TOPFood & DrinkRestaurants & BarsSakamichi Brewing: Taking the Steep Road

Sakamichi Brewing: Taking the Steep Road

Opening as the pandemic was starting has been an uphill battle, but Sakamichi Brewing is still here

By Mac Salman

Matthew Boynton and Daniel Bellamy are the co-founders of Sakamichi Brewing, a taproom and aspiring craft beer brewery in Tachikawa, Tokyo. They opened at the start of the pandemic and persevered through, celebrating their second anniversary this year. From March 11 to March 20, they are holding a special event, with original anniversary beer and new merchandise. They sat down with Tokyo Weekender to discuss their journey so far.

How did you start Sakamichi Brewing?

Boynton: After working at Baird Brewing in Shizuoka and Ishikawa Shuzo in Tokyo, I started to consider setting up my own brewery. At the time, my friend turned business partner Daniel had just returned to Japan from a two-year cycling trip and was considering his next move. It’s difficult to go back to working in an office after something like that. We see eye to eye on a lot of things and we are both keen on a challenge. So, we founded the company in 2019, started construction on our taproom in January 2020 and opened our doors in March of that year.

Sakamichi Brewing Ext 03

Was it difficult to set up the business?

Bellamy: Aside from the obvious challenge of trying to do all this in a second language, there was also a lot of paperwork that needed to be completed for every aspect of the business. For some of our license applications we hired Japanese companies and that helped. But money is often tight when a business is starting out so we had to do a lot of the initial legwork ourselves. Additionally, brewing equipment can be very expensive, so for this business in particular a fair amount of capital was needed to get started. We’ve been operating as a taproom and phantom brewery (meaning we make our beers at someone else’s brewery) for two years while getting ready to install our own system.

What does operating as a phantom brewery entail?

Boynton: We make our own original beers, but currently, we have to use other breweries’ equipment to do so. And we pay them for using it. Sometimes it’s a beer that’s just for us. Sometimes it’s a recipe that we work on together — a collaboration brew.

Daniel Bellamy

What are some of the pros and cons of collaboration brewing?

Bellamy: Sharing ideas and techniques is always a fun experience. Brewers are always trying new things, whether that’s a new beer style, some interesting local ingredients, or factoring in some new research in brewing. When you work with other brewers everyone is bringing fresh ideas to the mix. The biggest issue is just coordinating schedules. We’re all busy with other beers and have different responsibilities so sometimes just figuring out the day to brew is difficult.

Why did you call it Sakamichi?

Boynton: Dan and I initially became friends through cycle touring. We’d load up our bikes with camping gear and explore some of the less visited parts of Japan. Mapping out our own routes inevitably meant that at some point we’d find ourselves having to ride up a staircase or along the top of a sea wall. So, we always used to say “Well, this is an interesting road that we’ve chosen.”

Starting your own brewery is also an interesting road, and a steep one, so the phrase naturally came back when we were searching for a name. Sometimes customers are a bit confused when they come to our taproom because Sakamichi means “steep road,” but the non-metaphorical, actual road that we are located on is completely flat. Anyway, it provides a nice opportunity to explain the story of how Dan and I met.

Matthew Boynton

What impact did the pandemic have on your business?

Boynton: We opened in March 2020 just as things were getting serious, so we had to cancel our opening event. Actually, we still haven’t rescheduled it. Maybe next year? In a way, we were lucky, though. Our small size meant that we could be more flexible than more established places. Additionally, since it was just me and Dan here, we didn’t have to worry about paying staff through the lean times.

Did you have to change your plans or the way you operated?

Bellamy: We acquired a bottle shop license relatively early on last year. So even during times we weren’t able to have customers drink inside our shop we were able to sell bottles and cans for takeout. This meant we could stay open for some sort of business even during the strictest lockdown measures. Additionally, we keep customers spaced out and our place is well ventilated with big windows we can open, circulator fans and an air purifier. I think customers can tell that we are taking safety measures and they have kept supporting us over the past two years.

How is the Japanese craft beer scene these days?

Boynton: The pandemic has been tough for everyone, but even so there’s been a real boom in high-quality craft beer over the last few years. Of course, breweries like Baird have been making great beer for many years. But now there are microbreweries and brewpubs sprouting up all over the place. Brewers are a friendly lot, so we’ve been lucky enough to work together with some great places like NomCraft, Beer Brain and Devil Craft. Earlier this year I went down to Shikoku to brew our Second Anniversary IPA together with Setouchi Brewery.

What are three Japanese craft beers that you think everyone has to try?

Bellamy: This is a tough one. There are so many great breweries and beers in Japan right now. Three great beers that I’ve had recently are Lupulin Nectar from Y. Market Brewing in Nagoya, Campfire Stories from West Coast Brewing in Shizuoka and Belgian Night Fantasia from Let’s Beer Works in Tokyo. But we get to try so many fantastic beers from all over Japan in our shop so there’s an almost infinite list of great beers to choose from.

sakamichi brewing 2nd Anniversary Beer
Sakamichi Brewing Second Anniversary Beer

What does the future hold for Sakamichi Brewing?

Boynton: Our own brewing system. It’s been a long road to get this far, but hopefully, by the summer we’ll have it up and running. Our plan from the start was to be brewing our own beer on-site in Tachikawa. After that, who knows? A lot of great beer from the US has made its way to Japan, but not enough from the UK. The last time I was back in Edinburgh I visited a couple of places that were making fantastic stuff that I’d love to be able to bring over here.

Bellamy: Having our own brewery is going to be big. We’re looking forward to being able to brew on our own schedule and being able to host other new brewers for collaborations in our space. Both Matthew and I come from working in education with experience in corporate training, so we’ve talked about using our space as a training brewery, helping people get a foot in the door in the industry and acquiring the skills they need to work somewhere else or start their own venture.

Follow Sakamichi Brewery on Instagram to stay up to date with their new brews and offers.