Now hear me out – this sounds like a strange one for me to be writing about but for good reason. I’m a big proponent of local beer and will try to support local breweries where I can. But that local brewery HAS to be making good craft beer for me to support it and for me to publicise the brewery to others.
There is a lot of great beer in Japan, and great local breweries that aren’t available across Japan. Despite Japan lagging behind other countries in terms of breweries – Japan has around 350 while the USA has 4,000 – there is a lot of bad beer out there – and we’re not talking about the macro breweries.
How did it get that way? Well in Japan, it’s a bit harder for a brewery to start up than in other countries. But even then, that doesn’t stop people from opening a small brewery of their own because “they like beer” or “they want to brew”. In Japan, the biggest difference between obtaining a licence here compared to other countries is that you must have “relevant experience” in the brewing industry. But with home-brewing being illegal – no matter what grey area exists you can not put it your Japanese experience of home-brewing on an application for a licence – it’s a lot harder to get a foot in the door. Or is it?
As long as the experience is pertinent to brewing, then it can go on the license. We’ve heard horror stories of applications being turned down, or people not having the right visa and thus not being actual brewers. But let’s say we’ve got past that point and we have a license to brew – does that mean the beer we can make is any good?
If we’ve been studying hard enough and understand what is involved, and thus know how to brew a beer, then yes, we should know how to make good beer. Perhaps not world class beer from the get go, or maybe not even great beer; however, we should know how to make a solid beer that people will try and recommend to others.
But that brewery down the road? Is it really any good? Just because it’s a local beer, it doesn’t mean that it is. That’s not to say they can’t get better but if you’re going to support them, then let them know – in a constructive manner. It would be amazing to have local craft breweries brewing some great beer that people could drink on site, or get to takeaway, but both sides of the industry need to be educated.
About ten years ago, this was one of my e-mail signatures. It was grommed from a book which changed my life, “The Great Beer Trek” by Stephen Morris (1984).
“Our spirits were soaring. Ever since the beginning of our trip there had
been a sense that the big national brewers were the bad guys and the
small brewers the good guys… Now, for the first time, I began to see the
need to segregate the people, the businesses, and the beers. Nice people
can make bad beer. Conversely, good beer can be made by bastards.”
It is no longer my e-mail signature, but it is still a value I maintain.