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Haneda brewery goes local with its flavors

                                Brewmaster Fumiya Kitagawa holds a beer made in collaboration with local entities in Japan.
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Brewmaster Fumiya Kitagawa holds a beer made in collaboration with local entities in Japan.

TOKYO >> A restaurant near Haneda Airport is brewing up a buzz for its craft beers flavored with local specialties from across Japan.

Haneda Sky Brewing in Ota ward, Tokyo, has collaborated with municipalities and local organizations from 15 prefectures to create beers with unique tastes and aromas. It has a mission to brew beer using ingredients from all 47 prefectures.

The restaurant in the Haneda Innovation City complex next to the airport serves craft beer from its in-house brewery.

The idea to collaborate with different regions was born amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The restaurant opened in July 2020 to coincide with Innovation City’s opening. But it struggled to attract customers during Japan’s pandemic measures, which urged eateries to shorten business hours and to stop serving alcohol.

“Daily sales did not exceed 10,000 yen (about $64.25 currently) and we were at a loss,” recalled Sachiko Oya, president of the restaurant’s operator, Taiho Co.

Then Taiho’s business partner, The Johnan Shinkin Bank, introduced Oya to a winery in Iwaki, Fukushima prefecture, that was trying to find a use for its red wine pomace, the pulp left over after crushing grapes for wine. Johnan Shinkin is part of a nationwide network of credit unions that assists in business matchmaking.

After being encouraged to make a wine beer, Haneda Sky used the pomace to make its Budo no Sora Ale (Grape Sky Ale), and following some publicity, the brewery began receiving inquiries from municipalities and local groups across Japan.

A series of collaborations transformed into a larger project, and subsequent beers have become so popular they sell out within a week or two of each new release.

“The project created an opportunity for regional municipalities to promote their specialties from Tokyo,” said Kyoji Kawamoto, chairman of Johnan Shinkin. “We didn’t expect collaborative beers to become so big.”

Flavors from across Japan

Each collaboration produces about 500 bottles of beer.

Pitches center on ingredients such as wild grapes from Nishikawa, Yamagata prefecture, and raspberries from Yamatsuri, Fukushima prefecture. More challenging products for pairing include garlic from Fukushima College, wasabi from Kashiwazaki, Niigata prefecture, and field mustard from Tateyama, Chiba prefecture.

For its March collaboration, Haneda Sky teamed up with Ureshino city to use Ureshino green tea.

At first, brewmaster Fumiya Kitagawa wasn’t sure how the tea’s antibacterial properties would affect the beer’s yeast.

Kitagawa experimented in a small pot, adjusting the temperature and timing for adding tea leaves and powder to prevent a bitter taste from developing during the brewing process. He eventually succeeded in producing a beer that highlights the tea’s sweetness and umami.

“As a brewer, some proposed ingredients are very challenging,” Kitagawa said. “But it’s thrilling whenever I open a door never opened before and produce something more delicious than expected.”

Ureshino Mayor Daisuke Murakami agreed. “I was so impressed because it tasted exactly like Ureshino tea,” he said.

Donating to quake victims

Another beer recently in the works was a Hokuriku Oen Ale made from red snow crab caught in Toyama Bay. The beer benefits the Hokuriku region, hit by the Jan. 1 Noto Peninsula earthquake. It was slated to be unveiled at a Hokuriku benefit event at Haneda Innovation City on May 25 and 26, where businesses from the area sold their specialties.

Hokuriku Oen Ale is 880 yen a bottle, with 100 yen donated to support the disaster-stricken area.

Including those still in the preparation stage, the brewery’s collaborative beers now number 28. Oya said the company aims to “conquer” all 47 prefectures through its beers.

“We want to take advantage of the location of Haneda and promote various local specialties through beers, to people in and outside Japan,” she said.

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