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sake, shochu and sushi
Sometime in the mid-90’s the Japanese Government (Tax Office) made a momentous decision by greatly reducing the minimum output required for a beer brewery to obtain a license. This gave birth to a plethora of micro-breweries, most of the time coupled with restaurants and other ventures, all over Japan. Shizuoka Prefecture, for good and bad, did not escape the trend. At one time our Prefecture counted more than 15 of them. Only 9 have survived to this day, a good enough proof the present establishments are above average (this is a very personal opinion!). But one must keep in mind that Shizuoka Prefecture is nearly the ideal place to brew beer. It is blessed with the best natural water in the whole of Japan and a long and exceptional experience in brewing sake as I will explain later.
Kuraya Narusawa Brewery is located in the Northern part of Izu Peninsula, one of the most visited regions in Japan. Access is pretty simple and you do not need a car which will present from enjoying your favourite drink: get to Mishima Station (Bullet train or Tokaido), board the train to train to Shuzenji and get off at Izu Nagaoka Station where a billboard sign will confirm you are in the right place! A taxi will take you there in a few minutes (less than 900 yen).
Kuraya Narusawa, founded on the 4th of July 1997 three months after they obtained their license, harbours more than a mere micro-brewery.
It is responsible for the maintenance of a noted historical asset: the “Nirayama Hanshyaro”/Nirayama Ship Gun Foundry, the only left intact in the whole country. It took no less than three years to build between 1854 and 1857 and was first conceived in Shimoda City before move whole to Nirayama.
Shizuoka Prefecture producing 70% of the national green tea and Izu Peninsula being a major growing area, no wonder that Kuraya Narusawa also grow and sell their own tea, mainly “Yabukita and Okuhikari, a total of 10,000 kg of raw leaves. Tea lovers will be interested to learn that they can actually participate to the harvest in April~May and October~November.
Local crafts lovers and collectors will be happy to learn this place is noted for its “Tsurushi Kazari”/”Hanging Decorations”. An annual exhibition is held in site on 370 square meters with more than 750 of them both for boys and girls between the end of December and March 31st!
I had made a special appointment for an interview with the company before I arrived on a very hot afternoon last Friday in the company of a friend whose haouse almost stands next door.
The manager, Mr. Hironori Imamura, a very quiet smiling gentleman was markedly a bit nervous at first. But when he later realized that my lady companion was actually the daughter of one of the biggest strawberry growers in the area (he even mentioned her father by nickname!), he markedly relaxed and warmed up to my questions.
He took us right away inside the actual brewery run by his master brewer Atsushi Watanabe.
The gentleman does everything by himself from roasting to bottling, with a total output of 50 Kl!
Grain mainly come from the States and Europe, while most of the hops is imported from the Czech Republic.
Mr. Watanabe produces three regular brews all year long: Tarozaemon Pale Ale, Yorimoto Porter and American Ale. He also have some great fun brewing five to six seasonal beers.
Now, one of them is gaining a lot of popularity. It is called Daiginjyo Masako.
Well, if you a little about Japanese Sake, you will ask why the term “Daiginjyo” is used for a beer!
The answer is pretty simple:
Mr. Watanabe is free (“on holiday”) a few weeks every winter and takes the opportunity to give a hand to a local Sake Brewery.
-“Bandai Brewery in Shuzenji?” I innocently asked.
-“That’s right.” replied the brewer with a hint of a smile.
-“How many kinds of yeasts do you use for brewing beer?
-“A dozen. But Mr Denbei Kawamura introduced me to a sake yeast, and we thought we should give it try. Do you know him?
-“Denbei San? He happens to be a friend of mine (The grin grew wider), and I suppose you are using Shizuoka New HD-1 yeast?”
The Manager and the brewer almost burst in laughter. They had taken the risk to show the heart of their business to a stranger (usually you may not without some kind of introduction or connection), and just found out they almost had a colleague in front of them (alright, this is a very conceited comment!)!
After that I actually had to put an end to the interview as my companion and I got thirsty and hungry. I had made myself enough of a nuisance and we repaired to their restaurant.
It is actually a nice place to wine and dine with your special one, family or big group of friends.
The mainly BBQ food is reasonably priced, plentiful and a good quality, most of it coming from local farms (plenty of salad and vegetabkles, too, with seafood from Izu Peninsula).
Now, the beer! You must ask for the tasting set of four! (I actually oredered two sets for myself!). Only then can you proceed to some serious drinking. Do not worry there is everything to please everybody, from their own local sake to wine and soft drinks!
I would like to take the opportunity to thank Mr. Inamura who drove us later back home (for my lady companion) and to the station (for me!).
Kuraya Narusawa: a must stop on the way to deep Izu Peninsula!
410-2113 Izu No Kuni shi, Naka, 272-1 (get off at Izu Nagaoka Station. Few minutes away by taxi)
Opening hours: 11:00~15:00 (Monday to Thursday), 11:00~22:00 (Friday to Saturday and National Holidays)
Live concert every Friday evening.
Brewery and Tea Factory visits possible by appointment.
Credit Cards OK