If Niwa-san is the brains of Outsider Brewing, then Mark is the brawn of it. A strange analogy to use but without either of the pair, Outsider Brewing would not exist in its current form. When BeerTengoku went to meet them, we first met Niwa-san, interview here, and Mark walked in confidently about twenty minutes later, sharing jokes with Niwa-san and injecting with funny stories about them both. The biggest compliment a brewer can get is being left alone and trusted with their work, something that Mark strongly pointed out numerous times during our two-hour chat together over some of Outsider Brewing’s beers.
Outsider Brewing had just passed the two year mark when we arrived and like many other small breweries, be they micro- or nano-, they face many of the same problems others did in the slow, and at times difficult, process in obtaining their license to produce beer. Mark had been living in Kofu for the best part of a decade and had owned a bar, The Vault, for the majority of that time (and still does to this day). Having dealt with numerous companies, such as Sapporo and Kirin who have both produced Guinness at times, Mark looked at the expanding craft beer market and tried to open his own brewery.
Mark sent out a few emails on the Japan Brewery Association to try and get some advice about brewing as he had “the faintest of knowledge”. The person who replied? Niwa-san. Under a veil of secrecy, emails were sent between the pair surreptitiously and ideas were put out as at the time Niwa-san was working for Iwate Kura. Mark remembered sitting in Popeye’s in Ryogoku talking to a friend about Niwa-san and being almost spy-like in the conversation until his friend had heard that Niwa-san was looking to move to a place in Kofu, Yamanashi. Outsider Brewing had just taken its first step in becoming a brewery.
Opening your own brewery in Japan is a lengthy process, and Mark was honest about the issues they faced. Kofu, Yamanashi is smack bang in the middle of the wine making area of Japan, though with Fujizakura Heights around the corner, craft beer is possible there. The biggest problem, though, was with banks and loans. Trying to leverage enough money to start a brewery, Mark went to the bank only with a precise cost analysis of everything that was needed. The loan was approved. Everyone was happy. Except the bank neglected to explain about the fees for the loan needed causing more delays and an immediate issue of cash flow problems.
Though the initial bad luck was hard work, picking up a full brewing set second hand meant changed their fortunes. The set up inside Outsider Brewing is compact but efficient. The setup consists of one brewing tank of approximately 200L and around ten fermentation tanks though the amount in storage does depend on the time of year. Some of this beer is distributed to some of Outsider Brewing’s customers across Kanto and have around 150 bars and restaurants that sell their beer though the majority of it goes towards Hops and Herbs upstairs. At the moment, Outsider Brewing don’t have any plans for bottling their beers as, like other breweries have seen, a three-month shelf life is not conducive to craft beer sales in Japan.
As mentioned in our interview with Niwa-san here, we’ll wait for you to go read it, go go! Ok, welcome back, Mark is very much hands-off in terms of beer making though his interest in beers lie elsewhere – Belgium. With that kind of interest in beer, Mark was able to explain to Niwa-san the kind of beers he would like and left the rest to Niwa-san. Outsider Brewing though specialises in using wild yeast. In the past, this would have meant open vats of tanks, allowing the wild yeast to settle although other adjuncts could enter, potentially spoiling the beer. Outsider Brewing uses wild yeast from the skins of persimmons, or kaki, in their beer thus allowing them to control what goes into their beer.
For those that attend the numerous beer festival across Japan, such as the Keyaki Hiroba, Japan Brewers’ Cup among others, Outsider Brewing are a common occurrence at them though Mark Major laments the current situation of the beer festivals. Talking over some beers at Hops and Herbs, Mark was more than eager to explain the benefits and drawbacks at attending these festivals. One of the biggest festivals in Japan, the Keyaki Hiroba Festival in Saitama is always a big draw for the breweries and regular readers of BeerTengoku will already know our thoughts about it.
While it is a great chance for smaller breweries to get their beers out there, Mark explained that it isn’t all smiles and happiness. Quite often, the breweries have to pay a proportion of their beer sales to the organisers as a fee for attending, so of course, the more beers you sell, the more money you make though the competition is fierce between all the breweries. Moroever, outdoor festivals, although at the mercy of the elements, tend to be better for drinking and thus breweries compared with indoor festivals, something we can fully agree with. At the last couple of indoor festivals we’ve been to, while fun, the atmosphere was far more subdued than outdoor events.
While we’ve been lucky enough to try some of Outsider Brewing’s beers, we would love to see them distributed more across Kanto, and of course Japan.