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Christian Mitterbauer clenched his fist and brought it to his chest to mark his moment of triumph in April 2001, when he turned out a local Japanese beer.

The eyes of manager Kenji Nagase, 34, of Koedo Brewery’s Miyoshi brewery in the town of Miyoshi, Saitama Prefecture, lit up as he looked at the beer-filled mug. “It’s just supreme,” he said.

Mitterbauer, 33, who hails from a small village in the German province of Bavaria, knew at that moment the regional brew he and his Japanese colleague produced had been born.

A no-nonsense brewer, it was rare for Mitterbauer to openly express his satisfaction, according to his Japanese peers.

The beer carrying the Mitterbauer brand has become a hit, marking up monthly sales of 30,000 cans.

Mitterbauer decided at age 14 to follow in his father’s footsteps, undergoing three years of on-the-job training before attending a specialized school to earn a brewer’s certificate.

The Japanese government deregulated the beer market in 1994 by revising the Liquor Tax Law.

In 1995, there were just six local-level breweries. At the peak of the boom, in 2000, there were 260. As of the end of March, the number had fallen to 237, accounting for a paltry 0.4 percent of the country’s total beer production.

In Germany, there are more than 1,200 local breweries competing against one another.

When Mitterbauer came to Japan in summer 1997, armed with “braumeister” credentials, microbrewing was still on the way up.

At around the same time, Koedo Brewery was looking for a German brewer to help produce high-quality beer.

Mitterbauer, who had spent years in Germany studying the almost religious practice of beer making, was surprised to find the Japanese brewing industry permitted people to brew beer after serving only several months as an intern.

According to Nagase, many local breweries were unreliable at controlling temperature and hygiene. And word was spreading that locally made beers did not taste so good, ending the boom.

Koedo went ahead with building its Miyoshi brewery and Mitterbauer sent workers over several times to ensure that the temperature was properly controlled and that the brewery observed hygienic practices.

Mitterbauer kept telling the workers that cleanliness is the foundation of good brewing because bacteria causes beer quality to deteriorate. He even yelled at chief brewer Hiroaki Kumakura, 30, for leaving a cleaning hose on the floor. He said he now looks back on the incident as just being his way of properly training brewers.

Mitterbauer knows German brewers adhere to their country’s strict Purity Law of 1516. The Reinheitsgebot stipulates that only the natural ingredients of barley malt, hops, yeast and brewing water be used in the brewing process.

Japan, however, is much more flexible, experimenting with brewing “happoshu” low-malt beer using sweet potatoes, bananas, black soybeans and Japanese plums.

“The Japanese are open-minded (and) that’s good,” Mitterbauer said, before adding that he would be ashamed to talk about banana beer in Germany.

Drinking practices in Japan are also different to Mitterbauer’s homeland, with some Japanese drinkers chugging down one or two small glasses of beer before quickly switching to the distilled spirit “shochu,” which is often made from barley or sweet potatoes.

Mitterbauer wanted to produce a German beer that would be palatable to the Japanese.

Mitterbauer, overly conscious that many Japanese do not like bitter-tasting beer, initially produced what Nagase described as a bland beer. He then worked on a beer with a strong taste and less hops, continuing to improve it by asking the advice of his father and peers in Germany. In 2001, he finally came up with a delicious beer with no aftertaste.

Koedo President Yukiyoshi Asagiri, 54, proposed marketing the beer under Mitterbauer’s family name.

When he took samples of his test product home during his vacation, his father patted him on the back.

At a Yokohama restaurant, Mitterbauer showed a photo of a beer truck, displaying the Mitterbauer Beer brand on its side.

“I was able to (work on the beer) because free concepts are allowed in Japan,” he said. “It’s my family’s pride.”

He is convinced his experience in Japan will be put to good use in a pure beer country like Germany. He dreams of one day opening his own brewery in his homeland.

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