Written by Impact HUB Tokyo Editor: Laure-Hélène Boudier
If your idea of a perfect ending to the day includes fresh beer and cheerful conversation, you’re going to love today’s interview. I’m sitting comfortably on the lounge sofa of Impact HUB Tokyo with Maxime Pecsteen. Maxime is the Brussels Beer Project’s Country Manager for Japan. He came six months ago with a holly mission to shake up the craft beer industry. Apart from the obvious hope that interviewing him might get me a free beer, there’s much I want to ask him, first and foremost, how a Belgian start-up that began operations less than three years ago is already opening a taproom in Shinjuku..!
Impact HUB Tokyo: How did the Brussels Beer Project start?
Maxime Pecsteen: BBP is really the story of two friends, Sébastien Morvan and Olivier de Brauwere, who were seeking more fun and fulfilment in life, and at the same time shared a passion for beer. In 2013, they brewed their first four prototypes from their garage. Three months later, they launched a “Beer for Life” crowdfunding campaign.
IHT: Brussels sounds like a competitive market to launch a craft beer brand. How did the Brussels Beer Project stand out?
MP: The BBP’s ambition has always been not only to produce quality beer, but to create and nurture a craft beer community. We define ourselves as a “hub for co-creation”: every year, we develop some twenty prototypes of beer and let our community vote on the best one (“Delta” and “Grosse Bertha” were the happy winners in 2013 and 2014, respectively). We organize tasting and community events in bars on a regular basis, something I have been doing in Tokyo since I arrived. Basically, we are constantly creating and sharing. The public has been very receptive to this model, which has allowed us to complete four crowdfunding campaigns and raise €300,000. But the most unusual aspect of our business model is that we also partner with other microbreweries, for instance with Kyoto Brewing Co. In fact, we are now considering publicly sharing our recipes.
IHT: This sounds like a lot of beers per year…
MP: The idea is to stimulate creativity and push the boundaries of brewing always further (we brewed beers with tobacco leaves from Nicaragua, Tonka beans, chocolate, etc.). In truth, possibilities are limitless when it comes to brewing. And we love to keep surprising our community! But a good beer will always be balanced in taste. To achieve this, you need to explore the four main ingredients: water, malts, hops, and yeast; and combine them artfully. For example, certain types of hop can offer citrusy, woody or red fruit notes. In the end, a good beer is a beer that reflects the creativity of the brewer.
IHT: Is there a universal standard of “good beer,” though? How does the Japanese market differ from the Belgian one?
MP: Japanese consumers have been accustomed to blander beers: less bitter and more refreshing. In fact, they are getting tired of the tasteless and faceless industrial beer providers dominating the market, and Japan is currently witnessing an uprise of local micro-breweries as a result. The craft beer market is booming, with year-on-year revenue growing by 10%. This finding has led us to see Japan as the next frontier for our localized model of breweries. To give an idea of the opportunity: while today 20% of US beer consumption is in craft form, the share is only 1% in Japan.
IHT: The opportunity seems just as big as the challenge! How has your experience in Japan been so far?
MP: Exciting, interesting, exhausting, and excellent! I arrived only six months ago, and the first thing that struck me is the way every business step takes time. Rushing does not exist here. Nonetheless, once a business relationship has been established, things can go pretty fast. Speaking Japanese is definitely something I would recommend when starting a business in Japan. Luckily, I have been supported by my local importer, Koichi Fujita from BRUSSELS Co, who has helped me organize many events! And I was fortunate enough to find the Hub. In fact, Brussels Beer Project has a long history with Impact HUB Tokyo. Our two co-founders were members of the Hub in Brussels (now closed). We cherish the same values, and deem it is essential to build a project around a community of passionate people.
IHT: What is next for the Brussels Beer Project? Where can we follow you?
MP: We have opened a taproom in Shinjuku on May 10th that serves as a meeting point for our local community. The launch event gathered 200 guests, and twice as many pints of beer… The taproom will host Beer Tasting events, where we will choose the new all-star beers, and Tap Takeover events, which provide a playful experience to involve and educate the community about craft beer. You would be amazed at the extent to which your surroundings affect your tasting experience! Pairing good beer with the right food (e.g. a porter with goat cheese), some music and interesting company remains the best way to enjoy our beers. We look forward to welcoming you in Shinjuku for a fresh, tasteful beer!
IHT: Your job sounds too good to be true… Is there anything unpleasant about it?
MP: I’ll have to say: fighting the beer belly!
The location of BBP’s Shinjuku tap room can be found on their website at beerproject.be.