American versions of Against the Grain beer are already being sold in an Okinawa restaurant, which soon will be served by a second-floor brewery. | Courtesy of Against the Grain

Against the Grain Brewery is partnering with a Japanese entrepreneur to open a brewery in Okinawa. The endeavor is expected to be up and running by this fall.

Against the Grain Ishigaki, which is located in downtown Ishigaki on the island in the Okinawa prefecture, is already open as a restaurant, selling American-brewed Against the Grain beers and serving Japanese dishes that pair with the beers.

The beers, which will be brewed at the small brewery, will be based on the American beers but altered to better fit Japanese palates. Adam Watson, a partner in Against the Grain, said Japanese people tend to want clean, crisp beers — meaning that Citra Ass Down likely won’t be in play.

Packaged beers now being shipped there include Sho’nuff, a light-bodied Belgian table beer; A Beer, an extra pale ale; Coq de la Marche, a session saison; Bloody Show, a blood orange pilsner; Johann Paycheque, a bretted saison; and Herbie Samplecock, a French saison.

Against the Grain Ishigaki will start brewing this fall. | Courtesy of Against the Grain

When brewing begins, a dedicated beer unique to the Ishigaki brewery will be brewed as well.

The venture came about when Against the Grain representatives were in Tokyo at a trade convention. They were set up with business meetings, including interpreters, mostly as a learning exercise.

As it happened, a friend of the interpreter assigned to the AtG party was interested in brewing, so the interpreter set up a meeting with the entrepreneur, who owns land and runs a juice company.

Against the Grain was interested in the Japanese market anyway — which is part of why they attended the conference in the first place — so they provided the entrepreneur with samples, and together identified what beers would best suit a Japanese market.

The businessman, who speaks no English, owns property on the small, tourism-driven island, and ultimately an agreement was reached to build a second-floor brewery over a restaurant. The seven-hectoliter brewery will service the restaurant and island only.

Watson said the experience has been a learning one for all involved — especially for Against the Grain’s Jerry Gnagy, who is learning to read and speak Japanese in the process.

“It’s as alien a place as I’ve been,” Watson said. “People just like different things.”

AtG reps will train a local brewer for the Ishigaki brewery and will visit periodically to maintain quality control. The restaurant has been branded to fit the Against the Grain brand, right down to shirts and hats for sale in the restaurant.

Anyone familiar with opening a brewery in Kentucky can relate to the complications that can arise during that process. Watson said opening a brewery in another country, on a different continent, takes that complication up a notch or two.

“It’s just an entirely different system,” Watson said. “The Okinawa Quarantine Office is not something we’re used to dealing with.”

[dc_ad size="9"] [dc_ad size="10"]
Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies.Email Kevin at [email protected]