Interview: Bryan Baird and Toshi Ishii Discuss their Stone Brewing Roots, Green Tea IPA and Going InternationalBryan Baird and Toshi Ishii share a Stone homecoming.
Stone Brewing has made many great collaborative beers with everyone from Victory Brewing in Pennsylvania to San Diego neighbors Green Flash to 21st Amendment in San Francisco. Add to that list, Toshi Ishii of the eponymous Ishii Brewing that recently opened in Guam and Bryan Baird, brewmaster at Baird Brewing in Namazu, Japan. They joined Stone’s Mitch Steele to brew a green tea IPA, the proceeds of which will go toward Japanese tsunami relief. In true collaborative form, I talked to them both about their brewing past, the future of beer in their part of the world and this new beer…
What was your first experience with beer?
Toshi Ishii was ten years old when he tried a Kirin for the first time. The legal drinking age in Japan twenty years of age at the time. But he said that there is a “big difference between fizzy yellow beer and Stone.” And he should know because he brewed for Stone back in the days of the San Marcos location. And ironically enough, his last name means “stone” in Japanese.
Bryan Baird was also ten when he first got a sip of Stroh’s. It was split between him and a friend and the reactions were split too, “I could tell by the look on my friends face that he hated it.” But Baird did not. Old Milwaukee was a go-to beer before Sam Adams showed there “was more to beer.”
What is the state of craft beer in Japan currently?
Ishii notes that the beer industry de-regulated in the ’90s. There was an increase in breweries for awhile but now they appear to be struggling a bit and there “aren’t many newcomers lately.” In fact his is the only brewery on Guam. On the positive side the passion is still there.
“Japanese beer was corporate from the beginning,” says Baird, so there was a lot of mediocre beer. But “Japanese consumers are extraordinarily sophisticated”, and with 10 to 20 breweries that really care, “Everything is there for a good future market.”
Green Tea and IPA, that sounds too light to be a Stone brew?
The good thing is that Baird has experience in using tea in craft beer. He uses it for astringency instead of hops. And Stone has “a lot of unusual ingredient beers” as well. According to Baird this beer will be filled with “hops, hops, hops,” including hops from around the world.
Stone Brewing has already cut a check for $50,000 for Tsunami relief but with the horrible events receeding into memory, Ishii wanted to remind people of the continuing needs by making the beer 9% ABV which was the level on the Richter scale of the earthquake. And that will require said Ishii, “big hops, big ingredients.”
The Ties with Stone are Deep
After brewing at Stone, Ishii has visited every year or two and is “very happy to make beers with Stone and Brian.” In fact it is the first collaborative beer for both of them though Baird has also visited Stone back in the San Marcos days when he was working in the then fledgling beer industry.
The Stone-Baird-Ishii collaborative Green Tea IPA will be on sale later this year. Baird beers can be found at locations such as Vendome in Toluca Lake. And if you visit Guam, check out the Ishii Brewery.
Find more of Sean Inman’s writing on his blog, Beer Search Party.