Monday, 30 June 2008

Brewing in Japan's Long Tail

A friend sent in a story on microbrewing in Japan from Currents & Crossroads (no direct link) on microbrewing Japan.

The market for craft beer has grown rapidly in Japan in the thirteen years since it legalized microbrewing, and the country already boasts “craft brewers who can hold their own with the best that the United States and Europe have to offer.”

According to the New York Times, in Japanese microbrews “…you'll notice more subtlety in the flavors; while a beer may smell citrusy and hoppy, the bitter hops flavor fades after the first sip, and the sweet malt flavors step forward. You notice multiple flavors of caramel, fruit, ginger, and other spices, all playing off each other. Subtlety is the hallmark of the better Japanese microbrews.”

What is driving the sales? Like many other "long tail" products, the key is technology lowering search costs. From the Currents & Crossroads story:
While other microbrewing ventures have tried and failed to establish themselves in Japan in the past, today’s successful microbrewers are all online – and selling largely to an under-40 crowd. That's vital, IHT says, “because they're wired into the Internet and their I-mode phones, allowing growth in a way that wasn't possible 10 years ago.” Word-of-Taste, Too Social networking is boosting sales as well. "When you go to a beer festival, you see more and more young people," says Terasaki Akio, a co-owner of Ushi-Tora, a stylish bar specializing in Japanese craft brews in Tokyo. "When one person finds this thing they want, they want to share that. One person knowing this will bring in more people."
What does this imply for microbrewing in general? Are social networks, whether in the form of homebrew clubs and beer festivals that accompanied craft beer's beginnings in the U.S., or digital BeerAdvocates of today, a prerequisite for selling beer in the long tail?

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