Craft beer made using locally grown hops is now available in Musashino! Full coverage from cultivation to harvest to brewing
These days, craft beer is popular not only among beer connoisseurs but also the general public. Currently, there are 42 breweries making craft beer in Tokyo, just including registered corporations, and the number is very high nationwide.
Musashino City has announced their plan to make a regional craft beer from hop cultivation to sales! This report on this local-beer project aimed at local production for local consumption in Tokyo will be separated into two sections!
Total coverage from hop cultivation to craft beer production
The “Kichijoji Hop Project” is intended to create an original beer making the best use of the special qualities of Musashino, which has the necessary operation route for local production for local consumption, including hop cultivation, beer brewing, and consumption by people in Kichijoji.
The first section will provide complete coverage from the actual nurturing of the hops, to beer brewing at a local brewery, to final completion in Kichijoji. To say the least, a feature of this project is the cultivation of hops in the soil of Musashino.
Hops need good sunlight conditions and a cool stable climate, so few hops are harvested in Japan, which makes domestically produced hops very rare. So why are hops are being purposely cultivated in the soil of Musashino with such requirements? Of course, one of the reasons is the theme of local production for local consumption but manufacturing an original beer characteristic of Kichijoji that uses raw fresh hops was another major reason.
Regular beer brewing uses dried hops, but if fresh hops are used, you can enjoy a striking aroma and bitterness that you cannot experience with dried hops. In other words, the freshly harvested, domestically produced hops let you enjoy the seasonal flavor! Let's look at the cultivation of hops!
The weather conditions were poor this year, so the harvest was met with some anxiety.
Around 50 hop seedlings were planted in the precious farmland space in city near the Kichijoji station in mid-April.
As mentioned earlier, hop growth is affected considerably by weather conditions. This year's long rainy season provided harsh conditions for the hops, which require sunlight. Growth was slow, and the harvest was delayed from its original schedule by one month to late August.
For this project, Yoshimichi Kobayashi, who runs one of the few hop farms in Japan, in Hokuto City, Yamanashi Prefecture, which is a cool plateau at the southern foot of Yatsugatake, was invited to be a hop cultivation advisor and provided support from seedling planting to harvest.
Mr. Kobayashi started growing hops in 2016. He operates a large 1.5 hectare hop farm in Hokuto City, which is in Yamanashi Prefecture, the origin of hop cultivation in Japan.
- Mr. Kobayashi
“Different kinds of hops have completely different aromas. Because this cultivation was to occur in the climate and soil of Musashino, which has no cultivation track record, a kind of hops called American Cascade was planted because it grows easily, is resistant to disease, and a yield can be expected from the first year. Nevertheless, due to overlapping negative conditions, such as the effects of the long rainy season this year and the unsatisfactorily nourished soil, growth was very slow.
Because this is the first year, there were some unavoidable conditions. The hops did not grow very high and were small. Nonetheless, when we tried to harvest them, lupulin (the yellow secretion characteristic of hops) was good, so I guess you could say they received a sufficiently passing grade. Even the same of kind hops will change in aroma and bitterness depending on the soil, so in that respect I’m looking forward to the "aroma and bitterness" of the Musashino plateau.”
A harvest event was held in the middle of August, when the powerful rays of the sun were still blazing down. Naturally, most of the participants were seeing real hops for the first time, so Mr. Kobayashi provided guidance on how to pick them.
Inside the hops, there is a yellow secretion called lupulin, which is the source of the hops’ characteristic aroma. Some participants brought their children, and everybody harvested the hops with keen interest.
Another participant was Mr. Shimizu, who provided the farmland for this project and nurtured the hops. He loved the hops like they were his children and worked hard to harvest them.
- Mr. Shimizu
“In addition to this being my first time growing hops, it was also the first cultivation on this plot of land. Mr. Kobayashi kindly provided support for things I had never done before and didn't know anything about, and truthfully, I somehow faced the harvest with a sigh of relief (laughs). Hardships are commonplace for farmers, but, for example, I went to check on the hops faithfully on bad-weather days when I was worried whether the regular-height trellises might collapse. I want to use this experience so I can harvest lots of better hops next year!"
Then, harvesting on this day was completed in the intense late-summer heat. Incidentally, the participants were treated to harvested hop tempura on this day. The crunchy texture and slight bitterness are recommended for snacks.
Up next is the highly anticipated beer making!
Let's make beer at the 26K Brewery microbrewery (of just 9.9 m²)!
It's finally time to make the beer, and for that we are indebted to the 26K Brewery located in Musashi-Sakai. Amazingly, the brewery itself is just 9.9 m² and located under an overpass! The brewery uses water from Musashino to carefully brew a lineup of unique craft beers. The brewery is well known among craft beer enthusiasts, and the owner, Mr. Miki, as a matter of fact, is also a representative of Swivel and Knot, which launched the Kichijoji Hop Project, and is one of the leaders of this project. So, what style of craft beer will be made?
- Mr. Kenmoku
“Excluding the fact that the harvested amount was less than expected, I think we grew very good hops. Because I also want the general public to enjoy craft beer, I think about the goal of drinkability. By using raw hops with a base of 26K's specialty light ale style, I aimed for a beer that you would never grow tired of with fresh bitterness and a sharp first-sip that makes you want to order a 2nd beer. Freshness is a feature of the citrus-scented Cascade hops, and I think it’s good to take advantage of it”.
Incidentally, do you know what kind of ingredients are used in beer and how it's brewed? In addition to the hops grown for this project, ingredients include malt (barley), water, and yeast. Sometimes, secondary ingredients are added, but the list of ingredients is surprisingly simple.
To explain the manufacturing method simply, first the malt is boiled to make wort. Did you know that, because the starch materials are converted to sugar, the wort is very sweet at this point? With just a sip, the natural sweetness will certainly spread throughout your mouth.
Next, hops are added while the wort is boiling to add bitterness and aroma. First, the hops are kneaded lightly by hand so that they mix well with the wort.
Finally, the kneaded hops are placed in a knit bag, which is then placed in the boiling wort.
After several minutes to tens of minutes of boiling, the role of the hops is finished. An unfortunate harsh taste results if they are boiled too long. After that, yeast is added for fermentation. Although it depends on the style, it takes roughly 2 to 3 weeks to go from wheat to beer. Now we can look forward to the taste!
"Kichijo Ale" is ready!
About five months after planting, "Kichijo Ale", a beer made with raw hops grown in the soil of Musashino, is finally complete! The beer is available on tap and by the bottle. An original label designed symbolically with the silhouette of a hop is affixed to the bottle and includes a mark celebrating the 70th anniversary of the "Musashino City Tourism Organization" that spearheaded this project.
The time is here to sample a draft beer! After the first sip, the first impression is, "it's strong but easy to drink!" In addition to the good sharpness typical of a light ale, you can feel the profound taste and the solid bottom with bitterness and richness. This bitterness and richness are distinctive of the raw freshly picked hops.
Connecting people, farming, and neighborhoods! The thoughts behind craft beer
- Mr. Kenmoku
“Kichijoji is a large city but combining urban farming and regional special product development makes it possible to utilize local resources and co-exist with the community, such as through local production for local consumption. I hope that we can invigorate the Musashino area through this project to grow hops and manufacture an original craft beer.”
In the current coronavirus crisis, the introduction of remote work and other conditions have changed working styles, and the current state of the region is changing as a result. If it is not necessary to live near the office, you can live wherever you want. The number of people who think this is increasing.
This project attempts to produce a regional-revitalization movement that makes wanting to live here appealing from a single glass of craft beer. Next time, we will report on the impressions and evaluations of everyone in Kichijoji that tasted the completed "Kichijo Ale". Don't miss it!