Home brewing in Japan
Hi all, this is my first post.
I live in Kanagawa Japan, south of Yokohama. Looking to share experiences brewing with others in the area, trade brews, etc. I'm still relatively new at all-grain brewing and want to improve my skills, and have been trying to get my foot in the doors of local breweries with no success. I'm going to keep on trying and as my Japanese gets better and my familiarity with brewery processes improves, maybe some day I will be allowed to scrub the floors and toilets.
EDIT: Here are two Google Docs file that has a lot of Japan Homebrewing resources collected from posts across HBT and other websites, lots of links to places to source all sorts of stuff. Last updated January 31, 2013. A big thank you to all home-brewers sharing this info, there is more here than I would have guessed when I moved to Japan!
Info from "the thread":https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3Dulupgz-_vcUt5OXVZT3BsM0E/edit
I'm going to start listing Japan sources of supplies here. American military with base addresses can get stuff shipped from US vendors a hell of a lot cheaper than most options withing the country, with an Amazon Prime account some are telling me that they get free shipping on even pots and bayou burners, wish I had that option!
*Please add to this list if you find a new supplier!
*Sakeland, Advanced Brewing, and Homebrewing service are all web-stores here; usually quite expensive - for example Advanced has 300ml bottles of alcohol for sanitation for 800+ yen
Starting with cleaning supplies:
Ethanol Spray - Sakeland, Advanced Brewing, Tokyo Hands, Various drug stores carry bottles of it as well
Morgans Sanitize (a Hydrogen peroxide + stabilizers blend) - Sakeland/Brewland
Pasteurizer 77 (I think this is an ethanol mix of some kind) - Sakeland/Brewland
Dry Bleach Powder - Sakeland/Brewland
Iodophor - Homebrewing Service
Starsan - Homebrewing Service
Beer Line Cleaner (Potassium Hydroxide + surfactants) - Homebrewing Service
Oxiclean - versatile - 5kg case of it for 1500 yen at Costco Japan
Hydrogen Peroxide (Oxydol) - Various drug stores, if it says Oxydol it should say H2O2 as well
Iodine (not really used as a sanitizer by itself but as a starch conversion indicator) I bought a bottle at my local drug store under the name "Meiji －イソジン” which is a small green bottle - you want to make sure to get the liquid form NOT the paste.
Liquid Bleach- Everywhere - 100 yen shops have it even
Plain White Vinegar - Costco - Large bottles (4 Liters?) for 500 yen or so.
Potassium Metabisulphate (Campden tablets or powder) - Advanced Brewing
TSP (Trisodium Phosphate) -???
Diversol (chlorinated pink powder) -???
Acetone (I've used it for removing labels) - Nail polish remover from 100 yen shop
Charlie Tally (starsan inventor) talks about sanitizing on this podcast and discusses bleach/water/vinegar rinse-free sanitizing. Do your research if you attempt that as it can be DANGEROUS, but it is by far the cheapest sanitizer I have sources so far at 1oz bleach 5 gallons water 1oz vineagar.
Tools for cleaning:
Carboy/bottle washers are consistently "sold out" on the Advanced and Sakeland websites, I don't know of other sources.
Sponges, Brushes, cloths - 100 shops carry plenty of cleaning supplies
Bottle tree -???
Bottle sanitizer "pump" -???
Heat: Costco carries a large aluminum pot (19 Liters) that has a removable steamer tray. I have not seen pressure cookers here, but for small items you could put them in your rice cooker and I think it would do a decent job sanitizing with the benefit that it is programmable and stays hot after it finishes until you turn it off.
Countertop dish washers: I have seen a few of these recently at the HOMES store but have not spent time looking at their features to see if they have a sanitize cycle.
This next post I am writing out some of the container situation I have observed in Japan. I have only got Canada to compare against in my experience but there are quite a few interesting differences that I want to make a note of for others (and to document them for myself).
Cans (aluminum bottles): A lot of the beer in Japan is sold in cans, and most of the market is for light lagers as is the case pretty much everywhere. Asahi sells big aluminum 2L bottles with a twist cap, I have never reused them but I think it would be fairly convenient if they can hold the pressure of bottle conditioning (do a test first, I have seen videos of people conditioning in mini-kegs that ballooned under pressure). The 2L aluminum bottles have a handle, which is pretty cool. I have seen them in Canada as well as Japan, so check out your beer store if you are interested and in another country. There are lots of twist-lid aluminum bottles used to sell cold coffee in stores as well, so you could theoretically collect a bunch of them and use them instead of glass bottles? Here is a link to the product page of the coffee I have, (made by one of the big beer companies too haha!) its nice that it has stout body, a wider mouth, holds 400 ml, and of course beer will never get light-damaged in a metal can. You could spray paint your aluminum bottles to hide the manufacturers logos if you want.
Bottles: Called "bins" in Japanese, glass bottles are an interesting lot. The places that a lot of bottles are consumed is at restaurants and bars/izakayas/snacks(these are old style bars with old women bartenders). At craft beer bars you will find a lot more selection and often bottles of local brews for take home. Some of the local breweries may only sell bottles onsite. I have yet to see any growlers in use anywhere in Japan, but I am not so well versed in the bar scene as I do not have much money at the moment (1 pint of craft beer usually costs about $10 unless it is on special).
There are 2 systems for bottles that I have noticed in Japan.
1. The first one is for the big bottles brewed by the big 3 breweries. I don't remember the exact size, 750 or 1000ml? Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo each have their own big bottles with their logos molded directly in the glass, usually sold at restaurants for consumption on premises. The breweries reuse these bottles (only their own of course), and there is a collection system based on 3rd party bottle collectors who buy the empty bottles by the crate from the businesses and then sell them back to the breweries. You can buy these bottles for quite cheap, they take crown caps and have paper labels with an easily removed adhesive. Filling a batch of beer in them is going to require less bottles, and you can buy the crates that are designed for storing them at the same time. Just talk to a business that has some sitting outside their bar, they have generally been rinsed out so that they don't create a smell or attract flies while waiting for a bottle vendor to come get them. It's not cool to just take them, even though they appear to just be sitting out with the garbage; the business owner gets a few dollars for each crate and you can afford to give that to them. Obviously you should give them a real good cleaning, they may have baked in the summer sun! You can buy unscented bleach and bottle brushes at the 100 yen shops as stated in the above post about cleaning supplies.
2. Craft beer bottles are not collected by the breweries as the craft brewers are too small to afford a collection fee and their bottle distribution would be so insignificant that it would be unreliable. Due to this, pretty much all the craft bottles actually COST the business owner money to dispose of them. The money they make on the big 3 offsets the cost of recycling the craft bottles. In addition the municipality (at least in my case) may require residents to take glass bottles to the beer/liquor store for disposal. That means a small beer store might have a bunch of craft beer bottles brought to him that he may not have even sold in the first place, but is required to pay for their disposal! That was the case at the liquor store I visited in Kamakura for my bottles. The owner was quite happy to give me ALL his craft beer bottles for free, even taking the time to bag them up for me and calling me a week later to make sure the offer was open at anytime! This meant more money in his pockets so it seems to be a mutually beneficial arrangement! Now for the bad news; because they are not reused, the craft bottles are usually loaded with that super-adhesive to hold their labels on. I mean, really strong stuff, I tried Nail polish remover (Acetone), Vegetable Oil, WD-40, and a lot of scrubbing with the coarse side of sponges to get that stuff off. It was not at all easy to do, and I don't want to do that very often! I have Oxiclean now and have heard that works pretty good... Anyway, all the craft bottles take crown caps except for the Australian imports like (Tooheys and VB are twist-offs).
With either option, you can collect enough bottles for a batch of beer cheaply and quickly. In my case, I got the bottles AFTER I started brewing my beer.
Kegs: Most places that you can consume beer will have a draft beer "Nama Beer" dispenser for at least one of the major brands (Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo). There is a lot of variety of kegs in use here, in valve types (plenty of imports), and in volume (mostly domestic - Asahi started using 7L kegs all the way back in 1977). This is actually pretty damn cool in my perspective, I have seen kegs sized from full 55 Liter to 7 Liter! (those sizes are based on memory so please correct me if I am wrong). Theft is uncommon so I often see tons of kegs piled up outside bars unattended, often there are even full kegs just sitting around on their own like that! I am not saying you should take them, I am just pointing out how there is a nice atmosphere of trust in this action, it makes me feel good to see that trust level. You can rent keg dispensing equipment at liquor stores, and of course the kegs of beer are there as well. The deposit on a keg is pretty small here, something like $10-$15. I bought a dented 15L keg from a liquor store a few years ago, the owner assured me (I asked 3 times with my girlfriend translating) that it was not part of the brewery's "stable" and it was retired due to the tiny bit of damage. I disassembled the keg and brought it back to Canada as carry-on luggage, with a few strange looks of course :D That keg had a "G-system" valve, but I see lots here with sanke and D-sytems as well. I am happy to see that corny kegs are quite actively being used as I see them outside bars and restaurants all the time, often in equal proportion to the regular beer kegs parked there. I do not know if these are being used for beer or soda, or both. Due to the space restrictions a lot of Japanese businesses have, the sizes of kegs are quite small most of the time. That's good news for me, when I switch to kegs again it will be nice to have little kegs; 2 to a batch of beer, or 1 and some bottles, etc... I don't need to brew a giant batch and have to have it on tap for a long time, and I can cool the smallest kegs in the fridge and take them out to the beach or the cherry blossom festivals! I still have to see about how to obtain the kegs legally here though, for now I just want to post info about the sizes/shapes/valves I have seen since it interests me.
Please comment if you would like to make a correction or add to this information, I can edit the posts I make.
I am a bit surprised by the cost of large containers here. A 5 gallon (19Liter) plastic food grade pail+lid in Canada would cost me about $5-$8 CAD if I absolutely had to buy one instead of obtain a free one from a restaurant. I have not seen any pails of this type in Japan except at a brew supply for way more than I want to spend on them. Restaurants get their cooking oil in tin cans here. The most popular fermenters in Japan seem to be the 12 Liter PET carboys.
I bought a 20 Liter HDPE water tank for 1000 yen that has a handle, a large screw on lid, and a small screw on lid with a tap. Drilling a hole and adding a 400 yen airlock was easy and the total cost is less than 50% of buying a fermenter from the brew suppliers. Downsides: there is a lot of surface and airspace for smaller batches, and if you move it the plastic sucks in and pulls air back through the airlock. I want it to be cheap, easy to clean, good for aging (low permeability to O2), easy to add an airlock, and between 10 to 20 Liters in volume.
Options and rough prices of fermenters I have seen:
As you can see, the options can be very expensive. I always prefer free/recycled sources of equipment instead of new purchases! :D However, I am starting to think about using corny kegs as fermenters now. There seems to be an abundance of them in this country, but I don't know the price and where to buy legally yet. I'd like to hear what other people use for cheap and good fermenters in Japan and where they got them. Keg equipment is a bit of an investment but I suppose I will get kegs eventually.
Tokyu Hands has a lot of chemistry supplies.
-erlenmeyer flasks (for preparing starters)
-vials (if you want to make agar slants for yeast cultures)
They also have things like:
Should be the best place to get supplies if you're planning to culture yeast in Japan.
They also stock Black Rock LMEs, Muntons DMEs, and a few other homebrewing supplies although I'm pretty sure they've been sitting on the shelf for a long time.
I am just getting into brewing here in Japan. One question for people that are bottling. I am getting a brew kit from the US that comes with a bottle capper will that work for Japanese bottles? I want to use the 500ml and the 633ml.
Bottle caps are the same in all countries, so they should work fine.
The bottle caps that are sold in Japan are made abroad anyway,
and I've successfully capped imported beer bottles as well so the other way around should be ok also.
Myself, I use Kirin's Heartland beer bottles because they're really sturdy and hold a good 500ml.
Great thanks. I have been emptying Ebisu bottles (read drinking them) for my bottle needs. Have saved up enough for a twenty liter batch when I get it all done.
The key to collecting bottles by drinking them is to buy decent beer even it costs you a few more yen, so I'd say Ebisu is a good choice :)
You could optionally go to a local Liquor store (Sakaya 酒屋), and ask if they'd sell you empty bottles.
Weather isn't all that bad now and if you manage to get relative new empty bottles, they shouldn't be moldy or dried up on the inside.
Yes I could go and buy them empty but... That wouldn't be the true artist way. You know suffering for your art and all that. Have to put in the hard work for the pay off. So guess I better open another one. The things I do for art.
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