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Hakuba, home of the 1998 Winter Olympics is a world-famous town among skiers and snowboarders, with tens of thousands coming annually for some of the softest, and most guaranteed, snow in Japan. Besides the winter sports, there are numerous other outdoor activities that makes Japan a wonderful winter holiday destination. This is also the home of a 100% natural craft beer in Japan – More on this local all-natural brew in a moment.
The Kita-alps are perfect for hiking; either on a three-hour hike up Happo-one, a full-day hike up Karamatsu, to longer three-day hikes across the mountain range. On top of this, it’s possible to do mountain biking around the area, and also tree climbing.
Perhaps you’re looking for something more sedate. Hakuba can also accommodate that with some lake canoeing, picnics, or firefly hunting around Lake Aoki; one of the most picturesque places in Japan. In spring, the area is awash with sakura (cherry blossoms). In summer, the greenery sets off nicely against the lake teeming with life. In autumn, the changing of the leaves brings tourists from across Japan to the area.
If those options sounds tame for the thrill seekers among you, then you can also enjoy canyoning in the Kamoshika canyon down 15-metre waterfalls, or the larger Nagiso canyon. Rafting along the Himekawa is also possible from the time when the snow begins to melt into the river through mid-July, and sometimes into early August.
With all of the activities on offer, you might get a bit thirsty and in need of something cold and crisp to drink. The natural craft beer in Japan is the recommended remedy. If you’ve been looking for craft beer in the area, choices in the past have been spartan to say the least. With Daisekkei, Japan’s largest all-year round snow glacier providing some of the cleanest water in the country, Hakuba Brewing Company has managed to fill a niche in the market for beer fans coming to visit.
Hakuba Brewing Company has its roots in the UK, with Dan Cockburn, the head brewer, starting out as many other beer enthusiasts do with a homebrew kit and making beers he liked. When the Tohoku Earthquake struck in 2011, Dan’s loyalty to Japan brought him back to the Hakuba area. With fellow Dan Bacon, they agreed to start a brewery, and also a taproom for Hakuba Brewing Company, located in Hakuba village, while also supplying hotels and bars in the area with their beers. Dan wanted to create beers that not just both the Dans would like, but other people as well.
Hakuba’s beer is 100% natural. In keeping with the pure water and the environment, the water used in the brewing process is drawn in from groundwater, which in turn is supplied from the mountain snow and glaciers. The water itself is naturally low in minerals and carbonates, very different from the water you would find in the major conurbations in Japan. It’s considered to be some of the purest water in Japan and up until 20 years ago, the local water company didn’t add any chlorine to it for consumer drinking. Even now, the water used by Hakuba Brewing Company contains no additional chemicals or minerals, such as calcium or magnesium, thus classifying it as soft water.
Hakuba isn’t known for its malts and hops, and as a result, Hakuba Brewing Company sources them from overseas. The malts are imported from Norwich, UK from the highly regarded Crisp Malting Company. The hops come from the USA, with Simcoe, Amarillo, and Cascade among some of the hops that they use. With the four main ingredients of malt, hops, water, and yeast, there are no chemicals added and no finings of any kind, so the beer is also suitable for vegetarians and vegans alike. As a result, all of the beers are natural unfiltered both on tap and in bottles. Moreover, to ensure the environmental impact of the production process is kept to a minimum, carbon dioxide produced during the fermentation process is collected and used for carbonation of the bottled beers. Making the brewery even more efficient is their unique method of energy generation – hydropower. At the time of writing, Hakuba Brewing Company is the only brewery in Japan to be 100% emission free.
Two of the beers so far, the Hakuba Pale Ale and Hakuba Black, are both available online at Onshu Saketen, the online distributor for their beers. At the time of writing, Hakuba Brewing Company has also produced an IPA that is also available in bottles or at the taproom located in Hakuba. If you fancy drinking the beers at the Hakuba Brew Pub, the taproom can seat over 100 people, with great views over the Hakuba Iwatake ski field. All of the ingredients for the food are sourced domestically and all meals are freshly made in the kitchen, catering for both non-vegetarians and vegetarians alike.
Hakuba Brewing Company makes 500L batches of beer, making it a nanobrewery. Though they may be small in comparison to the large breweries, with so much on offer, when are you going to make the trip to the Alps to enjoy a refreshing natural craft beer in Japan?