Nagasaki Museum Revives Japan’s 1st Beer, Produced 400 Years ago

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yoshiharu Okayama, the director of the Hirado Dutch Trading Post history museum, looks at the revived version of beer that was originally made about 400 years ago in Hirado, Nagasaki Prefecture.

HIRADO, Nagasaki — What is believed to be the nation’s first domestically brewed beer, a product made at a Dutch trading post in the early years of the Edo period (1603-1867), has been revived and can be tasted for the first time in about 400 years.

The beer has been re-created based on accounting books from the Hirado Dutch Trading Post, which was set up in 1609 as a branch of the Dutch East India Company in what is now Hirado, Nagasaki Prefecture. The documents cover the years from 1636 to 1640 and show that the beer was brewed at the merchant house using brown sugar as a primary ingredient.

The project to revive the beverage was spearheaded by a city history museum, also named the Hirado Dutch Trading Post, where bottles of the beer line a refrigerator’s shelves. The beer, named Revival Hirado 1636, was released in December. A 330-milliliter bottle costs ¥990.

“Don’t you feel like you’ve undertaken an epic adventure when considering this is the first beer that the Japanese ever tasted?” said museum director Yoshiharu Okayama, gazing at the golden-hued libation as he poured it into a glass.

According to the museum, the trading post’s accounting books show that brown sugar was imported from Cambodia numerous times to brew the beer. A list of the equipment at the facility’s warehouse includes an iron brewery vat. The documents are the oldest records detailing Japan’s beer-brewing process, the museum said.

There also are records indicating the merchant house purchased wheat from the local Hirado domain, and it is believed that the beer was brewed at the facility by mixing wheat and brown sugar, with the wort stored in oak barrels that were used to preserve and transport the beer.

The Hirado Dutch Trading Post was ordered to be destroyed three decades after its opening as part of the Tokugawa shogunate’s ban on Christianity. In 1641, the merchant house was transferred to Dejima, a man-made island in Nagasaki that served as Japan’s only spot for overseas trade during the period of national isolation.

While many people know that beer was brewed in Dejima during the Edo period, the fact that production in Hirado had preceded it is not well-known. Therefore, the museum launched a project to reproduce the 400-year-old beer in an effort to promote the city as the birthplace of domestic beer brewing.

The museum contacted a brewery in Tokushima Prefecture about a year ago and asked it to research production methods in the Netherlands in those days. The brewery eventually began making the beer.

In addition to wheat and brown sugar, the revived version uses oak chips to enhance the beer’s aroma.