In 1887, the Japan Beer Brewery Company cleared an area of farmland in order to build a brewery where they would make, using German methods, their new premium beer, Yebisu. In the intervening years, the area which came to be named after the beer (rather than the commonly held belief that it was the other way around) Ebisu shot to prominence in the capital, and the brewery moved to out. But now, on the grounds where that first brewery was established stands Yebisu Garden Palace, a city within a city boasting a 3 Michelin star restaurant, residential spaces and a Mitsukoshi department store.
Perhaps the most interesting draw to the area however, is the Museum of Yebisu Beer. Here, for JPY 500 you can take a tour of the brewing history, guided by ‘brand communicators’, experts in Yebisu. On this forty minute tour you will be, with the aid of a 120in (305cm) screen, transported back 120 years to those early days of brewing. Under your guide’s tutelage, you will learn about not only the rise of the Yebisu brand, but also follow the history of the nation itself and the way that trends and tragedies of Japan both have shaped the company into what it has become today.
The culmination of the tour brings, presuming your group is not exclusively under the age of 20, perhaps the most exciting experience: the tasting salon. Here you can select two glasses of Yebisu’s five draft beers*. At 280ml, the glasses are a good size and should be enough to wet the whistles of your average day tripper. But should thirst overcome you still, by way of a group janken competition, it is possible to win a third selection, and even a Yebisu Premium Beer branded glass to take home with you.
For those with thirsts that refuse to be sated, upon the tour’s completion you can retire to the Beer Station, a comfortable lounge area in which you can order snack foods and drink draft beer at a cut rate of JPY 400 a glass (which is an absolute steal when you consider that Yebisu Premium – not just a clever name – was originally considered a beer of such exclusivity that it once cost the same as 10 bowls of soba noodles. That’s a tour tidbit for you fact fans).
The lounge has a relaxed atmosphere with comfortable sofas amidst a stylish décor and is open to all comers – not only tour participants – with local office workers taking advantage of the low prices after a day at the desk.
The accessibility of the Beer Station is just as well because despite its many plus points, one disadvantage of the tour is that it is held only in Japanese, potentially excluding those without a mastery of the language. Fortunately the exhibits themselves are signed in both Japanese and English. This means that anyone can peruse the museum at their own leisure, free of charge, before hunkering down in a sofa to sample the low priced drinks and wander the interesting, if a little pricey, gift shop.
While it may not have the behind-the-scenes access of a brewery tour, it is certainly a pleasant and diverting way to spend a couple of hours if you happen to be in the area. It is also an interesting insight into the way something as humble as a beer brand can grow and help to shape a significant portion of one of the most captivating cities in the world.
Yebisu Garden Place , 4-20-1 Ebisu , Shibuya-ku , Tokyo
By Mark Guthrie