Japan Eats

Japan Macros Posing as Craft Beer

Suntory will debut its "Craft Select" line in May 2015.

Suntory will debut its “Craft Select” line in May 2015.

Finding decent beer in Tokyo used to be as bitter as a custody hearing.

But beer lovers have more to smile about these days. Domestic craft breweries have stepped up, and importers are sourcing decent brews at (increasingly) reasonable prices. Don’t believe me? You can’t do better than to read through the Japan Beer Times for ongoing commentary on Japan’s growing relationship with craft beer.

Unsurprisingly, macro brewer Kirin recently purchased Yo-Ho Brewing in order to stay abreast of the trend towards small(er) batch beer and drinks with more complexity and depth. Nagano-based Yo-Ho makes the surprisingly easy to find Yona Yona (American Pale Ale) as well as Aooni (American IPA), Tokyo Black (Porter), and several Karuizawa Kogen branded labels. Now that they’re privy to Kirin’s distribution network, look for them to pop up just about everywhere in the coming months. They won’t blow a true beer otaku’s kilt up, but they’re a good deal superior to anything that the macros have ever made.

Shots have been fired, so to speak. Consider this the first obvious example that Japan’s biggest brewers are going to start absorbing decent craft outfits. Expect several more before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, all of which will stab beer geeks straight through the heart.

Another one of Japan’s macros, Suntory, is about to throw its hat into the ring with a pair of “craft” beers on May 12th. They plan to offer canned pale and brown ales to their suddenly choice-flooded fans under the “Select Craft” label. The pale ale allegedly uses cascade hops which guarantees that many folks will try at least one.

All of this raises an important question, however. Should beer lovers be receptive to the sudden change of face on the part of the macro breweries? After all, they’ve resisted, and in many cases actively thwarted, the rise of Japanese craft for about 20 years, a mirror image of what’s happening in many other parts of the beer-adoring world. Sam Calagione, the head of the inimitable Dogfish Head, argues that we most definitely should not give them our money because their endgame is to limit choice.

And at this point, Japan Eats agrees. Remember, the battle to find good beer in Japan isn’t nearly as bitter as it used to be. So no matter where you are, support your local brewer.

Japan Eats Podcast: Episode 9, “Ry observations”

We sit down with Japan Beer Times publisher Ry Beville to discuss craft beer

The Japan Eats Podcast is presented by Garrett DeOrio, Marcus Lovitt and Christopher Pellegrini. To listen, click play on the audio player below:

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In this week’s Japan Eats Podcast, Garrett DeOrio and Christopher Pellegrini are joined by craft beer evangelist, Ry Beville.

Here are some links to what we discussed this week:

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Japan Booze Blind: Nippon Craft Beer Festival (Part I)

Christopher Pellegrini talks to Ry Beville of the Japan Beer Times at the Nippon Craft Beer Festival

The “Nippon Craft Beer Festival 2010” took place on October 31st at Sumida Riverside Hall near Asakusa station and the Asahi building with that weird golden sperm flying on top of it.

Giant sperm aside, it was a great party that featured several dozen taps and a whole lot of craft beer goodness. The place was pretty well packed, but we still managed to interview some of the key people in the Japanese craft beer world.

The highlights? Good beer and plenty of it. Good people, too!

First up in this series of short interviews about craft beer and where it may be going in Japan is Ry Beville, a magazine publisher (The Japan Beer Times and ko-e) and craft beer insider who has a penchant for pairing good beer and good music.

The video is a glimpse into what’s brewing in Japan and where things need to go from here.

If you’re interested in that t-shirt that Ry is wearing, then click here.

Watch Part II of the video here.