Asahi brewery Moriya City, Ibaraki Prefecture. Photo credit Stack Jones.
On the 26th anniversary of the release of Asahi’s Super Dry, Stack Jones took a tour of one of Asahi’s eight breweries, which are located throughout Japan. This particular brewery is located in Moriya City, Ibaraki, and is easy to access via the TX Line from Akihabara station in Tokyo. The tour is free, and the beverages are complimentary, but you need to book a reservation in advance.
Asahi functions as much more than a beverage brewing company these days. While many Japanese corporations have been spiraling downward, and are in dire need of a cash infusion, Asahi has been steadily acquiring new interests in the beverages, food and healthcare sectors, while simultaneously boasting nine consecutive years of steady sales growth.
The Asahi Group has also been expanding their overseas interests. Most recently the company acquired Schweppes Australia, and secured a licensing agreement with Carlsberg in Malaysia. In 2009, Asahi acquired Tsingtao Brewery Co., and became a major investor in Ting Hsin Group, China’s largest packaged food and distribution company.
Interestingly, Asahi also founded a university program to educate its next generation of managers to perform on a global scale, while at the same giving these employees genuine on-the-job management experience.
While waiting for the brewery tour to begin, I browsed a convenient store that’s located near the front entrance of the Asahi facility. This wasn’t your typical convenient store. The products on display are those that are exclusively manufactured by Asahi. I discovered a few pleasures that I hadn’t tried before. They’ve become some of my favorites. Especially, the various kinds of barley snacks. They’re really good!
My name was called and it was time to begin learning about how beer is made. I had brought along two Japanese interpreters, but it turned out the entire tour was in English. This made the event even more enjoyable!
Initially, we were taken into a movie theater, where I would be given a crash course on how yeast converts sugar into wort, which is mashed, liquefied and then goes through a fermentation process that eventually produces the alcohol portion, and specific flavor of the beverage.
After the movie, I was taken down a long corridor, and told from that point on there would be no more photos allowed. The hallways were really long, and the escalators, and corridors seemed endless. I felt like I was in a Stanley Kubrick movie, or was it Cape Canaveral?
Anyone that knows me knows that I’m a super clean freak. Everything at the Asahi facility was pristine! I felt at home. Then suddenly… I couldn’t help but notice the shiny, huge, and numerous containers that were looming on the exterior of the brewery, and visible through a wall of large plate glass windows. It was in these containers, I would learn that the filtering process was taking place. Asahi pioneered the brewing, and storage tanks in 1965. These were really big cans of beer!
Ms. Owada told me that it took about one month to go through the entire process from preparing the raw goods, to the cold bottle that would eventually be in my hands. I would also learn that if I drank a bottle of beer a day from those large storage containers that it would take approximately four thousand years to empty them.
So, just how much beer can this particular brewery churn out? The facility is able to sterilize and label six hundred bottles in a single minute. The bottles are also capped instantly to prevent oxidation. If the brewery is running at full capacity, which is during summer months, it takes ten seconds to package, label crate, and load onto trucks 100 bottles, and 285 cans of beer. That’s 4,900,000 cans a day!
The Moriya City facility also employs some 700 workers, even though most of the process, from production to packaging is computerized and automated.
Akiko Owada, who has excellent English skills, was my personal tour guide. Photo credit Stack Jones.
It took about two months to negotiate an exclusive tour with the Asahi Group. During those initial communications, Asahi management answered every question regarding the company’s history, products, and environment policies. The company was clearly proud of their legacy and quality assurance.
How does the brewery maintain such a high level of consistency at such a large volume of output? Sensory tests are performed in a laboratory environment, which is performed by highly trained taste testers who are employed to ensure a uniformity that meets the company’s rigorous standards. No, the taste testers do not drive to work, as their activities are strictly regulated and controlled. What a great job it must be to be a beer taster. Well, my numerous buddies that can’t seem to function without their weekly AA meeting, and “higher power” consultations would probably disagree. But, as far as I’m concerned, who cares? As one of those higher powers is Mr. JC, and according to the back half of the black book, the first miracle he performed was turning water to wine. For those interested in fermented grapes, I’ve provided the tour information below for Asahi’s Sainte Neige Winery as well.
What about the environmental impact of such a large scale operation?
I learned that all materials from manufacturing to packaging are 100% recyclable. This wasn’t just communicated, but a significant part of the tour is dedicated to showing just how far the company goes to maintain such standards. I learned Asahi was stringently committed to the sustainability of the environment that produces their products. It was obvious that Asahi was aware that without taking into consideration such sustainable measures, the future of the company, and the high-level of quality of their products would be in jeopardy. I also learned that Asahi operated their own farms, and staunchly rejected seeds that were altered through “engineered agriculture techniques (GMO’s).”
After Japan’s triple disaster, some beverage and food companies suffered bad publicity by engaging in improper safety procedures that allowed radiation-tainted products to enter the market via their brand. To Asahi’s credit the company avoided such problems by engaging in safety standards that protected both the public, and the company’s well-earned reputation. As a result of this effort, the company suffered no bad publicity.
Here’s a bit of trivia for whisky aficionadas. Black Nikka Clear Blend is Japan’s leading whiskey. One of Asahi’s Nikka Blends won the 2011, World’s Best Blended Malt Whiskey at the World Whisky Awards. Asahi beat all of the world’s most famous brands to earn that top honor.
Personally, I don’t like aluminum cans or plastic containers. I never have. I know they’re convenient for shipping, weigh less, and result in less damage for export. But, there’s nothing quite like a cold bottle of beer on a hot summer day. A bottle is classic. A bottle is cool. A can is neither.
Plastics are produced through petrochemicals, and often contain benzene, which is cancerous, and known to leach into the product itself. It’s also well known that plastic is environmentally unsound, and has been, or is being banned in many regions around the world. Further, plastic debris in the Pacific Ocean vortex is said to be larger than the entire United States, and growing. If there were one thing that I’d like to see Asahi improve upon, it would be to discontinue using plastic containers for food, and beverages. Plastic is simply unsafe, and proven to be unhealthy, and a catalyst for cancer.
In that, Asahi’s annual report addresses activities that are aimed at fulfilling a social responsibility with global implications. I greatly admire that. One of the main points the report addresses is Asahi’s commitment to protecting biodiversity, and the companies respect for the environment, and the animals that live within those ecosystems. Asahi doesn’t just give lip service to these ecological concerns; they put it in practice, and are committed to protect consumers of their product, and as a result the legacy of the company itself.
The Asahi Moriya City brewery is located at 1-1-1 Midori, Moriya, Ibaraki 302-0106. Please phone for tour reservation information at (81) 297.45.7335. At the end of the tour, guests may sample a variety of different Asahi products. All complimentary!
Other suggested Asahi Group tours include:
Sainte Neige Winery
107-1Kamikanogawa Yamanasi-shi Yamanasi
Phone (81) 553.22.1511
7-6 Kurokawa-cho Yoichi-machi Yoichi-gun Hokkaido
Nikka1banchi Aoba-ku Sendai-shi Miyagi
Phone (81) 22.395.2865