When you think of drinking in Japan, you probably don’t think of beer. But beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in the country, accounting for nearly two-thirds of alcohol consumed.
And when you think Japanese beer you probably don’t think of Pueblo. But one of the foremost experts on Japanese beer calls Pueblo home.
Jeffrey Alexander, the dean of Arts and Sciences at Pueblo Community College recently published a book on how Japanese beer intersects with World War II, Westernization, commerce, and the sexual revolution titled “Brewed in Japan.”
Alexander’s interest in Japan began when he was a student at the University of British Columbia. He started researching Japanese consumer products and how they were affected by World War II–for example, optics used in the war that eventually became the products of well-known companies like Nikon and Fuji. In 2008, Alexander published a book on Japan’s motorcycle companies titled “Japan’s Motorcycle Wars,” and his future projects include a book on narcotics in postwar Japan.
Like many other consumer products, the beer industry in Japan was greatly affected by WWII. The Japanese were introduced to beer by Dutch and American traders centuries ago but viewed beer as a strictly “foreign” product even when it was brewed locally. German brewmasters were hired and brought to Japan to create authentic German beer, but this was considered a luxury product that was usually only served to wealthy men on special occasions (like when they were visiting a geisha house).
World War II changed all that. Japanese citizens, particularly sailors, were allocated a large amount of beer to drink per day, mainly for the calories. To manage this production, all the breweries in Japan were consolidated and brought under government control. The end result was that Japanese soldiers returning home had developed a taste for beer.
Meanwhile, the consolidation of breweries helped to create the large beer companies Americans are familiar with today: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory. To this day, these four companies produce 99 percent of all the beer brewed in Japan.
Since Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory form a cartel of sorts where they fix prices, the only way they can compete with each other is through flavor.
In the 1980s, Asahi introduced its Super Dry beer, which sparked the “dry wars” and created what we now generally think of as Japanese-style beer: light lagers with a dry finish. According to Alexander, this style of beer pairs well with the heavier flavors of Japanese cuisine, and is favored by women more than the heavier ports or ales.
In his research, Alexander looked at how Japanese brewers started courting women as consumers. Beer was, and to certain extent still is, a symbol of modernization and Westernization.
The Japanese typically drink beer in beer gardens closely modeled off of Germany’s; unfortunately, this traditionally prevented women from drinking beer, as they weren’t supposed to leave the house. Orion, a brewery in Okinawa, was the first to sponsor women-only parties where beer was served, breaking open the possibility of women as a major market in the Japanese beer industry.
Because of high taxes, regular malted beer is expensive in Japan. But the Japanese have skirted this problem by creating their own “beer like products” with lower alcohol content. Happoshu is a low-malt beer that comes in different flavors like strawberry and yogurt. There are also “beer flavored beverages” that are made out of non-grain ingredients, like soybeans, and are more properly classified as liqueurs.
Alexander has been invited to speak about Japanese beer and alcohol around the world, and “Brewed in Japan” has won numerous awards. Most recently it was awarded the “Most Accessible and Captivating Work” Accolade by the International Convention of Asian Scholars.
While he unfortunately doesn’t teach courses on Japanese history at PCC, he has spoken to the culinary program on several occasions about the Japanese food industry.
You can hear Alexander talk about Japanese whisky on February 5th at CU Boulder as part of a one-day workshop on the topic.