When the pandemic shut the doors of the guesthouse Julien and Nobuko Caudron hoped to open in Kamiseya, Kyoto Prefecture, they quickly pivoted to beer. Combining Julien’s Belgian heritage and brewing experience with Nobuko’s business skills, the two launched Kohachi Beerworks earlier this year.
“It was something we always planned on doing, so we took the opportunity,” says Julien from the old farmhouse he and Nobuko are renovating; on-site brewing and sales are planned for autumn 2021. Tucked deep in the mountains of the Tango Peninsula, with a population of less than 30, Kamiseya is a far cry from the bustling urban setting many craft breweries enjoy. While this village of farmers and artisans may seem an odd location to start a brewery, the Caudrons see it as the perfect place to bring their vision for a taproom serving brews made only from regional ingredients to life.
“The economic, social and ecological aspects of our business are very important for us,” Julien says. “It’s not just making and selling beer to make money. The idea is to have a product that can include everyone here. How can we help each other? Beer is good because we can use a lot of different ingredients and incorporate others in Kamiseya in the process.”
A self-described nanobrewery, Kohachi brews 400-liter batches for a total of 6,000 liters a year, the upper limit of the pair’s happōshu brewing license. Defined as “beer-like,” happōshu contains less than 67% malt and allows the inclusion of additional ingredients such as fruit, tea or spices. A proper beer license, by contrast, requires brewing at least 60,000 liters annually with a higher malt content and limited ingredients.
One benefit of being a nanobrewery is that neighboring farmers can provide many of the ingredients and flavorants, such as yuzu citrus, for each batch. This nurtures the local economy, while shrinking Kohachi’s carbon footprint and expenses. With the exception of hops, imported items can be pricey, especially in the small quantities the Caudrons use. A local farmer has agreed to grow barley for them, and while hops are currently imported, plans are underway for a hop farm on the site of the town’s former castle.
“It’s a challenge,” Nobuko says, “but it makes us more creative. It forces us to really excavate the Tango region and experiment with unique things like kuromoji (spicebush) from the mountains or our neighbor’s black rice. We can make something truly local.”
“We could just put ‘local beer’ on the label and nothing about the local ingredients, and people would still buy it,” Julien adds. “But having close to all-local ingredients involves more people in our beer and that creates something deeper. We can go to our customers and say it’s (the) whole story of this place.”
Another important aspect of Kohachi Beerworks’ mission is its waste management. “For 400 liters, we get more than 100 kilograms of malt that has to go somewhere,” says Julien. “The idea is to look for different solutions and create an infinite loop. We put the waste on our fields and those of the farmers we buy from. The land can give us back what we use in the beer.”
“Our neighbor’s goats,” laughs Nobuko, “also really enjoy them.”
The couple’s first beer, A Saison in Tango, brewed in collaboration with Tambaji Brewery, is a traditional Belgian farmhouse brew that is a toast to the region and their future success. Selling at small events and a local farmers market, the Caudrons hope to attract new people to their beer and the area, and cultivate a local following. Regular customers can bring their own PET bottle to be filled each week, which will be replaced by glass growlers.
Now that the immense amount of paperwork for licensing and loan applications is done, the Caudrons are just waiting for the final approval and are finishing their next brew in the meantime. A crowdfunding campaign is planned for March 2021 to help raise further funds to finish the building process.
“It’s really hard work,” Julien says, “and everyone in Kamiseya (also works hard) for themselves and our community. I think the reason is the pride behind the final thing you create. You can say (Kohachi’s beer is) 100% me. So when I give it to you, it’s a part of me and I’m proud of it.”
For more information, visit kohachibeer.com.
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