Monday, July 20, 2009

Suntory Brewery Tour

I've written briefly about my previous attempts to take the Suntory brewery tour. Let me recap. I first learned about the brewery from one of my students, who'd gone there after watching a horse race at the nearby JRA track in Fuchu. Since the track is just a few blocks from the Tamagawa river, at the far end of my normal 1 hour exercise route, I'd decided to try to find it. At first I got confused because the Suntory soft drinks bottling plant is on the other side of the river near the same bridge, and the bottling plant is what kept coming up on google maps.

Eventually I tried starting out from the race track and that got me to the brewery pretty quickly. Unfortunately, the first time I tried taking the tour, I was told that I couldn't drink beer if I had arrived there by bike. The second time, I parked my bike 1 mile away at the Kyodo no Mori park and walked in, only to be told that I needed a reservation. Fortunately, as I was looking at the little gift shop, two women walked in for the tour and I was allowed to join them (it's a minimum of 2 people per tour). But, they wanted my home phone number in case something went wrong, and not only didn't I remember my number, I'd left my cell phone at home to recharge the battery. No phone number or contact address, no tour. But, the receptionist was kind enough to give me a special brochure.

Third time's the charm. I called in advance, set the reservation for 3 PM on a Thursday, and was told to arrive at least 10 minutes early. At 2 PM, I set out by train for Fuchu Honmachi on the Nambu line, and got into the brewery at 2:40. The guards at the front gate had my name on a guest list and waved me in. It was hot out, so I was sweating all over the receptionist's desk in the main lobby as I filled out the form with my name, address and phone number. I was asked if I came by car or bike, I said 'no', and they gave me a laminated card with "3 PM" on it. There were 10 other people waiting in the lobby; one large group of 7 men, a second group of two men, and a woman. Just before 3 PM, we handed over our cards and rode the elevator up to the second floor gallery. Here, we watched a short film on the importance of water for beer, and 2 more groups, of about 15 women each, also joined us. Yet later we got another group of 3 guys.

Our tour guide was one of the young female receptionists, and she primarily focused on the making of Suntory's "The Premium Malt's", their upscale $2 per 12 ounce can of beer, comparing it to their regular "The Malt's" $1.90/can brand. Of course, the entire tour was in Japanese, and mostly consisted of just looking at idled equipment, or videos on TV screens. At one point, we got to eat a little of the toasted wheat used, and smell the differences in the hops used for the two different beers (a "bitter" hop and an "aromatic" hop; the difference between the two was very striking). At the end, we arrived at a large gathering room, where we could drink 12 ounce glasses of The Premium Malt's, or The Malt's, and snack on a small bag of salted nuts that was set out at the table. During part of the drinking session, the guide demonstrated the proper way to pour The Premium Malt's - start out pouring the beer from the can into the glass straight up, holding the can about 1-2 feet up from the glass. Stop when the foam reaches the top of the glass, wait until it recedes, and then hold the glass at a 45-degree angle and gently pour in the rest of the beer until the glass is full.

One guy was slamming the beers back, and when he rushed up for his fourth glass, the bartender asked if he wasn't getting too drunk too quickly. He said that he was ok, but he stopped at 4 glasses. I was pacing myself a little better, and got 3 glasses. The rest of the group ended up being restricted to 2 glasses because after 15 minutes or so we had to leave to make room for the next tour group. However, I did give to the bartender the special brochure I'd been given by the receptionist the last time I'd tried to take the tour, and in return was given a free 12-ounce Suntory beer glass as a present. Which was cool.

(My present)

Afterwards, I bought some smoked cheese, smoked bacon, smoked fish and a box of madelines from the store for $26 to take back home as "omiyage" (gifts for the people that couldn't travel along with me). And, then I returned to the train station, and home. The smoked bacon went over the best, followed by the smoked fish.

I want to mention that about 1 month ago, the Metropolis ran a small article on the Suntory tour. The article is not quite complete. The tour is two-person minimum, it's held on-the-hour, you can't drink the beer at the end if you came by car or bike (they do have free soft drinks for you, though), and they'll draw the line at between 3 and 4 drinks (not necessarily only 2). Also left out of the Metropolis article is that if you go to the Suntory website, you can print out a special page that gets you a free present at the end of the tour (probably the same beer glass that I got with my brochure).

It was a fun way to spend an hour, and the beer was good. Highly recommended. Call in advance to make a reservation, though (042-360-9591). And be sure to at least have your phone number and home address written down on you.


bartman905 said...

Looks like you had quite an adventure, thanks for sharing such as very detailed account of your experience so we now know exactly what to expect.

One question: Will a Japanese language challenged person (in other words, a gaijin who can't speak Japanese) be able to take this tour?

TSOTE said...

You're welcome.

Actually, I'm not sure. If you arrive somewhere 15 to 20 minutes before the hour, there are two or more of you, and it's clear that you didn't get there by bike or car, you should be able to convince them to take the tour by sheer numbers. Using "nihongo wakaranai desu kara, eigo wo hanashimasu ka" might be enough to get an English speaker to come out and help you.