Hands On Kyoto is about introducing local Kyoto businesses and people who have a passion for doing unique things in Kyoto and wanting to share it with visitors. It’s in this vein that we introduce an up and coming craft brewery, Kyoto Brewing Co. Its owners not only have a passion for brewing craft beer, but intend to uphold the long-held traditions of craftsmanship, Kyoto has become renowned for.
A New Type of Craft: Kyoto Brewing Co.
At first thought, you’re probably asking yourself how can making beer even be mentioned in the same sentence along with traditional arts of kimono, lacquer, and pottery? The kind of arts usually associated with Kyoto-“The Cultural Capital of Japan?” Well, the answer lies in a methodical hands-on-approach to making “good” craft beer. Enter three gentlemen who originally hail from the West, but now make Kyoto their base of operations.
Chris Hainge-Head Brewer, Paul Speed-CEO, and Ben Falck-marketing/promotion established Kyoto Brewing Co. in April 2015. They met each other in Aomori Prefecture during their time on the JET (Japanese Exchange Teaching) Program in 2004 when they were just getting a feel for Japan, acting as cultural liaisons between the local board of education and English teachers working in public schools around Aomori Prefecture.
It appears Chris always had the itch for brewing, stretching back to his college days and possibly even further. Paul on the other hand, had little knowledge of craft beer. It was Chris who introduced Paul to the world of craft beer. Like brewing, timing is also critical in life. With Paul fresh off finishing his MBA and Chris looking to pursue his dream of opening up a brewery, the timing was right. The two reunited and decided to open up their own brewery!
No question, experimentation with your own stuff is a vital part of becoming a good brewer. However, to bring it to the next level, Chris entered the American Brewers Guild Craft Brewing Apprenticeship program in America. Then he returned to Japan and worked at Shiga Kogen Beer in Nagano Prefecture. Upon finishing the course in the U.S., Paul joined him and they did a brewery tour of the West Coast, studying different brews and getting an idea of the kind of craft beers they wanted to brew.
It’s important to mention at this juncture, the craft beer scene isn’t as popular in Japan, as say in the states. The scene in Japan is still small, leaving lots of room for growth and a public with little to no idea of what makes “good” craft beer and how it differs from the average or low quality stuff. This is the space Kyoto Brewing Co. hopes to fill and start educating the Japanese public on what “good” craft beer is all about.
Why establish Kyoto Brewing Co. in Kyoto?
Speaking with Paul, he mentioned a few reasons. One of them the fact Kyoto belies its size in the sense it’s a unique cultural hub, blending traditional and modern aspects of Japan, attracting people from around the world. Another reason was the warm reception the three guys received from local Kyoto businesses and other notable figures. Tokyo and its environs might have seemed a more logical choice, but upon further investigation, the local support of Kyoto and the long-held traditions of craftsmen before them, provided inspiration and the all important environment to get the brewing started. One crucial example of the kind of support came in the form of a contractor they worked with in the first stages of setting up the brewery.
Upon recalling the situation, a stricken look comes across Paul’s face, as he traces his thoughts back to that critical moment. Paul goes on to describe the nail-biting situation. “Our brewing equipment was stuck in an American port for a few months due to some uncontrollable strike. Nonetheless, with costs adding up and no beer being brewed for the first few months, it made for more than a few sleepless nights.” Luckily, the aforementioned contractor stepped in and gave them a break on the money they owed. They reworked the contract, allowing the guys enough time for the equipment to arrive and get down to brewing.
How do you decide what beer to make?
One thing I found interesting with Kyoto Brewing Co. is their approach to making craft beer. As entrepreneurs or craftsmen, one of the big questions is how to know what to produce? I asked Paul this question. His response was, “we just think about the kind of beers we’d like to drink after a long day of work.” Trusting your instincts is key to any successful business and in Kyoto Brewing Co.’s case it was no different. Before they started releasing their first batches, Paul recalls the hesitation they felt on whether to brew full batches of beer or not. “We didn’t know what kind of response there would be from the public to brew the types of beers we wanted to brew; however, we asked our friend, Luc Lafontaine, former head brewer at Dieu du Ciel, to come out and give a steady hand to help us out during the critical stage.” During that time Luc told them, “Just follow your instincts and produce full batches of the beers.” A risky all or nothing proposition, especially at a time when they hadn’t brewed any beer and yet costs were piling up.
Looking back, Luc would prove prophetic as Kyoto Brewing Co. overcame the initial adversity that tends to either make or break a burgeoning company. Ever since their beer is in such high demand that they are expanding their operations, barely keeping up with current demand at the moment.
Enough about the business stuff; get to the beer eh!
By no means am I a craft beer expert, but like many new converts, I do like to drink the craft beers. I had a few of their seasonal beers along with a Teiban or “year-round” beer. The one that stuck out in my mind was Ichii Senshin or “single-minded dedication.” A creative blending of Belgian yeast and American hops. Compared to West Coast hoppy beer, the Belgian yeast helped to temper it, leaving a soft finish. Here are some pics of the ones I tried.
Ichii Senshin (year-round)
Aki no kimagure (seasonal)
Yosano no Chosen (Special Addition)
You can find Kyoto Brewery Co. beers sold in Kyoto at the following places below. Better yet, visit their brewery and try a few pints in their new tasting room.
Address: 〒600-8481 京都府京都市下京区4条堀川東入柏屋町15
Address: 〒604-0836 京都府京都市中京区押小路東洞院西入ル船屋町400-1
Beer Komachi 075-746-6152
Address: 444 Hachikencho, Higashiyama-ku, Kyoto 605-0027, Kyoto Prefecture
Gastro Pub Tadg`s 075-213-0214
Address: 〒604-0923 京都府京都市 中京区上樵木町498
Address: 〒604-0925 京都府京都市中京区 上本能寺前町476 アシストビル B1F
Gion Maru Maru 075-541-0633
Address: 〒605-0073 Kyoto Prefecture, 京都市東山区Gionmachi Kitagawa, 627, 円山公園 内しだれ桜前