Tomoko Sonoda

Tomoko Sonoda

The brewmaster at Ikspiari’s Harvest Moon Brewery talks beer


Originally published on on February 2010

Photos courtesy of Harvest Moon Brewery

Tomoko Sonoda has been crafting an interesting series of beers at Harvest Moon brewery since it first opened in July 2000. I’ve found Harvest Moon offerings to be of a good, consistent quality—always well balanced with nice flavors. While the beers are sometimes available at pubs specializing in craft brews, nothing beats having them where they are brewed, straight from the serving tanks, at Roti’s House restaurant in Maihama. It’s located within the Ikspiari mall, about 15 minutes from Tokyo station and adjacent to Tokyo Disneyland.

Tell me a little about yourself.
I was born in Tokyo, and am now 43. I speak a little English…

How did you end up becoming a brewmaster?
Well, beer has always been my drink of choice since I was in college. When I traveled overseas, I always made a point of drinking the local beer. I’ve been to China, Holland, Italy, Kenya and other countries. When the company I work for decided in the late ’90s to open a small brewery, they asked for volunteers to become brewmaster. Quite a few responded, but only I and another guy, Sakurai-san, were chosen.

What’s it like being a woman in a predominantly male industry?
Actually, I’ve never experienced any prejudice or special treatment as a female brewmaster. I seem to receive a special kind of respect, but my co-worker Sakurai-san says he gets that, too. I think all brewmasters get that—I think people like us because we make beer.

Tell me about the beers you normally have on tap.
The most popular is our Pilsner, which is only mildly bitter, and is mostly a cross between the Czech and German styles. It’s quite dry, actually, but has a good solid body, and we’ve used Tettnanger hops from Germany for the aroma.

Next is our Schwarzbier, which is a style that I created with fellow brewmaster Sakurai-san after having some wonderfully drinkable dark beers in the Czech Republic when we were doing research in Europe. What we did was to reduce the hop bitterness while emphasizing the dark malt flavors, particularly those that are like coffee.

We also have a Pale Ale, which is more in the English style, with lower hop bitterness and a more fruity yeast character. However, our Brown Ale is in the US style, where the caramel malt flavor is emphasized. This is brewed with American hops, namely Cascade and Willamette, but they are toned down for more smoothness, to make it easier to drink.

Finally, we have a Belgian Wheat ale, which is made with 30 percent wheat malt and the rest barley malt. However, it’s not like the popular Belgian White beers, since there is no unmalted wheat, though we do use some spices such as coriander, along with orange peel. Not surprisingly, this one is also popular with women.

Are all your beers left unfiltered?
We don’t filter the Schwarzbier and Belgian Wheat, but we do leave the Pilsner, Pale Ale and Brown Ale in the tanks to settle out and brighten up.

I’ve noticed that your Schwarzbier is particularly popular with women, especially those who don’t normally like dark beer.
Yes, when Sakurai-san and I made the recipe, we realized that most dark beer in Japan is too sweet—unlike what we had in the Czech Republic, where we could have one right after another and not get tired of the taste. Since we wanted to make a beer like that, we decided to keep the sweetness low and use fewer hops in order to let the coffee-like flavors come through. We really wanted to drink a beer like this, so we went ahead and perfected the recipe.

You’ve made a few seasonal beers with distinct characters, such as your Yuzu Ale. How did you end up brewing this?
We first made Yuzu Ale in 2006, and have continued to brew it each year. Even though we have made many other fruit beers, we found that citrus was rather easy to use in beer. Since yuzu has the strongest identity, and the aroma is very good, we went with it. It turned out that the acidity matched well with beer’s malt sweetness. It’s been my favorite among the fruit beers we’ve made, and matches well with a wider variety of foods.

Do you have plans for any other unusual styles of beer?
Our tenth anniversary is coming up this year in July, and for this we’re now working on a few special limited release beers. I’m thinking of beers with higher alcohol, or using herbs in the flavoring, but nothing has been decided yet.

What is your philosophy when considering the flavors of your beers?
We aim for beers that are easy for most people to drink, and ones that don’t tire the palate. I realize that craft beers aren’t that popular or well-known yet, so we try to make beers that will be liked by the average person. By making several different types of beers, but keeping them smooth and well-balanced, we hope to get people to realize the numerous possibilities that exist.

What are some of your favorite styles of beer to drink?
I like Porter and Weizen styles, but really don’t make them. From Belgium, I like the fruit lambic beers and the golden strong ales. One of these days, I hope to brew some of them at Harvest Moon.

Harvest Moon Brewery
Roti’s House, 4F Ikspiari, 1-4 Maihama, Urayasu City, Chiba. Tel: 047-305-5652. Open daily 11am-11pm (LO 10 pm). Nearest stn: Maihama.