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Eph Booze & Culinary Yakuza?

Last year, Jeff gave us a great roundup of Ephs “who are accomplished / newsmakers in the delicate art of creating, marketing and discussing beer, wine and spirits,” quite logically suggesting we call them the “Eph Booze Mafia.” It turns out this accomplished group of alumni long ago extended its tentacles beyond American (and Italian) shores, in the person of Bryan Baird ’89, proprietor of craft-brewer Baird Brewing Company:

Baird Brewing Company is a family-run craft brewery and pub business headquartered in Numazu, Japan. Our motto is “Celebrating Beer.” This means the comprehensive enjoyment of beer in a way that enhances the overall experience of life.

In an interview last year in the Huffington Post, Baird described his experience:

I attended SAIS in the Japan Studies program and enrolled with the full intent of returning to Japan in some professional capacity upon graduation. My first job was with the Tokyo office of the American Electronics Association. Craft beer, or ji-biiru as it was called, was receiving great attention in Japan at the time because it was a brand new thing –small-scale brewing was made possible with deregulation that happened during the Hosokawa government in which minimum production requirements necessary for a brewing license were lowered dramatically from 2000 kl per year to 60 kl. I didn’t love working as a sarariman (salary man); I always had been a passionate beer drinker; and I respected Japanese society for the reverence it paid to craftsmanship. Therefore, I felt that craft beer was an industry that suited both me and Japan…

The initial turning point for our business happened 2-3 years into it when we realized there was a definite market for what we were brewing only it wasn’t in Numazu but rather in Tokyo. This led us to purchase larger brewing equipment and begin bottling and kegging our beer for distribution in the Tokyo market. The more we sold in Tokyo, the more frequently Tokyo beer enthusiasts would make the pilgrimage to our pub in Numazu. This eventually led us to open pubs in Tokyo itself. By doing well in Tokyo and selling throughout Japan, the local market then began to wake up. Finally, ten years into it, we seem to have gained real traction and achieved that magical sort of critical mass. Our three gold medals in the 2010 World Beer Cup certainly didn’t hurt things either.

Now, Baird is crossing over into the “culinary mafia” as well, with a new BBQ restaurant and taproom in Yokohama:

"Fat Boy" rib, picture in Japan Times Online

On the ground floor is the bar. At this nicely curving counter, you can sit and contemplate the 20-plus taps from which the beer is dispensed. They’re all on draft, all different — from lighter lagers to hoppy, full-bodied ales to wickedly dark stouts — and, save for a couple of imported guest ales, all produced by Baird.

Up a narrow flight of stairs is a spacious lounge area with hand-carpentered tables, large windows, a small area that would be perfect for live music (that’s planned, though not yet up and running) and even a darts alcove. There is also a third-floor open-air terrace that’s going to be much in demand once the weather warms up.

But it is not the building itself that makes this place special and noteworthy, nor the beer, fine as that is. It’s the food menu: This is the first place in Japan to serve a full-scale, honest-to-goodness, down-home American barbecue. And, as your nostrils will confirm as soon as you walk through the door, it’s great.

Barbecue — like ramen, pizza and, indeed, craft beer — is one of those things that a lot of people hold very close to their hearts and have very pronounced opinions on. It’s either right or it ain’t. Here in Bashamichi, it’s definitely done right.

With classic rock on the sound system and a smoky aroma of meat wafting through the air, Baird’s new joint sounds like the perfect place to try his brews. And a great opportunity to ensure that his four daughters don’t grow up in Japan without the opportunity to feast on some good American home cooking.

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