Plans for 2021The future is calling, there is work to be done!
Back in January 2020, I wrote a blog post about plans for the upcoming year. The other day I was reading through the post and wrote a reflective review of progress made during the past year. This was a pretty satisfying process for me, so I figured that I would do the same for 2021 in the hopes that when I review progress at the end of the year, I’ll be even more satisfied.
The overarching goal for the year is similar to last year, progress towards becoming a brewer and preparation for applying for the Hidaka village kyouryokutai (協力隊) scheme with a view to moving to the village once we’ve wrapped up the house sale and other loose ends here.
During the past year, we’ve been evolving and re-prioritising plans for future projects in Japan should our application be successful and the focus from a career point of view will be in the realm of craft brewing, putting food-related plans on the backburner for future attention. With that in mind and reflecting on the progress made during 2020, the following are my plans & goals for 2021.
Brew more regularly
I managed 7 out of a planned 12 brews during 2020, and many lessons were learned during each brew. Following great advice from a new craft brewer contact in Japan, I will be focussing on brewing more frequently as I need to make the focus shift from learning to beer design. I am hoping to brew a new beer every 3-4 weeks. If I can crank out 15 beers this year, I’ll be delighted.
My final beer of 2020 is currently conditioning in its keg and is a Scottish export (80 shilling) style. I intend to brew a few more similar beers but each time adjusting the balance of grains, in order to further my understanding of the influence of different types of malts. I also want to introduce oats into the recipe because oats are fucking great in beer!
After my brief experiment with brown ales, I am intending on focussing single malt, single hop (SMaSH) brews during which I’ll use the same malt but change up the hops for each brew. I hope to really gain a greater understanding of both the different flavour contributions and bittering qualities of each distinct hop. There are a huge number of hops available so I’ll need to be selective as I aim to have completed this run of beers by around the middle of the year.
After these two experiments, I’ll move on to attempting to design the three beers that I have in mind for my main lines in my future brewery. I don’t expect to be able to master or finalise these designs this year but I hope to produce some tasty, if unpolished, beers of my own design during the second half of the year.
As my new friend explained, there will likely not be the opportunity to brew again in Japan once we move until I either find a job working at a brewery or I establish my own brewery as Japanese homebrewing laws are very restrictive.
Establish brewing network in Japan
In December last year, I wrote an 8 page letter to a brewer in Japan (Ken Mukai of Mukai Craft Brewing) in order to congratulate him on opening his brewery and to introduce myself as a hopeful future collaborator (and friend!). I was pretty nervous about this if truth be told, but the letter was well received and coincidentally a mutual friend had been talking to Ken about me the day before the letter arrived! In an email response, Ken provided me with some really useful information and advice and key amongst these was the suggestion to reach out to other brewers as well and tell them my story and plans. So, I will!
This is going to be a challenge as I’ll need to really un-rust my Japanese in order to contact the majority of brewers, there are some other non-natives who I’ll be able to more easily communicate with but I need to improve my Japanese anyway and this is a great opportunity to do so!
In addition, there is a new resident of Hidaka village who joined under the same kyouryokutai scheme as I intend to apply to, his business plan is also to create a craft brewery in our small town. Far from considering this as a potential threat to our own plans, I hope to engage with our future neighbour and help in any way that I can to collaborate with and ensure the success of his brewery.
Reaching out to strangers like this is pretty daunting for me but it’s one of the few steps we can take whilst not in Japan to help with our future plans.
Experience breweries in Scotland
Once the covid-19 situation calms down and is hopefully eliminated, I intend also to reach out to some breweries in Scotland with a view to visiting and hopefully witnessing or assisting in a brew. I have a reasonable relationship with my favourite brewer up in the north east of Scotland (no not that one), and though the specifics might need to be negotiated, they are very open to a brewery visit once things calm down.
I also have a friend of a close friend who has his own brewery in East Lothian and who is apparently also very open to a visit and for me to ask any questions I can think of.
I’ve previously visited Stewart Brewing in Loanhead in Edinburgh on one of their craft kitchen brew day experiences, and I believe they have pretty close ties to my university so I may be able to arrange an active site visit there too.
Also, at previous craft beer festivals I’ve briefly spoken with the owner of the Alechemy brewery here in my town and he was pretty open to a visit too, so I’ll need to get in contact with him.
There may be other breweries who I can speak with, such as Barney’s or Pilot in Edinburgh who I’ve had friendly conversations with in the past but this is all dependent on lockdown restrictions being lifted and covid-19 being “under control”.
Continue studying the science of brewing
I have so far completed one semester of my MSc in Brewing & Distilling programme and am very happy with how it went. My next course which is focussed on maturation, barrel aging, filtration and packaging starts on Monday 4th of January and I am excited to get started again.
My second semester course will either be on malting, grains and mashing or yeast and fermentation, I’m not sure which I’ll opt for first as I need to do both but either will be really interesting and these are the two courses that I’m most excited about.
In between semesters, I hope to find time to enhance my understanding of topics I studied in my first course, such as microbial spoilage and cleaning-in-place with a view to researching brewery design to take the first steps in investigating options for my future eco-friendly, sustainable craft brewery.
The year ahead looks really interesting in this sphere, I will only have one course left to complete (as I’m only doing the brewing specific courses for a postgraduate certificate) and likely it will be in the second semester of 2022 with a gap for the first part of the year - which will hopefully enable us to move over to Japan and get settled in.
Get house in order
We couldn’t make any progress here last year and we have to this year in order to hopefully sell our house in 2022. We need to finish the garage conversion to the level that the council will provide a completion certificate, we need to renovate the en suite and give the garden and external brickwork some love. It should all be achievable if the current plague gets the fuck out of town.. but I’ve been burned so many times by contractors so confidence in this area is low.
Groundwork for future brewery
Most of the work required towards our future brewery, can’t really start until we are in Japan. Also, as the intention isn’t to establish the brewery immediately, but rather continue my studies and gain some industry experience, the majority of the groundwork is really just research and clarification into licensing requirements and laws, and understanding the hoops that we need to jump through when the time comes, the more we can line up in advance the better.
At this moment in time, I’m thinking that we may build a taproom before we work on the brewery. The thinking is that a) we’ll need one, b) it will help with networking with other craft brewers if I’m selling their beers, c) will potentially open up collaboration opportunities for exclusive small batch limited edition brews to be sold in our taproom and, d) it exploits my almost two decades of experience in working in pubs in Scotland.
The intention would be to have uniform branding between the taproom and brewery, and so we can do work on reserving web domains, logo design, and as above, reaching out to brewers etc. before moving over.
Obtain a driving license
In order to apply for the kyouryokutai scheme and to move to Japan, I need to have a driving license. I’ve previously taken some lessons but due to the demands of work over-reaching into my life those were put on hold. That was several years ago, so I’ll now need to resit the theory exam as my previous pass has now expired. The intention is to find someone who does intensive lessons for automatic cars and I’ll try to arrange that for the Summer (the season referred to as Summer in the rest of the world, not the 3 days of sunshine during the Scottish year). I’m going for automatic as most cars in Japan are automatic and I’m just not that in to driving.. It’s a necessity for both the application and for future plans as we’ll be living very rurally, but excitement levels aren’t overly high and I’m holding out what hope I have that we’ll be able to buy a second hand electric car when we move over.
Continue to find family time
Finally, as busy a year as I have lined up for 2021, these plans cannot be at the cost of restricting time to spend with my daughter and wife. There are goals that must be achieved in order for our plans to progress on schedule but they will need to be achieved around family time.