Photo: Motoki Kurokawa

Suntory Kyoto Brewery

See, smell, taste and feel the joy of beer

By Stacy Kurokawa    - 3 min read

How about visiting both a brewery and whisky distillery in the same morning? You can, in the valley half-way between Osaka and Kyoto, in the shadow of Mount Tenno.

My mother-in-law’s house is right there too, almost exactly halfway between Suntory Brewery and Suntory Whisky. I am happy to report that both facilities (but not my mother-in-law's house) offer free tours that include refreshments, and if you are savvy with Japanese homepages, like my husband, you can score free glasses at both locations.

We could easily walk or take a bus, but it is steamy hot, and our three year old son is with us; I offer to drive. My husband calls the brewery at 9:30 and finds that there are not so many reservations for the 10:30 tour but the 11 is almost at capacity. We head down the hill at 9:45 and are waved into an empty visitor parking lot just before 10.

Even if you are in the neighborhood like we were, it is better not to leave reservations to the last minute. You may even be able to arrange for a tour in English. We luck out, and join 40 or so others, including a number of other families with young children, for the first tour of the day at 10:00.

The tour starts with a 15 minute DVD introduction (in Japanese). Next, smartly attired lady guides pass around vials of hops to sniff (pungent) and grains to taste (crunchy), then lead the group across the street, up an escalator (or elevator if need be) and to the windowed corridor of the brewery.

The scent of fermenting beer does not appeal to my son. He holds his nose. The guide briefly explains about the various processes the beer goes through as we crowd around each window down the corridor, overlooking shiny, silver-colored pipes, cauldrons and machinery. Back down another escalator, my son’s hand comes off his nose as we board the bus to get back to the reception building.

I am wearing a designated driver tag, and am served a small package of nuts and crackers along with an orange-flavored, non-alcoholic drink. My son gets the same drink along with some plain, colorfully packaged biscuits. Nevertheless, he continues to cry because I didn’t let him go down the bus steps by himself. My husband helps himself to three glasses of beer. I polish off the nuts, crackers, my juice and my son's cookies and juice while my son wets my shirt with his tears. He cries more once he realizes I have eaten all his cookies (I did offer him some). The guides politely tell me that I cannot get any more so I rush over to the small gift shop where right away I find the same nuts and crackers I just inhaled, but alas, no cookies (400 yen for 5 airplane size bags).

On our way out, I notice strollers behind the reception desk, presumably to lend out. We step back out into the heat of high noon. I wouldn’t mind somebody pushing me around in a stroller for the next tour. Next stop: Suntory Whisky Distillery.

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Stacy Kurokawa

Stacy Kurokawa @stacy.kurokawa

It's with a love of adventure that I came to Japan in 2003.  I  love getting off the beaten track and getting around by bicycle.  In 2020, I qualified as a Forest Therapy Guide.  I guide in parks in Yokkaichi, Mie Prefecture nowadays.

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Bonson Lam 6 years ago
Great tips Stacy! It was funnier reading about your tragic adventures with your son then the brewery itself. The warning has been duly noted!