One of the questions we get asked most often is why we decided to start up a brewery in Kyoto. While we now have plenty of people working at Kyoto Brewing who are from the city, that wasn’t the case at the beginning. The Kyoto Brewing’s founders didn’t even come from the same country!
So why Kyoto?
There are many reasons why we felt that making a brewery in Kyoto made a lot of sense. There weren’t a lot of Kyoto breweries when we started, and certainly no one brewery dominated the city.
We sometimes get asked if it is the water. The basic water source is apparently core to the reason why so many sake breweries opened up in Fushimi area.
The honest truth is that our wish to start up a brewery in this city came simply from our wish to start up a brewery in this city. We all had a great fondness for the city, Ben as an exchange student 20 years ago, Paul as a repeat visitor, and Chris had been living here for a number of years by the time a conversation about starting up a brewery began to move forward. Kyoto was where we wanted to do it.
That’s not to say we didn’t research into whether it made sense from a business perspective or not. We would have been naive and irresponsible not to have done, especially given the huge startup cost, supported by many friends and relatives who put their faith in us.
While it is easy to say in hindsight that Kyoto was an obvious choice, there were many who thought otherwise when we started - not least the licensing authorities who refused to give us a beer license on the presumption that, as the fourth brewery in the city at the time, there wasn’t enough demand to sustain a beer brewery. And thus, we began with our happoshu license that we were limited to until we could prove that we had the ability to make and sell the volumes that we were required in order to get a beer license.
And maybe it was fair. When we began, we were only producing beer in kegs, and only 5-6 bars or restaurants had the correct refrigerated serving equipment needed to serve it properly. People have an image of Kyoto as a place of fine dining, but the image is of more traditional restaurants, and people associate the city more with tea and sake. So probably not the right place for the young, bold and brash craft beer scene to make its mark.
One shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, however, and Kyoto is just as much a city of international influence and fusion cuisine, with plenty of wine bars, a big coffee scene, and some of the best cocktail bars you’ll come across. We believed that it was just a matter of time with Kyoto, and so set about finding our place here.
Most Japanese, and most visitors to Japan have been to Kyoto. It’s a hugely popular destination with almost 90 million visitors each year. But what about it as a place to live? People come to Kyoto for its history, but that’s not the reason they stay. It’s a wonderful city for food, as well as of course being a rare place in Japan that makes some efforts to maintain traditional architecture, and the beauty contained within it. It’s also a city that can be enjoyed outside, whether the mountains that surround the city, or the rivers that flow through it.
And then there’s the people, to who we started as outsiders, but to who we are now hugely indebted to where we currently are. Ask many Japanese people about Kyoto, and there are plenty of stereotypes. Conservative? Cold? Disingenuous? What people visiting the city don’t get to see on a short visit is the value that the people of Kyoto place on long-term relationships, and supporting one another. The polite but distanced initial response associated with Kyoto people is more often than not because of the high value placed on relationships, and the fact that they simply don’t enter into them lightly. Whereas in some other communities it might be said that they are open and friendly, they can also be light and changeable. In Kyoto, they are often rock solid, and people will go far out of their way to help and support those in their community.
We were apprehensive of Kyoto and eager to avoid the pitfalls of upsetting the locals, and so we tried our best to engage with the local community in which we were setting up our brewery. We expected a barrage of questions, and maybe some complaints made, but were instead welcomed and encouraged. When we actually launched, we found that more and more people visiting our taproom were from the local area, if not Kyoto, but our local neighbourhood in Minami-ku, the ward south of Kyoto station.
We are always pleased whenever we see a good selection of our beer available in Kyoto, whether on shelves of department stores, liquor stores and supermarkets, or on tap at some of the great beer bars we have here. We would like to see more of that, and also wanted to make something that might make these customers and local consumers feel a little more special, and so have decided to create a number of limited one-off Kyoto-only releases to go out within this year, starting with one that we will release in a couple of weeks.
With them being local brews, we wanted to make them approachable while keeping them complex enough, and also particularly enjoyable in an outside environment. We have decided to make these using our Belgian house yeast, which finishes nice and dry while adding plenty of herb, spice and fruity notes. We want to keep these beers light, to keep them appealing to a wide variety of people including those new to craft beer, but also making them enjoyable, easy drinkers to enjoy at home or beer bar at the end of a long day, or outside when warm, whether by the Kamogawa, at the end of a hike on the Kyoto trail, or in the park during the peak of spring or autumn.
While customers across the country are just as important to us as ever, and we aren’t going to be putting any limitations or reducing what we are producing in other series, we hope that these Kyoto special releases will help to continue to broaden the local population’s awareness of craft beer, and help make Kyoto truly Japan’s craft beer centre.
We are hoping to get the first of these beers on sale soon, and we are hoping that we can slowly see it spread out a little further. If you live in Kyoto, hopefully you’ll see one or two more of these beers appearing on the shelf wherever you choose to shop locally for your beers. And if you’re visiting from outside, why not try a local brew, freshly made in the south of Kyoto?