Sake breweries with an established reputation for quality and consistency can generally make a good beer. They understand the care that has to go into ingredient selection, sanitation and the actual brewing process. They understand the appeal of alcohol, too.

When the laws changed in the late 90s to allow for smaller scale beer brewing, many of the first companies to apply for licenses were traditional sake breweries. They were no strangers to the challenges of the alcohol industry and obviously saw great business opportunity. They may have also viewed craft beer as a kindred brewing art.

The sense you get at Hakkaisan is that this is also a spiritual mission, where the rewards of creating a quality beer are deep satisfaction and a sense of purpose. Already well known for their sake, Hakkaisan produces an alt, a pilsner and, our favorite, a weizen with excellent body and aroma. Between October and March, when Niigata turns really cold, they switch out the alt for a porter with lovely roast-malt notes.

As with their sake, Hakkaisan thinks carefully about how their beer will pair with food. Says assistant brewer Hosokawa Masahiro, “A few of us want to make a barley wine or imperial stout, but everywhere around here people cherish rice. Such a strong flavor profile will interfere with the local appreciation of rice.” Hosokawa studied architecture in school, but loved beer. When he graduated there was no craft beer scene, hence no employment opportunity in the industry. But shortly after he started to work as a salary man, the brewing laws changed and he decided to enter Nôdai (Tokyo Agricultural School), one of the few places to offer courses in brewing. Kakumoto Takuma, the head brewer, actually joined Hakkaisan aspiring to work with the sake team, but was assigned to beer. He traveled Germany and Belgium to research (yes, drink) the representative styles there, and through time and discipline, has gotten his recipes and brewing process right—he does get some help from a good team and solid equipment.

Hakkaisan’s brewery is attached to Izumi Village, an event facility (weddings, etc) with gorgeous wooden architecture and a decent restaurant serving hearty, Italianesque food and of course fresh Hakkaisan brew. Izumi Village’s surroundings are serenely quiet in the winter and by most standards off the beaten track. Taxis from the local Muikamachi Station take about 20 minutes (~2500 yen).

The larger Hakkaisan mountain area does offer other attractions, including a worthwhile ski resort accessible by taxi from Urasa, the nearest bullet train station. The crowds all get off at an earlier stop on the line, Echigo Yuzawa, where Naeba has admittedly superior slopes. Higher elevations also guarantee better snow later into winter. But the Hakkaisan ski resort is still fun and at least has some decent backcountry for the more adventurous boarder or skier, especially above the highest lift, if you have some snowshoes. Best of all, the restaurant on the slopes serves Hakkaisan beer. Grab a pitcher if you’re with friends. Nothing like a buzz and some laid-back boarding after lunch.

Lodging is very limited in Hakkaisan. You’re probably much better off traveling back to the Echigo-Yuzawa Station area.This article is shared content with Japan Beer Times. For more info, visit:







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