It’s starting to happen. Go to your local craft beer bar or restaurant and look at the menu. Does it look familiar? How about the place you went to last week or the week before? Are any of the choices the same to what you had before? Didn’t you have that same beer you’re drinking now as you read this last week at that same generic craft beer bar?
Don’t worry – we’re as guilty as the next person when it comes to beers. Who doesn’t like a nice crisp pale ale or a stout for those relaxing evenings? With IPAs fast becoming better and more consistent in Japan, there are some very good ones out there. But when was the last time you tried something different from a different brewery?
If you believe the news, Japan is in the midst of a second craft beer boom, except this time around it’s around bars and not breweries. While Japan’s beer laws were relaxed in 1996 to reduce the amount of beer needed to obtain the relevant licenses, the cost of setting up a brewery is still beyond the reach of many unless you have some serious backing, for example, Sakazuki Brewing in Kita-Senju was Japan’s first crowd-sourced brewery, Baird’s Shuzenji Brewery had some serious investment, and Devilcraft in Tokyo also had investors behind it. What better way for a bar owner to get one step into the craft beer scene by opening a bar?
Bars start out with good intentions. Get some craft beer in and encourage people to try something new – move away from the generic pilsner in the convini to something with a bit more bitterness in a pale ale, or a bit sweeter with a weizen. Once the customers are hooked, then they start to branch out perhaps so the owner needs some stouts or IPAs – maybe even some stronger beers such as imperial porters or double IPAs?
But those extra beers come at a cost. With breweries having to pay 220yen on every litre of beer they either bottle or keg, costs have to be paid. A 25kg bag of malt can cost anywhere between 3000 to 6000 depending on the size of the order and the type of malt ordered. Pale malts tend to be the cheapest with specialty malts costing more. The breweries of course have to break even so what happens? Well the larger breweries can sell the beer cheaper than the smaller craft beer breweries so where do the bars tend to buy from?
In 2015 about twenty new breweries in Japan have opened up though many of them have slipped underneath the craft beer radar. In 2016 alone, a new brewery opens up almost every fortnight – some brewpubs such as Sakatsuki Brewing, YYG Brewery in Shinjuku, and Kawaguchi Brewery in Saitama and other breweries such as Voyager Brewing as well. How many of these have you seen at your local bar though? Of course, ordering a new keg from a new brewery is a risk, but isn’t that half the fun of trying a new craft beer?
It’s a small gripe to had but next time in your in a craft beer bar, try drinking something from a smaller brewery or somewhere you’ve not tried before. Spread the craft beer love by asking the owner if they have something from a different brewery, perhaps somewhere smaller or something off the beaten track. Who knows? You might find a new beer or brewery that you like and that extra order of a keg from a brewery to a new bar may encourage the head brewer to try something new.