A few days before I left Japan I had the great fortune to stop by the Zakkoku Kobo brewery in Saitama. A friend recently discovered this out of the way brewpub, and I knew I had to go while I had the chance.
Located in Ogawa, Saitama Zakkoku Kobo may well be Japan’s smallest brewery, but their size does not prevent the production of some fantastic beer. The brewery was started by Baba Isamu in 2004. He still grows much of the grains used in the beer, but the brewing and operations have mostly been taken over by his daughter and son-in-law Yumiko and Hitoshi Suzuki.
The tasting room has only a small L shaped bar, there are no tables. I hear that in the summer they will put a few tables outside. They have few food options, which mostly center around homemade bread that is baked with family grown grains. Japanese bread is rarely very good, but the fresh baked options at Zakkoku Kobo were excellent. We had some rye bread that was dense, moist and had that lovely rye spice.
Beer wise we started things off with a light elderflower beer. Elderflowers have long been used as a spring themed drink flavoring in Europe, and they added a lovely flavor to the beer. It was light and very refreshing, it would be perfect to sip on a patio during the hot Japanese summer months. At 4.5% abv it would make for a really great summer “session.”
The next beer was their pepper porter, “dry hopped” with a locally grown Japanese version of Szechuan pepper. It was nice and roasty, if a bit thin for a porter, and had a nice subtle pepper aftertaste. I know that Szechuan pepper can rarely be accused of being subtle, but the use here was at a perfect level to add complexity to the beer without being overwhelming. Sometimes when brewers add things like this to their beer things can get out of hand.
The most famous beer from Zakkoku Kobo is their millet hefeweizen. It is a very well made wheat beer, with a beautiful golden hue and a nice creamy head. There is a hint of banana on the nose, and it was delicious and refreshing.
We followed the hefeweizen up with the seasonal “Door into Summer IPA.” Made with four classic American hops, Cascade, Centennial, Amarillo and Simcoe, this beer blew us away. All of the beers before had been good to great, but the IPA was excellent. IPAs are just starting to really catch on in Japan, and they can sometimes be a little light on the hops, but this one was perfectly balanced. We liked it so much that we had two!
The nearest train station is Ogawamachi, which is about 70 minutes from Ikebukuro on the Tobu line and about 70 minutes from Takasaki on the JR Hachiko line. They also travel to beer festivals and will be bringing their IPA to the Keyaki Beer Festival in Omiya this May.