Tono, Iwate Pref. – Atsushi Murakami, 58, is a researcher with Kirin Brewery and creator of the Murakami Seven hop variety. He has published peer-reviewed studies on the molecular phylogeny and genetics of wild hops, and acts as an adviser to BrewGood, a community-building social initiative in Tono, Iwate Prefecture. He also runs Brew Note Tono, a jazz vinyl bar located in a reformed storehouse.
1. Where were you born? Shiwa-cho, Iwate. It’s about an hour’s drive from my jazz bar (Brew Note Tono).
2. You’re known as the inventor of Murakami Seven, a world-renowned variety of hops. Is it true that Kirin once asked you to destroy it, but you hid it instead? Yes. The funding for our (Esashi) hops research and development program dried up and tending the fields is very expensive. Luckily, my bosses at Kirin were very kind. So, they let me keep improving my creations on my own. I saved 20 of the 800 strains of Esashi hops I was developing. The best of them was the seventh iteration. So I named it, Murakami Seven.
3. Can you describe Murakami Seven? Can I say something strange? I like to compare Murakami Seven to (the traditional image of) a Japanese lady. She may seem calm, quiet and reserved, but underneath that presentation, she’s full of strength. Just when you think you understand Murakami Seven, you say, “Wait, what is this? Oh! Now, I see!”
4. Could you compare Murakami Seven to a particular song or artist? Hmm … it’s not jazz. It’s classical music. Probably baroque. Let me think … (Murakami selects a record and puts it on). This is Bach, “Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major.” That is Murakami Seven.
5. What’s the defining characteristic of Japanese beers? Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo: major Japanese beers are all German-style Pilsners. But there are craft brewers that are exploring weizens, IPA and others.
6. Is there a type of beer that Japanese craft brewers are doing particularly well? The problem is you can’t produce anything too different. Kirin has made weizens but they don’t sell. Most consumers buy only Pilsner styles. The market is very narrow.
7. Were you knighted in Germany? No, no. But they call me the “Doctor of Hops.” I’m a brewer — they call it a “meister” in Germany. I’m also a hop breeder and a chemical analyst. These are typically separate careers in Germany, but I do all three. So they have recognized my achievements.
8. Do you own the rights to Murakami Seven or is it the property of Kirin Brewery? In Japan it’s considered shokumu hatsumei, which is an invention created on company time. So the employer, in this case Kirin, retains the rights.
9. How do you feel about that? Well, I toiled with a low salary for 10 years, then I finally got a big raise. With the success of Murakami Seven, and some other achievements, I got a very generous retirement package!
10. Did you have a passion for beer or hops before joining Kirin? No, not at all. I just wanted to do research, and this was the best path to do that. It allowed me to do what I love — science. Now, of course, I love beer.
11. Do you need passion to have an accomplished career like yours? Absolutely, and a long-term goal. Actually, from day one I was planning to open a jazz bar like this. I began collecting these records with my low income — which drove my wife crazy — but I knew someday I would realize my dreams. I would succeed in my career and it would pay off in retirement. I loved research, so I could happily work hard along the way.
12. We live in an era of short attention spans. Is there a secret to cultivating focus and delayed gratification? I don’t think so. I think it’s mostly in the genes. I always enjoyed toiling little-by-little on my own projects. That’s my nature. Ask my wife. Human nature exists for us all.
13. Why did you choose to open a jazz bar in Tono when you retired? This kura (storehouse) was very cheap! Also, my hometown isn’t as open minded as the people in Tono. I developed good relationships working here for so many years and they let me do what I want.
14. You work with the city of Tono and BrewGood to promote hops and beer culture in the area. Do you think Tono has a future as a sort of mecca of beer in Japan? If Tono becomes synonymous with hops in Japan, I’ll be happy. That’s the goal. If you say “hops” in Japan, you should think of Tono. But some foreign guests come just to visit my jazz bar these days. They have no idea about my connection to Kirin or beer. That’s been interesting.
15. What advice do you have for novice brewers, what kind of beer should they try to make first? Just don’t screw it up! If you put all that work into brewing something and it turns out poorly, you will be too disappointed to try again. So keep it simple and get it right so you can enjoy the beer you make. Pilsner is the hardest type to make. So I wouldn’t recommend a Pilsner to start. Something fermented with a high temperature (like an ale) is safer.
16. Are there any new trends in beers, like sours and lambic beers, that you find exciting? Fruit beers are really coming along in Japan. The whole country is trying them, but they’re actually really difficult. The quality of bitterness is very difficult to control. This is just my opinion. Apples and grapes have organic acids that are really different, so when you get it right, it’s fascinating.
17. In your opinion, which country makes the best beer? The Czech Republic. I went to the Budweiser Budvar brewery and tasted their Pilsner and thought — this is it! I had never tasted anything better. It’s a perfect beer. And so cheap!
18. How does the Czech Republic produce the world’s best beer at such cheap prices? If they raised the prices people would revolt! They drink the most beer in the world by far.
19. People who get really into beer or wine often seem to have very good taste in other things such as music. Is there a connection? All these things allow us to truly enjoy our time in life. With beer and with music. It’s a good combination. Especially to enjoy our private time, when you don’t even need to talk. With drinks and with music you can simply enjoy.
20. Finally, the most important question of all: What is the best cure for a hangover? (Long pause) When I worked for Kirin we always had our “cheers time” around 5 p.m. Without fail I went home and had dinner with my family. That’s all. If you start at 7 p.m., you’re going to drink too much and too late. Always have dinner with your family!
Atsushi Murakami’s jazz vinyl bar Brew Note Tono is located at 2-11 Chuo-dori, Tono, Iwate Prefecture. Murakami Seven hops can be enjoyed in Spring Valley Brewery’s Murakami Seven IPA and other select beers. BrewGood offers community-focused Beer Experience tours including local hop farms and beer tastings in the Tono region. For more details or to arrange a tour, visit brewgood.jp.
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Source: The Japan Times