It’s lunchtime at the red-roofed Tadano nursery school tucked away in Aridagawa, Wakayama—but you won’t find kids running to get their lunchboxes. Now called “The Living Room,” the nursery school was closed in 2016 and refurbished into Nomcraft Brewing’s headquarters.
Nomcraft Brewing is the brainchild of Aridagawa Weird, an eclectic community of local residents, farmers and local business owners. One of the members, Yasuhito Arii, was inspired by how Portland built itself from a farming and logging town to becoming one of the trendiest cities in America. The name “Aridagawa Weird” is a nod to Portland’s famous slogan, “Keep Portland Weird.” Using Portland as a guide to redesigning Aridagawa, Arii invited architects from Portland to collaborate with the locals to remodel The Living Room in 2019.
In keeping up with the Oregon theme, Aridagawa Weird launched Nomcraft Brewing hiring Portland native Ben Emrich as their head brewer. Ben’s unique situation of living in Japan as a teacher and growing up during Portland’s own revitalization made for a perfect match.
“Brewing in Aridagawa has exceeded my expectations,” says Ben. “At first I was a bit nervous when I came here, but our investors say that making good beer and having fun should be our top priority. The local people have been fantastic as well—there are so many craftspeople here! We are always being offered help building what we need and we never feel like we won’t be able to get a fun project done.”
Mikan (tangerines) are Aridagawa’s main fruit, so it was natural for Nomcraft to incorporate this local citrus into their beer to honor the harvest season in late autumn. Rather than using the juice—which oftentimes doesn’t taste pleasant after fermentation—citrus peels add fragrant oils to the beer and a deep mikan flavor to the Mikan Harvest Haze (6%) without adding much bitterness. The larger dekopon is very sweet and slightly sour, and contributes a strong orange flavor to the Five Strings Hazy (6.5%). The Mad Hatter’s Beer Party (5.5%) uses bergamot which is often used in earl gray tea.
“We’ve been able to work with and get great advice from many of the local citrus farmers,” says brewer Adam Baran. “It goes full circle: we work with a local mikan and chicken farmer to reuse our spent grain after brewing and then we use the mikan in future beers. We are also thinking of making bread with the spent grains from brewing.”
Nomcraft is working on ways to start a small-city brewers association to help promote other small Japanese breweries and products. In collaboration with Hino Brewing in Shiga, they recently made a lager, the Pon Poro Lager (pon poro means steamy in the Arida dialect). They are also working with Ryukoku University in Kyoto who plan on spreading unique Japanese flavors around the world including budo sansho, a type of Japanese pepper closely related to the Chinese Szechuan pepper. The underrated budo sansho originated in this region and has a numbing heat with a sharp citrus punch. The sansho adds a citrus aroma and flavor to the final beer with a bit of the tingly numbness. The alcohol content does not change since there is no sugar in the sansho. While they have not made one in house yet, Ben has made two collaboration beers in Portland using budo sansho.
Guests are welcome to go on a brewery tour and even watch a brew day at Nomcraft. The brewery also hosts community events such as a monthly beer garden event where they invite local shops and restaurants. The Living Room is literally the city’s “living room” for locals and travelers to relax, gather and hold meetings. It also houses the Golden River taproom where guests can sample Nomcraft beer and Granavenir bakery goods. There are even talks of building a guesthouse.
“We would like to not only make beer here in Aridagawa, but also create a craft beer culture,” says Adam. “And in a similar vein, we want to share Aridagawa’s culture across Japan.”
Since Aridagawa is close to both the mountains and ocean, hiking, fishing and cycling are very popular here and visitors can even rent bicycles for free from Fujinami Station, the closest station to the brewery. There are cycling routes that go up the mountains and to Mt. Koya, the site of Kobo Daishi’s mausoleum and the start and end point of the Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. Campgrounds are a short drive away.
The easiest way to get to Aridagawa is by car or an express train called the Kuroshio that leaves from Shin-Osaka Station to Fujinami Station. It takes about an hour and a half from central Osaka by both car and train. The brewery is a three-kilometer walk on the Popo-michi path from Fujinami Station and takes around 30 to 40 minutes, but taxis are also available from the station. Although drinking and driving (or biking) is not allowed, Nomcraft also offers bottles for people to take home.
Aridagawa, Wakayama Prefecture
Three-kilometer walk from Fujinami Station
Brewery: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily
The Golden River Taproom: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Thursday to Monday