Chuwy has a post at the moment about the closing of Japanese brewery Miyoshi Becken (tipped off by Rei).

I forwarded on the story to my gf who replied:

I thought all local beers were successful these days. But I also think that salaries have been reduced in Japan so people can’t buy expensive beers. It is sad.

It’s definitely true that the economy isn’t good these days, and a lot of Japanese have received salary cuts. But with the change in economy comes opportunity. Place like Ushi Tora, Popeye, and Cataratas still being packed despite premium prices shows that there remains a market out there.

People who buy craft beers have been used to paying a premium for a long time – I can’t see them dropping from craft beers to Asahi or “fake” beers. They would rather not eat. If anything, they may stop buying imported craft beers and switch to cheaper local varieties. That’s an opportunity for brewers to grasp – but I’m not sure they understand that.

Take Minoh for example. They have a bi-monthly beer delivery scheme that the gf and I wanted to sign up for, but we’ll possibly only be in Japan another 6 months or so. So we asked: “Can we sign up to the end of the year or sign up and cancel when we leave Japan?” The answer came back a resounding “No”.

Here is us wanting to buy their beer for the next six months, and perhaps longer if we don’t leave Japan, and they don’t want our custom. That’s a management problem, not an economy problem.

Rumour has it that Becken has (had) similar issues – their brewery is successful but it’s been supporting the less well performing parts of their business, such as their restaurant. I don’t know that for sure, so I don’t want this to be taking as “I know better than you, Miyoshi Becken” – but looking at their website and seeing that 3 bottles of 500ml costs 3000yen (six for 4500yen).. that’s very premium prices.

Right now I’m reading Beer School by the founders of the Brooklyn Brewery – it’s a fascinating read about the struggles and lessons they learnt when setting up Brookyn. It shows that to be a successful brewery, you can’t just have a good product – you have to think about distribution and the overall customer experience, and you have to continually reassess where the business is going and it’s mission statement before unsuccessful parts drag it down.

At the moment, I’m doing my bit to help where I can. Obviously my impact is low, but I’m trying. I’ve signed up to two monthly beer delivery schemes (and would have signed up to Minoh also); I buy a percentage of my homebrewing supplies from the local companies even though it’s more expensive than importing; I’m trying to promote the bars and beers I like to other beer lovers; and I’m actively trying to drink every bottle of craft beer in existence in Japan (as you might have noticed).

Apparently there is a rescue scheme in the for Becken. I’d love to play a more active part in a real brewery – even if it is just, as someone who used to work in marketing and who loves beer, helping to leverage the opportunities out there and reach more customers. I’m sure these guys work hard, but when you have people like Minoh turning down custom, it shows there is work that still needs done. I really hope Becken succeed.

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