American craft beer imports are on the rise in Japan, and a small Japanese craft beer brewery is taking advantage of shifting beer tastes by teaming up with an American brewmaster to expand their business.
Matsumoto Brewery Co Ltd, located a few hours west of Tokyo in the mountainous prefecture of Nagano, is a local favorite, with their beers being served at more than 30 locations in the prefecture. Yet something was missing from the equation: Actually brewing their own beer in their own facility. To change that, they built their own brewery this spring instead of making their four original beers offsite on a contracted facility.
The brewery, owned by Koichi Hayashi, who runs a few other bars in the area, also opened up a new tap room in Nagano’s Honmachi area in late April at the Shinmai Media Garden, a new shopping complex, in addition to their other tap room in Matsumoto. With a little help and lot of serendipity, the brewery was able to team up with Rob LoBreglio, a successful American craft beer master from Wisconsin, who is acting as a consultant.
“I am curious to work with them on really exploring where the Japanese taste buds are going,” LoBreglio said. “What I am going to push them to do is to try growing out as many styles as possible.”
LoBreglio is the brewmaster and co-owner of The Great Dane Pub and Brewing Company. The Great Dane originated in the capital city of Madison, Wis, and is the 9th largest brewpub group in the U.S., according to statistics by the U.S.-based Brewers Association.
But for Matsumoto Brewery, which was already established in 2016, why start their own brewery now?
“In every brewery’s development — specifically contract breweries — there comes a time you want the authenticity that comes with having your own brewery,” LoBreglio commented.
And according to Steve Parr, the export development program manager of the Brewers Association, conditions are ripe for Japan-U.S. craft beer collaborations.
“American craft brewer exports grew 2.6 percent [in volume to Japan] despite the largest beer manufacturers in Japan reporting a downward trend in sales,” Parr said in an email.
LoBreglio traveled to Japan in June to help set up the brewing process. The new brewing facility is a 15-barrel brewery, which is small-to-mid sized in the craft beer world.
The New York native had a few different connections with Japan before this. His brother lives here and his longtime friend Tetsuya Kiyosawa, who is also a consultant on the project, is the one who linked him up with Matsumoto Brewery. Kiyosawa, whose hometown is Matsumoto, met LoBreglio in Madison during university where he was studying English, but it is also the place “he fell in love with craft brew,” LoBreglio said.
Doing a bit of consultant work here and there since the 90s, LoBreglio has helped Matsumoto with brewery construction, equipment selection, marketing and training their brewer who traveled to Wisconsin for about two weeks this winter for practice with the equipment and to get a taste of the state’s beer culture.
“The real focus of him being here was to show him the exact type of brewing location in Matsumoto, which is the same as one of our locations [in Madison],” LoBreglio said.
From here, they plan to begin brewing their own beer, according to staff at the Honmachi-ten location. According to their website, Matsumoto Brewery hopes to make more unique beers from the materials found in the local Matsumoto area. They’ll also incorporate a Wisconsin favorite and original recipe for the The Great Dane’s most popular beer throughout the years, the “Stone of Scone Scotch Ale.”[…]