For many, the story of Japanese craft beer starts in 1994, the year when tax laws were altered to allow smaller breweries to enter the field. One company, SanktGallen Brewery, managed to get a head start on the rest of the domestic industry by exploiting an almost absurd loophole in Japan's strict regulations.

Named for the Swiss brewery that received one of Europe's first official brewing licenses, SanktGallen began producing craft beer a full year before Echigo Beer was granted the first microbrewing license in Japan.

"My father first experienced craft beer in California," says Nobuhisa Iwamoto. "He was stunned by the aroma and flavor, and wanted to make something similar here in Japan."