In the Behind The Beer series, we look at the roles that often go unseen in beer making. In the past series, we focussed on the raw ingredients, with malt, hops, and yeast all being looked at. Without one of those, and of course water, then we wouldn’t have the drink that we all love to drink. However, how can we get beer from the brewery into our hands – be it from a bar, or a shop?
For this entry, we’re talking about the process of setting up a bar, but not a bar itself – actual the connections between the kegs and taps, and all the nitty gritty that is in there – the beer lines. While most people think of working in the bar as a fun and enjoyable experience, if you’ve have ever worked in a bar, then you will know that keeping the beer lines flowing and clean is another job altogether and one that often goes unseen until a complaint about an off beer. It’s also imperative that the gas flow is setup properly – too much gas and the beer comes shooting out and nigh on impossible to pour. Not enough gas and then you have beer that comes out flat, and that’s if it can get to the tap.
If you’re on Instagram and you’ve been searching around for bars, like we do, you may have come across beermackey and their interesting page that showcases various beer taps at bars across Japan.
At first, I thought this person was a bar enthusiast and was showing people about various systems; however, it turns out that they are actually in the business of going around to new bars and installing the tap lines, from keg to customer at craft beer bars.
The person behind this account, Makidara-san, is a 15 year veteran of installation of tap lines though his connection with the industry has been much longer. Since joining Hoshizaki Tokyo, a major supplier of fridges and freezers to the restaruant and and industry, Makidara-san found experience in setting up the equipment for some of the big bars and restaurant chains across Japan.
It was only in 2007, with the constuction of Beer Cafe Gambrinus in Kokubunji that he came across the craft beer bar industry, and in turn began to carve out his niche in the market.
With his expertise growing, it was in 2011 that Makidara-san made the move from the installation of beer servers from the major companies, into the smaller craft beer bar market. Since then, Makiadara-san has installed beer servers at:
- Yona Yona Beer Works (all stores)
- Royal Scotsman (Kagurazaka)
- Server Land (Kagurazaka / Akasaka)
- Himalayan table (Kanda)
- Brasserie Beer Blvd. (Shimbashi)
- Amontillado (Kochi)
- and many more.
So without much further ado, let’s allow Makidara-san to answer some questions himself.
Since you entered the craft beer industry, how would you say it has changed in terms of bars and what they have on offer?
In 2007, there were only a few craft beer specialty stores opening yearly, and there were very few Japanese local beer stores. At that time, it was mainly Belgian beer stores and German restaurants.
Nowadays, there is an annual demand for installation at around 100 bars across Japan. Rather than being a specialty store, there are an increasing number of requests from stores other than those specialising in craft beer, such as cafes and yakitori restaurants.
On Instagram, you post a lot of pictures of lines and taps at the bars you do installations at, but you don’t give a name or location. Is there any reason for this?
What I post on Instagram is a collection of only personal installation cases that I have dealt with. With so many bars opening, I do not work on every installation.
This is more of a catalog that can be seen at the time of business negotiations with customers though we do use Facebook as the centre of SNS.
How much training do bar owners have on tap lines considering that if they’re opening a new bar, they may not have had any experience?
With regards to trading, I will give them an explanation now how to use the lines, such as changing kegs, altering the gas levels, if necessary.
However most bar staff tend to be familiar with the basics of the system as they have worked in bars before. In that case, I will observe them and pay attention to see how they are doing rather than lecturing them.
Seeing as you have personally worked at many bars, what do you think are some of the problems that you’ve had when it has come to installing beer lines?
The installation process is the same for every bar. From the time of business negotiations to the day before the installation, I have the image of installation many times in my head.
This includes points such as where the packaging is emptied, the height of the tap, the size between the taps, the position of the regulator, the piping method, etc.
Until now, there have been no major problems although small problems always occur. (Laughs)
Finally, what are your thoughts on the future of Japanese craft beer?
In Japan, for a long time, the major beer makers has been the main focus of bars and customers. However, the main focus was on which service was better rather than thinking about the taste of the beer.
Craft beer creates diversity by purchasing and making beer that meets the needs of our customers. There are tastes, aromas, and stories that are not found in conventional major beers. The taste and the way of drinking of the next generation of drinkers (customers) are different from those of “parents”.
I think that the number of people who have a strong “love” for beer will continue to increase and develop the craft beer industry.
The key points are a bar where you can always drink good beer. A bar where you always have good food. A bar where you can gather information (both beer information and hobby information)
Bars where you can drink without thinking about difficult things I think that there is still demand as the number of shops like this increases.
So next time you are out and about at a bar, there is chance that you’re seeing some of Makidara-san’s artistry at work and are drinking from some of the lines he setup. So raise your glass and say cheers to the people who connect the kegs to the taps and allow you to get some beers in your glasses.