Tamamura Honten

Tamamura Honten (玉村本店)

This is our personal favorite among the breweries in Japan. Located in snow country in Nagano, they also label some of their beers as Shiga Kogen (志賀高原). Interestingly, they not only produce beer but also their own sake and wine, and as such have lots of land on which they can grow their own barley, hops, berries, and other ingredients for their beer. While they are well-known in Japan for beer, their sake isn’t quite as popular, and I have no idea if anyone drinks their wine or not.

Their base strength lies in their American-style hoppy beers. Their House IPA is one of the best IPAs here – appropriately hoppy and bitter. That one is a double IPA, and they also have a regular IPA, which while not quite on par with the House IPA is a solid offering. Another strong-ish IPA that they have just begun to release semi-regularly is the 10th Anniversary IPA (其の十) made with their sake rice, which gives it a bit of a different texture from their other IPAs. There is also a nice black IPA that they call an India Black Ale, which is a seasonal offering and quite limited. To go with their usual IPAs they have a session IPA called the African Pale Ale (unfortunate naming I think, but they said they wanted to invoke a place as exotic as India but not India – the bottle also has safari camouflage on it) and a session black IPA called the African Black Ale, both of which are quite nice. Rounding out the standard hoppy beers are their Pale Ale and Draft Pale Ale, which are OK, if not as exciting as their IPA offerings.

However, one other feature of Tamamura Honten that makes them quite interesting is the fact that, as mentioned above, they grow a lot of their own ingredients. Taking advantage of that, they have really gotten on board the saison bandwagon. They have two regularly packaged (meaning 330mL bottles) saisons that are both pretty interesting. One is the Indian Summer Saison, which is a very hoppy saison and one of my favorite beers in Japan. They themselves describe it as their stab at a Belgian IPA, and it does taste like one – yeast and hops, both very prominent. The other is the Miyama Blonde, which is also made with their sake rice like the 10th Anniversary IPA.

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Yama-Bushi saison noir, with Thomas the Tank Engine looking on . . .

Tamamura Honten not only is on board with saisons, they are also one of the only major brewers packaging beers in wine bottles, and they do this only with their saison series released under the Yamabushi tag. This project focuses on highlighting their homegrown hops, rice, berries and other ingredients to make unique beers that can really capture the local flavor – beer terroir, of course, and all bottle-conditioned. The first in the series, which they brew regularly, is the saison one – this also is one of my favorite beers here. An excellent saison, with a nice grassy, yeasty, spicy flavor. The second in the series is saison noir, which is a dark saison, and that was followed by a blueberry saison which has since been discontinued. Number four is the saison brett, which as you might guess makes use of brettanomyces, and is still available. They also periodically make one-off beers in this series using fruits they grow, such as the berry-infused grand rouge and the self-explanatory apricot saison. While naturally some are better than others and I have my favorites, if you ever see any bottles pick them up – they are all quite interesting and worth trying.

But wait – there’s more! Tamamura Honten is also one of the few brewers here making barrel-aged beers. They recently released a series of Ichiro Malt bourbon and Chichibu barrel-aged beers, which were quite limited in quantity but well worth the effort of tracking down. My personal favorite is The Far East Imperial House IPA, which was aged in Chichibu barrels, but both the Chichibu-aged Masaji Ichiro Chichibu W-IBA and the bourbon-aged Masaji Ichiro Bourbon W-IBA are very nice. As I mentioned, these beers are tough to get a hold of, but you may see them in certain liquor stores (in Tokyo those would be Liquors Hasegawa, Deguchiya, Shinshu Osake Mura, possibly Tanakaya) that specialize in craft beer. A surefire way of obtaining them is to follow the Tamamura Honten head brewer’s blog (ゆるブル), where they often post new and limited beer offerings that you can order online even if they are not officially listed on their online shopping page.

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Tamamura Honten’s collaboration with Pizza Port: So Sexy Brown

Another aspect in which Tamamura Honten are a bit ahead of the game in Japan is that they have recently been involved in quite a few collaborations with foreign brewers. In fact, as I write this I am drinking their newest collaboration called the So Sexy Brown, which is a very very very nice brown ale brewed with Pizza Port (hoppy, malty, roasty, chocolatey – excellent balance). They’ve also done collaborations recently with Hair of the Dog and Nøgne, and on their blog they just posted that they will be exporting to America for the first time very shortly.

In terms of availability, their regular and semi-regular offerings are pretty widely available (for craft beer, that is) – you may not find them at supermarkets and convenience stores, but most liquor stores that stock craft beer are likely to have some of their stuff there. Prices are also quite reasonable – I’ve bought the Indian Summer Saison for as cheap as 390 yen, and even the House IPA can be found for less than 500 yen, which is quite a bargain. As for draft, again, most craft beer bars will have their beer available. In Tokyo, they have a particularly close relationship with Craftheads in Shibuya (which is a great beer bar by the way), and in addition to usually having something of theirs on tap they also host events with Tamamura Honten every now and then.

Finally, another (and perhaps the most compelling???) selling point – in addition to a taproom next to the brewery called the Teppa Room, they also operate a bar at the Shiga Kogen ski resort that is open only during ski season. Also called the Teppa Room, it is located on the first floor of the Chalet Shiga ski resort in the Ichinose area of Shiga Kogen – as long as you are in Ichinose it is easily within walking distance. While they may not have all of the rarest Tamamura Honten beers there you will still find a decent selection of their regulars and some limited beers (when we went they had the 10th Anniversary IPA on tap), so for those of you who like skiing/snowboarding and craft beer, this is basically paradise.

Given their relatively forward-looking nature, I think it’s reasonable to expect more exciting things to come from them. It should also be noted that they have just installed a computer-controlled brewing system in order to be able to ramp up production, so they may have an adjustment period where they will need to focus on learning the new system and maintaining quality. But that hasn’t appeared to be a problem so far. Definitely one of our favorites, and one we’re still expecting great things from.

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  • Regular beers can be found most reliably at Liquors Hasegawa, Le Collier, Deguchiya and Shinanoya in Shibuya. Le Collier is the absolute cheapest, followed closely by Deguchiya and Shinanoya.
  • Limited beers can be found at Liquors Hasegawa, Deguchiya, Shinanoya, Tanakaya, and also at Shinshu Osake Mura near Shinbashi.
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One thought on “Tamamura Honten

  1. Pingback: Shiga Kogen Pale Ale / Minoh Pale Ale / Sierra Nevada Pale Ale | beereast

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