My first post on the new selection of beer available at a couple places in Yokosuka was less informative and more rejoicing. I had gone to Blue in Green that night for an Anchor brew that BG usually carries. BG has the best selection in Yokosuka, but that’s really not saying much. With the new beers available, though, things are looking up for us down the tracks from Tokyo or Yokohama.
The question that came to me, after I sobered up a bit and got a little sleep, was, “is this a sign of craft beer expansion the way good beer began to expand in the States in the early 1990s?”
Was I looking too deep into a few good beers popping up in my aera, or is this the real thing? Time will tell if the selection stays in Yokosuka, but the reason I initially came to this idea so quickly and enthusiastically is that in the couple weeks leading up to the BG discovery I had two completely separate and unsolicited inquires into craft beer expansion into my beer wasteland.
The first was while talking beer with Koichi-san at Thrash Zone. While supping a pint of a Green Flash brew, he asked what I thought about opening up a second bar in Yokosuka. A few days later I was spending some time I Tokyo and needed a beer. Bulldog was the closest thing open that I hadn’t been at earlier in the day (Towers had a nice selection and was open at two when I originally got thirsty). As I was sitting at the bar drinking my pint and enjoying the fish and chips, the bar master struck up a conversation, which I always enjoy. We eventually got around to why I’d spent the last two plus years in Japan and couldn’t speak the language to save my life. For those who don’t know, it’s because I’m in the Navy and spend 80% of my time on the sea. On learning I live in Yokosuka he asked me the same thing Koichi asked about a craft beer bar down there. I gave him the same biased answer I gave to Koichi, too. I was pretty excited that people were inquiring into Yokosuka’s appetite for good beer and I decided it was time to actually give it some thought.
If you look at Yokosuka there are thousands of Americans and obviously even more Japanese. Many Americans are starting to like good beer, maybe not the 20-year-olds just starting out, but once they get a few years older tastes change and people start to have more discerning palate. A few of us are willing to make the train ride to Tokyo for a tasty pint but not many. If beer was more convenient and easily accessible, like in downtown Yokosuka, then more would be willing to stop in for a nice beer. The two biggest hurdles I see are the price and the ability to offer some American style meals to go along with the beer. I think people would be willing to spend more for a good beer if they can also get a good meal. Most of the people who would go for a nice pint don’t necessarily sit in a bar drinking pint after pint (though I would). I believe the set up of Bulldog would work best for Americans in Yokosuka. A nice restaurant with a long bar for us geeky enthusiasts.
My biggest concern remains the price of craft beer in Japan. Would non committed fans like me be willing to pay the high price of beer here? That isn’t something I can answer. I know most of my friends would not pay those prices. But that’s why the restaurant setup would be the best route because it will bring in the older, more mature drinkers. The young kids who just want to get drunk won’t frequent the joint, I’m sure, but that’s not the crowd that any owner would want, anyway.
In the end I believe it would work. It would take an owner who spoke English, was patient in letting the business grow, and brought in enough of the lower priced, still tasty craft beer. I doubt they’d sell much over 1000 yen a pint so that remains a concern. The quality must be there, though. Breweries like Baird, Iwate Kura, Isekadoya, and the west coast breweries would do well, I believe. Come to think of it, the west coast brews would sell mighty well. San Diego has a very large Navy presence and Sailors would recognize the beers they drank while stationed there. Another plus for Yokosuka.
Adding new bars to the Tokyo scene is fine and I would do my best to hit them up. But, for true beer expansion, craft beer needs to be brought to those outside Tokyo. Making a leap to a tiny rural town might be too big of an initial step, but an hour outside of Tokyo in a very urban environment would be a great way to open people up to the beer world.
I’d love to see it happen and believe it would work (with proper patience). Come on down to Yokosuka, I know I’ll pull up a stool and order a pint, or three.