A Japanese Brewing Rock Star – The Toshi Ishii Profile…

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From Asia to North America and Europe, Japanese brewer Toshi Ishii is quietly spreading the message of craft beer across the globe. When I reach Ishii, the Chief Operating Officer and Brewmaster for the YoHo Brewing Company brewer, he is in London enjoying his third appearance at the Great British Beer Festival and preparing another round of his Tokyo Porter at the JDWetherspoon Group brewery. An unlikely brewer, Ishii stumbled upon an opportunity to learn the trade after emailing Greg Koch and Steve Wagner at the Stone Brewing Company in San Diego. Ishii, whose last name means ‘stone’ in Japanese, was the brewery’s intern and then third employee from 1997 to 2001.

After returning to his native Japan, Ishii helped start Yo-Ho Brewing and crafted its flagship Yona Yona Pale Ale, a hoppy, West Coast style India pale ale. While emblazoned with the figure of a classic Kabuki actor on its label, the Yona Yona was a radical departure from traditional Japanese beers when it appeared on the beer scene. While in San Diego, Ishii also encountered an unusual beverage that at first both shocked and attracted him. While attending one of Pizza Port’s early Real Ale Festivals, Ishii was intrigued by the beer’s weird flavors and aromas. The more Ishii learned more about cask ale, the more he grew to love it. Ishii founded the Tokyo Real Ale Festival, which just celebrated its sixth incarnation with more than 800 attendees. In contrast to other global beer markets, cask ale, with its depleted carbonation levels, is actually marketed towards women in Japan.

Ishii has also served as a pioneer and spokesperson for Japanese beer. At home, he helps educate other Japanese brewers about global beer styles and presentation methods. Ishii is also an inveterate traveler, bitten long ago by beer wanderlust. He spends several months every year traveling the world to learn and to promote his local beer and often picks up samples to bring back for his brewing staff to try. “Traveling the world is my fate and I like to show to beer people in the world how many good craft beers exist here in Japan,? Ishii says. Of his brewing philosophy, Ishii says “simple is best.? Despite this axiom, Ishii’s beers are anything but pedestrian. His barleywine, abbey ale, and biere de garde are solid and interesting versions of classic styles and stand out from many of the German style beers available in Japan. This unlikely brewer is an international brewing pioneer whose career we look forward to following in the future.

–Article appeared in Volume II, Issue VIII of BeerAdvocate Magazine.

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