A Drink With Toshiyuki Kiuchi, Owner of Kiuchi Brewery
Kiuchi Brewery has had a long and prosperous history when it comes to brewing. First starting as a sake brewery in 1823, the now brother-run company started to brew its world-famous Hitachino Nest Beer (you may recognize the range from its cute owl logo) 20 years ago, and can now be found in over 15 countries. Soon, I’m delighted to say, Beijing will be added to that list, as distributed by Vandergeeten.
I still remember the first time I tried the Hitachino’s award-winning White Ale (a Belgian-style witbier) several years ago in Hong Kong. At that time, I was amazed by its refreshingly crisp body, which packed a plethora of complex flavors and spices, topped off by a creamy white head.
We were lucky enough to relive that experience at this year’s Hops International Beer Festival in Sanlitun as well as run into Youichi Kiuchi, vice president of Kiuchi Brewery, who was kind enough to help organize this interview with his brother, Toshiyuki Kiuchi, founder of the Hitachino Nest Beer.
When did you first start working in the beer industry?
The Japanese alcohol laws changed in 1994, allowing smaller breweries to brew beers (before that the market was dominant by a few giant breweries like Asahi, Sapporo, and Kirin), so we decided to start a microbrewery the following year. As you know, our business started out as Japanese sake brewery 200 years ago. Sake brewing usually takes place during the autumn-winter seasons, but beer was something we could do year-round.
What makes Hitachino Nest Beer special?
There are a few things. Firstly, history: we are the only beer brewery in Japan with such an extensive historical background. Secondly, being based in Japan, which is known for its unique culture, quality over quantity, and simplicity. Our beer always reflects such quality and values. And thirdly, our logo, the owl, which is eyecatching and adorable. We were really lucky to have this mascot created by a graphic designer who sadly passed away a few years ago. He was an experienced analogue graphic designer, and all his designs were hand drawn, creating logos with more meaning.
Over the last 20 years, what is your impression of the development of craft beer?
Our brewery has been growing together with the craft beer movement since it started in the United States. It has been an exciting 20 years and craft beers have indeed changed the beer market, once dominated by the mass-producers.
Do you have any plan to brew something different?
At the moment I’m focusing on our restaurant business in order to introduce Hitachino Nest as a food-oriented brand.
What do you predict will happen to the Chinese craft beer market?
China will be the biggest market for craft beer in Asia for sure. The middle class population in China is growing and we believe they will make up a major section of this market. We are excited to see how Chinese craft beer evolves.
Which is the favorite of your beers? What food would you pair it with?
I don’t have any particular favorite, as all of our beers are special to me. I would choose the White Ale if you ask for our “signature beer.” Over the years, we’ve been perfecting the recipe of our White Ale to match delicate Japanese cuisine. The beer goes great with sushi of course, and it will also go great with traditional Chinese cuisine.
What’s the plan for the future?
We are opening a taproom in Shanghai around the end of 2016. Here we will introduce quality Japanese-style craft beer into China to appease consumer demand.
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Photos courtesy of Kiuchi Brewery