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Oregon Beer: Big in Japan

Japanese and American craft brewers make drinking an adventure across the Pacific



Thanks to its coastal proximity, the beer produced by Oregon's breweries has fans in remarkably faraway places—even in Japan, which is currently experiencing a small but growing beer boom of its own.

"Craft beer fans are pretty unique people," says Keiji Nishio, owner of the Dig Beer Bar in the freewheeling Japanese city of Osaka. "In Japan, people who prefer hard liquor almost never drink it more than a mile or so from where they live or work, but with beer, we get people from all over the city, all over the country. On weekends we get people who take the trip from Tokyo [three hours by bullet train] just to stop by and sample the local beer scene."

Japan's beer market is still dominated by Sapporo and other light lagers but, just like in America, things are changing rapidly. Over 200 craft beer (ji-biiru) producers exist, and several of the larger brands (Hitachino Nest, Baird, Minoh Beer) are available regionally in the United States. The big cities are livid with ji-biiru bars, offering a vast variety of weizens, IPAs and stouts from Japan, the US, and Australia. (Bottle distribution is also surprisingly robust—Cantillon sour beers from Belgium are available for around $12 a pop.)

Oregon beer makes regular appearances in these bars. Rogue, Breakside, and Caldera are all regularly imported, with Japanese drinkers praising Breakside's IPA and demonstrating bemused befuddlement with Rogue's Voodoo Doughnut Bacon Maple Ale ("it tasted like candy beer," one Dig Beer Bar patron said). Deschutes has no official distribution in Japan, but kegs of Mirror Pond and the like occasionally make it over from Australia on a grey-market basis.

Nishio, fresh off a trip to San Diego for its beer week in November, is a big fan. "Fresh Squeezed IPA is, I think, the culmination of what western U.S. brewers can achieve," he said. "It offers a challenge to Japan's craft-beer makers in a really positive way."

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