About a year ago, Crucible Brewing began sending its beer to Japan through the distributor Beer Cats.
The connection is a profound one for Crucible head brewer and co-owner Dick Mergens. His wife, Miko, is from Utsunomiya, just north of Tokyo, and he is very familiar with Japan and Japanese culture.
In fact, Miko helped connect Crucible with Japan. One of her close friends is a respected chef in Japan and was once roommates with the owner of Beer Cats. She told him about Crucible’s beer and they invited the Everett brewery to send some of their beer over.
Since then, Crucible has been sending beer to Japan through Beer Cats distribution network. Because of that partnership, Mergens and Crucible operations manager Paul Maychrzak were recently invited to Tokyo to pour Crucible beer at the American Craft Beer Experience, an American-beer themed festival put on by the Brewers Association of America to promote exports.
It was Mergens’ sixth time in Japan — he visits his wife’s family and friends every other year — so I asked him a few questions about the trip and the American craft beer scene in Japan:
Where did your trip take you?
We didn’t really leave Tokyo prefecture, but we spent most of our times in Otsuka and Ikebukuro (two areas of Tokyo).
How was the festival?
So much fun. It was very, very busy and quite a bit different than most festivals in Washington. They also run things a lot differently: Breweries or distributors are allowed to sell half pints or pints of beer and the festival just takes a percentage of sales. Festival goers are generally more apt to want to speak to whoever is pouring the beer than at American fests, so it almost mixes in some of the taproom experience.
We were in very good company. But we were definitely among the smaller breweries represented. Heretic, Melvin, Sierra Nevada, Left Hand, The Virginia Beer Co. and a lot of other larger breweries were around. I even saw one booth that was pouring Crikey (IPA) from Reuben’s Brews, although (Reuben’s) didn’t have anyone pouring for them.
What is the beer scene like in Japan?
I would say it is about 10 years behind us, which puts them in a major craft beer explosion. There are a number of craft breweries opening and a much larger variety of styles available to consumers.
How is American-style beers perceived in Japan?
It is exciting for the Japanese beer drinkers. Considering that we have been consuming craft beer for a longer time, and have been more experimental over the years, it is exciting for them to be able to have a quality product that is different than what they normally have available.
What is Crucible’s footprint in Japan?
We are mostly in Tokyo and the surrounding areas. However, I believe we are on tap in a few places outside of Tokyo, like Yokohama. Since February, we’ve been sending about 10 to 15 barrels per month to Japan.
How do you market it over there there?
We don’t handle too much of the marketing, as our distributor takes care of most of it. While we were in Japan, however, Paul and I spent a lot of time on the subways getting around to the variety of places that stock our beer on a regular basis. It’s very important for the owners to be available and speak with clients. It shows them a lot of respect to take the time out of your schedule to just say hi.
Do you anticipate going back for more festivals?
The American craft beer experience is going to be held every November, so you can expect to see Crucible over there. Next year my wife and family are coming with me, and it will be perfect timing for my daughters who will be turning 3 and 7 to celebrate Shichi-Go-San (literally “seven-five-three”). It’s a traditional Japanese celebration that takes place on children’s third, fifth and seventh years.