Fukuoka Craft opened in July of 2017 and has since been serving the public with an impressive lineup of international, domestic, and house-made craft brews. Michigan native David Victor, a beer fanatic and brewer, has been the driving force behind the extensive beer menu. We took a moment to find out his story and pick his brain on craft beer in Japan.
Ok, tell us a little about yourself. How’d you end up brewing beer in Japan?
I came here for one year as an exchange student at Kyushu University. I just came for fun and never thought I would stay longer than a year. But I enjoyed my time here, so after I graduated college, I came back as a JET in Oita Prefecture. After four years, I returned to Fukuoka in 2007. I was a technical translator for a long time but wasn’t entirely satisfied with it. There wasn’t much feedback on it, and I knew I wanted to do something more creative and interactive with people. I had learned to love beer after tasting a proper beer in Japan and wanted to open a brewery in Fukuoka since there weren’t any small breweries at the time. The local community was supportive of my efforts, and eventually, I met Sugiyama-san, a local business owner. He was also interested in craft beer and was looking for a brewer, so we met and talked and decided to work together.
How do you feel about living in Fukuoka?
As you know, it’s a very nice place to live. I’ve worked in various areas around Japan and visited others but of all the places I’ve been to Fukuoka has it all. The summers are a little brutal, helps me lose weight, I guess. But the people are friendly, the city isn’t too big, and it’s navigable. I like hiking and going to the mountains and stuff, my wife likes camping with me. So, Fukuoka is a good place for me. And in terms of beer, there are lots of tourists coming here, so it’s a good market for craft beer.
What’s your take on Japan craft beer?
The craft beer scene in Japan overall is in a great place right now. New breweries are opening. Beer is coming in from outside like America, Europe, and other countries, people are becoming more aware of what the actual scene of craft beer is right now. As you know, beer in Japan is either a lager or other easy-drinking beers. As I’ve seen in other things when trends appear in the food world, they take a little longer to get here, so we are starting to see the latest trends in craft beer starting to come to Japan. I would say Japan is catching up with the rest of the world in terms of craft beer.
How did you get involved in craft beer brewing? Any formal training?
I did a bit of homebrewing back in the US. But in terms of formal training, I’ve spent a week in Tokyo at a brewery called Devil Craft, which is run by some Americans. They helped me a lot to figure out the production side of things. I’ve also done a training course at Outsider Brewing, which was a structured professional course. Niwa-san showed me a few things there. He helped me out; all brewers in Japan know who this guy is.
What are you brewing now?
Typically I like what I call American style beers. They are more aggressively flavored with lots of hops. These kinds of beers aren’t very popular yet in Kyushu. In terms of the craft beer scene in Fukuoka, I’m trying to introduce more people to an American style of craft beer, which is heavily hopped in different variations. I have a hazy IPA on tap that is very hoppy. It’s soaked in hops so much that it tastes like juice in a way, there are so many flavors going on in there. I think that style of beer is accessible to more people because it has enough beery taste for beer lovers but enough interesting flavors for non-beer drinkers to enjoy.
Anything you’ve been experimenting with?
We have two regular beers, a pale ale, and a hazy IPA. Then we have a one-off between those. My first was an IPA. The second one-off was a Coffee Stout that was a collaboration with Manu Coffee. We tried a variety of blended beans that they had prepared, and it matched well. I soaked them in stout for a couple of days, and it worked well. People are still asking for it, and we will make it again this winter, maybe with an Ethiopian bean this time to get more berry flavors. After that, I did a session red ale, which is a low alcohol beer. I pushed the roasted malts and hopping in that one to get some good flavor, and it turned out well. I also made a black IPA that turned out a bit too…. interesting. I liked it, but it wasn’t that popular. My next brew, we will collaborate with Be Easy Brewing from Aomori. It will be a bit different. It’s going to be a saison with a Mexican food flavor profile. I’m looking forward to it.
What would you say are the things you are most proud of?
I can say with confidence that I use more hops per batch than anyone else in Kyushu. I think this distinguishes me apart from other brewers. Also, we are the first brewpub situated in Daimyo, which is a trendsetting district. And it goes without saying that I’m proud of the beer I make. I think it can stand up to any beer being made in Japan right now.
How do you get feedback?
I’m pretty busy while I’m at work, but I usually have a beer or two after work. Talking with customers gives me good feedback to what I’m doing. Also, looking around the bar, I can tell what beers are being drunk. If I see any that are left unfinished, that’s a good source of feedback. There’s also online feedback from a website called Untappd, but like any other social media, you have to take that with a grain of salt.
Our long term goal is to open a bigger production brewery where we can make more beer and can and bottle it. Right now, we have limited space, so it doesn’t make sense to scratch out a little beer here when we can reinvest in larger production space.
Thoughts on the pairing of a Mexican food menu and a brewpub?
I think it’s great. Mexican food in Japan is experiencing a bit of an awakening in a way. A lot of the food here is made fresh and authentically Mexican. I think that reflects craft beer. We don’t buy a jar of guacamole from Costco, and we make it from scratch. And that’s what craft beer is—making something out of raw ingredients without resorting to artificial nonsense. And it isn’t mass-marketed, it’s local. So I think that goes well with Mexican food. They are both outliers in Japan, so I think the uniqueness pairs well.
If you want to meet David, he can be found drinking after work and would love to talk to you about all things beer.
• 1F, 1-11-4 Daimyo, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka
• Open: 17:00~2:00, Sat., Sun. & hol.: 15:00~2:00
• Closed: Never
Interview by Ben Rosenberg for Fukuoka Now (Oct., 2019)