using only the first press of the wort, which is why the rich-tasting beer was christened Ichiban, meaning No. 1. The tour offers visitors a look at the preparation chamber before allowing them to taste both the first and second presses of wort for comparison.
Visitor Mitsuyoshi Kanezashi, a company employee in his mid-30s who lives in the area, was astonished by the difference. "The first press tasted sweeter, and the flavor of the barley was much stronger," he said.
Fermenting, the final stage of the beer-making process, occurs inside 129 huge tanks for a period of one to two months. At the end of the tour, visitors can try up to three glasses of draft beer drawn straight from the fermenting tanks. They are also taught the proper technique for pouring beer to enhance its taste.
The brewery's premise are 7.2 times the size of Yokohama Stadium, the home turf of the Yokohama DeNA BayStars professional baseball club. Kirin has taken advantage of the size to create a bespoke natural habitat - called a biotope - for loaches and medaka, or Japanese killifish, as well as to plant trees.
On Sundays, free tours of a garden on the grounds are held for families with children and other groups, while an elevated lawn open to visitors serves as a playground.
With this kind of refreshing atmosphere, it is easy to see why as many as 300,000 people visit the brewery each year.
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Kirin Yokohama Brewery
Kirin Ichiban tours are held every day except Mondays and the year-end and New Year's holidays, when the brewery is closed.
Tours are offered between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. and start every 20 minutes to an hour. The number of visitors on a single tour is limited to 35.
Family tours, available on weekends and holidays, allow families with children aged 5 to 9 take part in quiz games as they tour the brewery.
Sunday tours also intended for families with children take visitors on a stroll through the biotope and garden after the tour of the brewery.
All tours are free of charge and require reservation.
Address: 1-17-1 Namamugi, Tsurumi Ward, Yokohama