Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The Death of Nikko Brewing

Today I made a daytrip to the ancient Japanese town of Nikko to take in some of the obligatory historic sights and enjoy the countryside. One of the notes in my margins pointed out that Nikko was home to a small brewery- Nikko Brewing. I found my way into one of the many local shops that peddled local wares in order to secure myself several bottles. Alas, all I could find was a bottle of Mugi Taro from the neighboring Toshigi prefecture. The shop-keep then told me the short and sad story behind the death of Nikko Brewing at the hands of the Tohoku Earthquake.

Toshogu Shrine Complex in Nikko
 “A few months ago,” he started, “You never would have found [Mugi Taro] in Nikko. The people here were very proud of Nikko Beer and drank it all the time.” He paused for a moment, perhaps caught in thought about how much things have changed in the last few months. “…but then the earthquake happened. The brewery was severely damaged, and the owners realized they had to shut it down permanently. Now we sell beer from Tochigi instead of beer from Nikko.” That was the end of the story. I purchased the Taro Mugi and sipped it as I walked down the street, thinking about what I had just heard.

A brewery, like any other local business, becomes a part of the community. It ebbs and flows with the heart and soul of the people who work there, who drink the beer, who derive a sense of pride and satisfaction from wares produced by local people using local ingredients. When a brewery dies, just like any other business that is so interwoven with the lives of those around it, a small piece of the community dies with it. People in Nikko will look back on the halcyon days when they sat at a small pub, sipped the local brew, and talked about work, their lives, their families...

Nikko Beer was proudly brewed using local water
I suppose like all things, Nikko Brewing came to pass. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and so on. But at the same time I felt depressed and dismayed, I was encouraged. Encouraged by the fact that the end of any one thing must necessarily be the beginning of another. I hope that when you sip your next pint from a local brewer, pops a bottle of wine produced with grapes grown in neighborhood vineyards, or evens enjoy some produce from your local farmers market that you stop and take a moment to think about how nice it is to have someone in your own backyard producing a little piece of where you come from and sharing it with you and the world at large. As a matter of fact, you can do one better and produce something yourself. For me, my negligible contribution is exploring and sharing the beer of the world in the hopes that people will find some treasures of their own. On that note, I’d like to review the Mugi Taro beer.

Mugi Taro is somewhere between pale straw and amber in hue. Aromas of slightly spicy clover hops are rounded out by honey malts. Hints of nutmeg and cinnamon become apparent when tasting it. There is a pleasant and soft texture to the beer, enough so to make me suspect that it was bottle conditioned. Overall, this is an easy-going, light, and friendly beer with a few subtle spices that make it more interesting than the average lager. I recommend this to anyone.

Mugi Taro beer
I would like to end with one of my favorite beer quotes. I remember asking someone at a bar once what his favorite beer was. He told me, ”The one I’m drinking.” The one I’m drinking, indeed, good sir. 

Mugi Taro was so tasty, a Hokkaido-Ken decided to help herself while getting pet


  1. Something called "Nikko Beer" is definitely being sold again in Nikko, and it's not a bad drink either, but I don't think it's the same as the bottles don't match anything on Nikko Brewery's website (still up but not updated since dec -10) and are labeled very similarly to Mugi Taro & co.

    I wonder if there is indeed some brewing going on again in Nikko or if this is the Tochigi brewery producing a different beer of the same name. I find it hard to believe that all the local shops would be happily selling it if that was the case, though.

  2. I'm in Nikko now iked their pils. Will stop by the brewery and cheek on this. I heard they had stopped. If so, sad day for Japanese craft beer.

  3. Luckily I have crap loads of homebrew and quality booze back
    In the log cabin!

  4. Yes. No more. The 'Nikko Beer' on sale now in Nikko is Romantic Miura and it's awful.

  5. Thank you for your interest in Nikko Brewing and building upon my investigations. While it's sad that Nikko Brewing came to pass, it is heartening to know that there are others out there who are seeking out the good stuff and supporting craft beer culture. If you hear of any further developments regarding Nikko Brewing, I'd love to hear about them. Thanks again and cheers!

  6. I just stumbled upon this blog. That's sad to hear the brewery went down. I made a trip up to Nikko in 2010 just to go to the brewery. The UNESCO World Heritage site was mostly an afterthought...