If you could only give me one choice of a craft beer to drink in Japan, I would recommend the Rising Sun Pale Ale by Baird Brewing. In fact, you can find the best craft beers in Japan at the Baird Taproom in Harajuku which I wrote a review on or the Takadanobaba location. After visiting these locations on many occasions, I thought it’d be a wonderful idea to interview the owner of Baird Brewing, Bryan. I want to thank him for the time to do this interview with me and hope that you enjoy reading about it. Bryan's responses are in bold.
1. Where are you from?
I’m from the US – grow up in Oxford, OH (near Cincinnati).
2. What brought you to Japan?
Academic interest stoked in college through a course I took on modern Japanese history. Right after graduation I came to Osaka with the intention of teaching English for a year. During that year, I fell in love with Japan and the rest is history.
3. What interested you in craft beer and going to California to study about it?
I have loved beer since my college days when I was a rugby player. As I got older and the craft beer movement began to take root, my beer drinking migrated from industrial to craft (from whence one never goes back). Deregulation in Japan in the mid 1990s paved the way for the emergence of Japanese Ji-biiru. I knew I wanted to be a part of the industry from the beginning.
4. Your first store was opened in Numazu Fishmarket. I had to Google where it is. How was it opening your first location and why did you choose it? What were some of the challenges you faced when opening it?
My first job out of brewing school happened to be located in Numazu. My wife and I happened to like the area and decided to stay. With excellent water, low costs, beautiful scenery and proximity to Tokyo, Shizuoka prefecture is a great place to brew beer. It is a harder place to sell it, however.
The two biggest challenges in the beginning were (1) getting the brewing license and (2) getting local people interested in what we were doing.
5. What do you think makes your craft beer unique from others in Japan?
Our commitment to minimal processing. For example, we use only whole flower hops (no pellets or extracts); we don’t filter the beer and we rely on natural carbonation through secondary fermentation in package. Our beer is thus alive and evolving. We believe the more you process something the more character you knock out of it. We strive for maximum character in beer and we feel minimal processing is the way to achieve that.
6. If you were to recommend a personal favorite Baird beer to a customer which one would it be and why?
That’s like asking me which of my four daughters is my favorite. I am a voraciously broad beer drinker and my mood dictates my current beer choice.
7. Which cities in Japan do you plan to open more taprooms in?
In addition to Tokyo and Yokohama, Osaka and Kyoto would be high on the list of candidate cities.
8. What kind of advice would you give someone looking to open their own craft brewery?
Have deep surpluses of passion, patience, persistence and capital. Always put the beer first and the money second. Enjoy the journey!