Sapporo Breweries, maker of the famous Sapporo Black Label beer, has three factories which offer guided tours: Hokkaido, Oita Prefecture, and Chiba. The Chiba factory is the largest of them all in terms of size and daily production, and being just a short journey from Tokyo makes for an enjoyable afternoon trip.
The tour starts by introducing the two key ingredients, barley and hops, before talking a little bit about the history of Sapporo—the oldest beer brand in Japan. You can then see the enormous mash tanks where the starches in the crushed grains convert into sugars for fermentation. At this point there is no alcohol in the mixture which apparently tastes like sweet barley tea (mugicha).
Visitors then move to a Fermentation Simulation Tank to watch a short film before heading to the highlight of any beer factory tour: the tasting session. Included in the token ¥500 tour fee (free for children) are two glasses of Sapporo Perfect (札幌パーフェクト)—a sub-brand not often seen in Tokyo.
The beer did taste exceptionally good. Certainly it was about as fresh as you could hope for, served in glasses so clean they’d put any Tokyo bar to shame, and at the perfect temperature—or maybe the promotional nature of the tour had subconsciously got to me at this point.
Once the tasting finishes, visitors can walk through a small exhibition displaying the old Sapporo beer labels and bottles, or stay at the bar to enjoy the cheapest beer in Greater Tokyo—¥200 per glass! Sapporo Brewery also owns the Yebisu brand, and so you can drink Yebisu Perfect, too—another label I’d not seen before. And if all that wasn’t already value-for-money, visitors are given a complimentary 500ml Sapporo beer glass—unique to the factory—when they leave!
After the tour, many visitors also visit the factory’s restaurant (Chiba Beer Garden) which serves great food (mainly “Genghis Khan”—this is a Sapporo company, after all—but also other yakiniku dishes) at reasonable prices. And no prizes for guessing which beer is on the menu.
How to register for the tour?
Registration for the tour is made through the Sapporo Beer website. Tours depart on the hour, every hour from 10am to 4pm. The factory is closed on Mondays (Tuesday if Monday is a public holiday) and during New Year. Note that a minimum of two people are required for registration, but for those whose friends aren’t interested or can’t make it, if you call up and explain that you want to participate in the tour on your own it shouldn’t be a problem.
How long does the tour last?
About 50 minutes including the tasting session.
How to get there?
The factory is located on the industrial coastline of the reclaimed land south of Funabashi. Fortunately, the factory puts on free shuttle buses to and from JR Tsudanuma Station, Keisei Tsudanuma Station, and Shin-Narashino Station. JR Tsudanuma Station (JR 津田沼駅), which is probably the easiest for most coming from Tokyo, is about 30 minutes from Tokyo Station on the Sobu Line.
You can see the timetable here. The shuttle buses are timed to arrive 10 minutes before the start of each tour and then depart again on the hour, so visitors wanting to just come for the tour (and not drink in the bar or eat at the restaurant afterwards) can do so without waiting around. Be sure to take note of the pick-up points for each station below the timetable in the link above (they aren’t obvious otherwise).
There is also ample parking for those coming by car or motorbike, but obviously with it being a beer factory tour not many do. The factory strictly enforces the no drinking and driving rule: the straps of the visitation cards for tour members are color-coded, and those that drove to the factory are given orange straps and non-alcoholic beer at the end.
Are there English tours?
No, the tour is only offered in Japanese, but they do have a short English pamphlet for non-Japanese visitors.
Can children join the tour?
Yes. Children are given a green strap and soft drinks during the tasting session.