Beer Festivals

by Sakamoto Flash

Japan is on the cusp of a craft beer revolution. Japanese media likes to use the word “boom,” but this will not be a mere boom. Think supernova. Everything will be changed.

Many talk of a craft beer boom in the late 1990s, when the laws changed to allow brewing on a much smaller scale than previously possible. Many sake brewers rushed to apply for licenses while new breweries popped up in rural areas as part of a plan to stimulate tourism. Often, brewers from overseas were hired to set up operations and train the staff. But anyone who knows anything about craft beer knows that brewing a high quality beer can take years to master, not a two-month crash course. This period in the late 90s was in fact that—a boom, a short-live burst of activity that briefly faded, leaving in its wake some bankrupt breweries and a lot of sub-par craft brew that gave a bad reputation to the industry as a whole.

Still, devoted (or lucky) breweries fought on, clawing their way up through heavy taxes, unfair distribution channels and lack of recognition. Recognition has come in time. Some of the breweries, like Swanlake and Isekadoya, for example, won medals at the World Beer Cup early on. Other breweries, most notably Baird Brewing in Shizuoka, have brought further world prestige. Today, there are well over 200 craft breweries in Japan, though many of them still make sub-par brews.

There are many signs pointing to an impending revolution. Numerous groups want to start a brewery but can’t get equipment in Japan—it’s all been bought up and they are looking to China now to import it. A new craft beer bar opens in some Japanese city every month, and the rate is increasing. More telling is the dramatic increase in regional craft beer festivals.

Ichinoseki has been running a festival for 13 years. The Real Ale Festival in Tokyo had its 8th gathering this year. Perhaps most famously, the Great Japan Beer Festival is held three times a year, in Tokyo, Osaka and Yokohama, and is run by the Japan Craft Beer Association (JCBA). Now, other breweries and retailers are organizing alternative events across Japan. While sure to compete with JCBA’s events, these festivals also look poised to introduce craft beer to new markets. The organizers may even push craft beer mainstream.

By the end of this year, we will have seen large-scale events by other organizations in Tokyo, Yokohama, Kyoto, Osaka, Toyama, Tochigi, Hiroshima and Fukuoka. Yokohama Brewery is even boldly holding an event the same week as JCBA’s Yokohama beer festival! One outcome of all of these many events is that more people will be drinking, and that’s good. Perhaps the biggest hurdle for craft beer in Japan is that people just don’t know enough about it. That will change soon.

For more info on craft beer in Japan, visit:








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