Kiuchi Brewery is a famous brewery that is better known for their Hitachino Nest beer, or as I had called it, Nest Beer. It is one of the most famous craft beer shops from Japan, but within Japan they are not very famous. They focus more on their overseas sales and a lot of foreigners recognize the brand. Their company is called Kiuchi Brewery, named after the family that started and runs the brewery. They started off with only sake, the Kikusakari sake and have branched off into shochu and wine as well, in recent years.
Visiting Kiuchi Brewery is not very difficult, but it isn’t very close to Tokyo. It takes about 2 hours to get up there but if you time things right it can be much less than that. It is best to buy a return ticket and you can visit Kiuchi Brewery in a single day if you wanted. I do recommend combining it with a visit to Mito as it is just “down the road” from the brewery. Mito has a lot to offer, such as the famous Kairakuen, but there is also a good art gallery that I have been meaning to visit.
The first step is to get up to Mito. The best way to get up there is to take the Fresh Hitachi or the Super Hitachi. Both trains will get you to Mito pretty quickly and a lot easier than taking the local trains. It takes about an hour to get up to Mito and most trains will only make one or two stops between Ueno and Mito. You can only catch the Hitachi trains from Ueno as it is the terminus.
Once you are at Mito, it is pretty simple to just change trains. The Suigun Line is a small rural line that is almost always run by a single operator. The driver acts as the conductor. At Mito Station, the doors to the train may be closed but it is pretty easy to open them. They have buttons to operate the doors, but they have a very annoying chime that tells you they are opening and closing. Trains on the Suigun Line are pretty sparse with the worst case being 2 hours between trains. It is very important that you check the time schedules or you might have trouble.
Kiuchi Brewery is located at Hitachikonosu Station. This is a very obscure station and trying to get tickets there will not be as easy as going to Kyoto. It is best to go to an attendant to buy tickets and even the attendant will not really know where it is. They often have to check where it is. I often get round trip tickets which allow me to go in and out of the stations, but Hitachikonosu is not far enough from Tokyo, so you’d have to buy individual tickets for each part of the trip. I highly recommend getting the full return tickets in Tokyo.
Hitachinokonosu Station has no attendants and no gates. The Suigun Line operates more like a bus in Japan. When you get on at Mito, there is no need to get a ticket, but you do have to pay the conductor when you leave the train. It is very important to be near the front of the train when it arrives at the station as the other doors will not open. If the driver can see you scrambling to the front, it is no problem, but if you don’t scramble, they will probably leave the station promptly. If you bought a ticket in Tokyo, just hand your ticket to him and you can exit easily.
When you return to Mito/Tokyo, it is pretty easy. At the station, there is a little red box that has tickets. These paper tickets mark the name of the station. Just grab one and wait for the train. When the train comes, just board near the front and that’s it. If you have tickets for the train already, there is no need to worry. If you didn’t get a ticket at the station, there is a box for tickets inside the train as well. Just ask the driver as you board.
When you get to Mito/Tokyo, you just have to hand over the ticket you got from Hitachinokonosu Station. The attendant will calculate the price of the ticket and you just pay them directly before being let out. If you are going all the way back to Tokyo, I highly recommend getting your ticket in Tokyo as it will take you a while to get out of the station as Hitachikonosu is an obscure station. At Mito, it shouldn’t be a problem. If you bought a ticket in Tokyo, then just use it to get out at the gate in Mito or Tokyo as always.
Going to Kiuchi Brewery is pretty easy but it is not something that is normal in Japan. Most stations have gates and most of them do accept Suica or other IC Cards. Hitachikonosu did not have a Suica reader when I visited (2014), and the trains on the Suigun Line probably don’t accept Suica as well. It isn’t very convenient but the stations are so far in the middle of nowhere that it really doesn’t matter if it is convenient or not. It just has to work.