TKBrewing was first established by the Ryoichi Takabayashi in the beginning of 2017. It took them ten months to get their brewing licence; and Takabayashi-san’s wife couldn’t stress more about the heaps of paperwork they had to do. It then took another two months to open their doors, but once their 200L brewery was up and running, Takabayashi-san hit the ground running and his beers were a smashing success throughout the Kawasaki area within that month. Takabayashi-san has a passion for beer and knew many managers from different craft beer establishments in the Kawasaki area way before opening up his brewery when he was a systems engineer for Fujitsu. Takabayashi-san and his wife have made TKBrewing into a household name in Kawasaki.
Taihei: What motivated you to resign from your position at Fujitsu to open up a brewery?
Takabayashi-san: A job as a systems engineer is ever changing as the technology constantly changes. It doesn’t take long for the technology you developed when you were young to become dated and unnecessary. It is necessary to continually update your knowledge and technology in the IT field, and as a systems engineer, it’s possible I may have lost interest in this area too. On the other hand, the thirst for brewing has been endless. For my career in Fujitsu, I thought it might have been possible to shift into management; however I liked my job as an engineer.
Taihei: What did your wife, coworkers, and bosses say about this idea?
Takabayashi-san: My wife basically said, “Fujitsu is a big company and you are protected, but the world is your oyster. If you think you can do it, do it”.
As for my co-workers and bosses, they didn’t really say anything to me.
Taihei: Why did you choose to remain in Kawasaki?
Takabayashi-san: Originally, since I live near Musashi Kosugi, I wanted to find a place in Musashi Kosugi. Unfortunately, it is popular and I couldn’t find a reasonably priced location. By chance, as I was visiting Irish Bar McCann’s, another customer was looking for someone to start a brewery in their location, so I jumped at the chance.
Taihei: Got it, but what is this building that houses your brewery?
Takabayashi-san: The building itself is over 50 years old, but it has been renovated. I thought a good theme would be “Can anyone ferment in this place?”, as it is a place that has a lot of people coming and going from all types of backgrounds.
Taihei: You created your own glycol system. Did your past experience as an engineer help you with that? How long did it take you from designing the system to having a fully functional glycol system?
Takabayashi-san: I made both the fermenter temperature control system and the mash temperature control system by myself. The fermenter control system was a simple on/off system to circulate glycol which was easy in itself. I’d say the mash system was more difficult. Since it took time to get my brewing license, I could perfect the mash system. I made the system with indicators and safety circuits, but this may have been overkill. All in all, it took about a month to complete each.
I was a software engineer with Fujitsu, so that experience may not have directly helped as much as I thought. I’d say my logical thinking helped a little. In Junior High School, I played with electronics (soldering, building circuit boards, etc.), so that definitely helped. Playing with electronics was pretty popular in my school days.
Taihei: Since you started commercial brewing, has there been anything unexpected?
Takabayashi-san: In the beginning, there were some metallic off-flavours, but through trial and error, I was able to rectify the problem recently. I’d say it was the water that caused these problems.
Taihei: You have a huge following of craft beer drinkers and craft beer bar managers in the Kawasaki area; are they the reason why we hardly see your beers anywhere else?
Takabayashi-san: The bars in the Kawasaki area are always asking for my beers, so that’s where I send them. From time to time I do sell to areas outside of Kawasaki.
Currently production is limited to the size of my system, so I can only focus on the Kawasaki area. In order to grow, we need to expand our brewing system but that is a topic to discuss in the future.
Taihei: Taihei had its 10 most popular beer shops beer crawl a while ago, and two breweries were on that list from Kawasaki. Do you think Kawasaki is growing thirsty for craft beer?
Takabayashi-san: I’m happy to see the craft beer bars in the Kawasaki area growing. I don’t see any special reason for Kawasaki to be growing, but I’d say that being located between Tokyo and Yokohama and good access to both is a big factor.
Taihei: Let’s say, Fujitsu turned the K computer on again (the 18th fastest computer in the world in 2018), and it has to predict what type of beer style a systems engineer, software developer, and an upper manager from Fujitsu would order at your brewery (also let’s say you had every beer you have ever made on tap for this scenario). What would they choose and why?
Takabayashi-san: In Fujitsu, I remember that very few of my colleagues, senior managers, and engineers liked craft beer. Maybe they would say “give me the most standard beer please”. So I guess I’d recommend my SMaSH Saison.
Taihei: The Taihei guys are planning a tap takeover in either the Tokyo or Shikoku area for only Kanagawa breweries as a contest. What beers would you bring to this battle?
Takabayashi-san: TKBrewing is pretty much an unknown brewery, so I’d like to leave my mark on such an event. I guess I’d bring my Dopeness IPA in order to create an impact and show my skills as a brewer.
Taihei: Who comes up with the names with the beers? For example “Behind the Cloud Survivor”; “俺のSorachi”; and “Black Star Ale” just to name a few.
Takabayashi-san: In the beginning, I struggled to come up with names for the beers. If I have trouble finding a name, I keg it, put it on tap, try it out, and think about it overnight. Usually the name eventually comes down from heaven.
Taihei: Speaking of the “Black Star Ale”, it was included in the book “今飲むべき最高のクラフトビール100” (The Current 100 Best Craft Beers), and everyone must try it. It’s interesting that it’s a stout and after meeting many beer operators in the Kawasaki area, a majority of them said it’s tough to sell stouts and porters. Do you feel the same with your customers’ taste buds towards these styles?
Takabayashi-san: I guess dark beer doesn’t sell very well. Even at TKBrewing, we don’t often brew dark beers. Black Star Ale is brewed for Valentine’s Day in February, but otherwise I’d make a dark beer whenever I feel like it.
Taihei: Last question, what’s the next step for TKBrewing, or is this retirement for you and your wife?
Takabayashi-san: TKBrewing is reaching capacity for brewing soon. I have a few options at the moment but I need to keep grounded and think carefully before I take the next step.