There’s a serious craft beer movement taking place in Japan and America is very much a part of it. Beers plucked from the U.S.—from California to New York—are making their way to the country’s rising number of craft beer bars and restaurants, and those beers are serving as serious inspiration for Japan’s rising number of brewers.
“No craft brewer in Japan doesn’t know about what American craft brewers are doing,” says Hiromi Uetake, the head brewer for Coedo, one of Japan’s larger craft brewing companies. “Anyone who is into craft beer in Japan is also drinking American craft beer and American brewers are considered to be like gods here.”
Uetake recalls a night spent tossing and turning before meeting Ballast Point Brewing & Spirits Director of Research and Development and Specialty Brewer Colby Chandler in 2012. Chandler traveled to the Land of the Rising Sun to brew a collaboration beer at Coedo. Uetake was so nervous about his date with a deity that he didn’t feel comfortable contributing much to the recipe. But once they pulled their boots on and got down to business, the star factor fell away and a fast friendship was formed.
Later in the year, Uetake and Coedo President Shigeharu Asagiri flew to San Diego to brew an alternate version of the collaboration beer at Ballast Point. While here, they toured beery spots and were blown away by the everyday nature of craft beer. “It was amazing,” said Asagiri. “People love craft beer everywhere in San Diego.”
Echoed Uetake, “In Japan, craft beer is still a special occasion, pricey thing. Not that many drink it, but in San Diego’s it’s like an everyday necessity.”
Uetake and Asagiri are already anticipating a return to San Diego next year. This time, they will be the guests of Coronado Brewing Company (CBC) and on a mission to complete another collaboration effort. Last month, CBC Director of Brewery Operations Shawn DeWitt and Brewery Production Manager Pete Falletta crossed the Pacific to brew at Coedo. This time, armed with the knowledge that a brewer is a brewer the world over, as well as the confidence that his inventiveness is right on par with San Diego’s craftsmen, Uetake threw himself and his ideas more freely into the recipe development process.
The Coedo head man went back and forth in a string of emails with the CBC brew crew. Originally, they were going to brew an India pale ale using Japanese hops or an American-style hoppy pale ale. Sorachi Ace was discussed, but most of that hop variety is actually brewed in the U.S. and most of the other hops they discussed were on contract to American brewing companies. In the end, the dark American strong ale they decided on sounds much more interesting thanks to a slew of ingredients native to Japan.
Kinako, roasted soy that’s finely ground into a flour with a consistency similar to that of confectioner’s sugar, was added. Extra sugar was needed to bump up the alcohol-by-volume, so Uetake suggested black sugar cane from Okinawa. The latter is syrupy, similar to molasses in flavor and often used as a sweet accoutrement for rice-based desserts in Japan. And Sorachi Ace hops did make it in the end, literally. The beer will be dry-hopped with that varietal in order to impart lemony, minty aromas.
The beer will also be barrel-aged in bourbon whiskey barrels procured from Japan’s Ichiro Malt. But that’s not where the artisanal inventiveness will end. Once the beer is removed from the barrels, the oak storage receptacles will be returned to Ichiro Malt and used to age whiskey. This is one of, if not the first instance of two companies sharing barrels in this manner (though, locally, Ballast Point aged its Victory At Sea imperial porter in their liquor barrels before refilling the used barrels with a spirit that will receive added character and complexity from the beer soaked into the oak).
6,000 liters of the beer (just over 50 barrels by U.S. measurements) are being produced, and it is scheduled to make its debut as a draft-only offering throughout Japan this December. A small number of kegs will also make it to America and be made available at CBC’s Tecolote Canyon tasting room and Coronado brewpub. Once on the beer board, it will bear a name thought up by Falletta—Coedonado. And when the Coedo crew comes to San Diego, they will brew a similar beer and call it Coroedo.
For Uetake, there is more to his U.S. collaborations than getting to meet his brewing heroes from the States. Producing interesting beers like the kinako and black sugar strong ale with American brewers helps to raise the visibility of craft beer—specifically, Japanese craft beer—in his country and abroad. He wants people to know what’s going on in his homeland and provide fans of good beer a taste of what Coedo and its contemporaries have to offer.
Soon, San Diegans will have the opportunity to sample Coedo beers for themselves. The company is in the final stages of signing a distribution contract that will bring their beers across the Pacific and into the hands of local drinkers. Expect a variety of well-made lagers including a pilsner, schwarzbier, imperial pale lager and an amber made using Japanese sweet potatoes. Until then, keep an eye peeled for Coedonado.
“The excitement in Japan’s craft beer scene is huge and these collaborations create a link for the country’s other brewing companies to band around,” said Andrew Balmuth, owner of Nagano Trading Company (the importer responsible for bringing in beers from Ballast Point, Green Flash, Stone, CBC and more) and the innovator behind the Coedo collaborations. “We’re building a bridge for U.S. craft beer to get to Japan and vice versa.”