Beer: It’s an international word that generally needs no translation, although a trip to the Beer Museum Yebisu, on the former site of a Sapporo Breweries Ltd. brewery, sheds much more light on a process that is slightly more complex than simply “Open can/bottle, pour contents down throat.”
The museum, which opened with the rest of the Yebisu Garden Place complex of shops, hotels and apartments in 1994, displays information dating back to 1887, when the Nippon Beer Brewery Co. was formed and the district was the village of Mita.
The trademark brew’s present name of Yebisu, slightly different from the name of the nearby station, was adopted later and the beer has gone from strength to strength ever since.
This celebration of a century of brewing “the beloved beverage,” as Sapporo’s literature describes it, begins with visitors descending a broad staircase until they are dwarfed by a burnished copper kettle used in the original Yebisu brewery. The Kettle Hall is regularly used for concerts and a Steinway piano there, made in 1920, can be played by the public.
The museum is subsequently divided into six sections, starting with the Yebisu Memorial Room, which traces Japan’s beer-brewing tradition back to the early Meiji Era.
The exhibits include equipment and beer-making tools salvaged from the original brewery, much of which was originally imported from Germany, and a scale model of the brewery in its heyday.
The walls are covered with early carved wood advertising hoardings — which included images of the tubby Shinto god that was the beer’s trademark even back then — as well as grainy photographs of both foreigners and Japanese drinking beer.
Alongside the showcase for the old-fashioned technology is a gallery for regularly changing exhibitions. One of the most popular traces the history of beer advertising using posters, newspaper advertisements and TV commercials, showing how the differing tastes of each age were reflected in the ads of the day.
A little more up to date, multiscreen TV displays — including one in the floor that gives a bird’s eye view — detail the science of brewing, from the harvesting of the barley and hops to the final bottling. The video, like the time-honored brewing process itself, ends with the satisfying sound of a bottle cap being prized off with a pop.
A small section of the museum is dedicated to the history of brewing, from ancient Egypt on, including information about monastery beers, German ales and brews during the Industrial Revolution, while the 3-D Magic Vision Theater uses an improbable “Beer Fairy” to tell the tale of how beer gets its taste.
The highlight of the entire museum, for some, will undoubtedly be the final port of call: The tasting lounge is decorated with German-style beer steins and a glass of the good stuff costs 200 yen.
The museum also includes a shop, selling everything from T-shirts to Yebisu Beer Jelly and more steins, as well as soccer paraphernalia for Consadole Sapporo, the J League team that the brewery sponsors.
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