By Oscar Casley
Two Rabbits Brewing have just opened their doors in Omihachiman (近江八幡市), an old trading canal town on the shores of lake Biwa just a short trip from Kyoto in Japan, using a Speidel Braumeister 500L they bought from us earlier this year.
I was visiting Japan recently with some friends and decided to take a detour to Omihachiman to check out the brewery and see the sights.
Omihachiman is a small city with a population of around 80,000 and was mainly an old canal trading town in the 16th century. It has since been built up and merged into the seemingly never ending town that is the Japanese countryside but still retains the historic ‘old town’ as a bit of a tourist attraction.
Two Rabbits is situated right smack bang in the middle of the old town, and right next to the old canal that was once used for traders in boats and is now used for tourists in boats, and is a perfect spot to stand and have a beer.
When we were there it was hot and humid, but Japan also tends to get a bit chilly, so making beers to suit all climates is an important thing. Sadly when we got there they didn’t have any beers ready to go on tap, but they did have some in uni-tanks that were almost ready, and all of them were fantastic. Sean mentioned an interesting legal fact about beer in Japan though: there is beer, which has some rules similar to the German Reinheitsgebot, and there is ‘happoshu’ which has its own set of rules but essentially means ‘bubbling spirits’ and beers like Belgian Wits and Coffee Stouts sometimes get caught up in this category. Sean, the co-owner and head brewer, mentioned that you need a different license for happoshu and had to be careful that the beers he made all landed in the ‘beer’ category. Even then, the Belgian Wit and Coffee Stout we tried were both great, as were the American and Australian Pale Ale.
One of the first things I noticed in Japan is how every little space has a purpose, this is partly due to the very limited space they have considering the population, but I believe it’s also a cultural thing. Starting a brewery there would be tough, not only because the Japanese beer drinking culture is very set in its ways (“nama biru onegaishimasu!”), but also because a brewhouse tends to need quite a bit of space for the HLT, mash tun and kettle plus the rest of the brewery. The Braumeister really fits this niche well, essentially being all three in one, and allows Sean to have more space for the rest of the brewery.
Another funny quirk is how they have to package their beer in small 10L kegs, the biggest keg I saw in the brewery was 20 litres and that was specifically for the tap room at the brewery! This is just how it’s done in Japan, and while it seems like a very inefficient way to do things, when a bar only has seating room for 10 people and is up 4 flights of stairs that you have to squeeze up (as a 6”something person), every bit of space and energy spent counts!
Sean and Ayako gave us a nice little look into how the brewing world operates in Japan and it’s a very different machine, but they are making great beer in a great location, what more could you ask for? If you get a chance to visit, I highly recommend it.