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Osaka's Nishinari Riot Ale brewing up opportunities for people with disabilities

Bottles of Nishinari Riot Ale are seen at the brewery in Osaka on Oct. 21, 2019. (Mainichi/Tatsuki Noda)

OSAKA -- Local craft beer Nishinari Riot Ale didn't get its name just because it sounded snappy. The Airin area of Osaka's Nishinari Ward where the brewery owner is based witnessed real riots by disaffected day laborers in the 1990s.

But something else besides edgy branding marks this American pale ale out as something special. Cyclo, the firm behind the brew, originally had nothing to do with beer or indeed any other potent potable, but was and still is a nursing care company. What's more, many of the workers making and shipping out Nishinari Riot are people with disabilities.

The ale is Cyclo's Derailleur Brew Works' signature product, and it has found an enthusiastic drinking public across Japan. So popular has it become that the firm is planning to quadruple its production capacity with a move to a new brewery next fiscal year. That means more workers, and thus more employment opportunities for local disabled persons.

The diminutive Derailleur Brew Works is nestled in a residential neighborhood a few hundred meters outside Nishinari Ward. There, people with disabilities whom Cyclo helps find employment are given on-the-job training and handle various tasks including brewing, labeling the bottles, sales, and deliveries.

"I'm doing this job enthusiastically," said Shoichi Nishizawa, a 54-year-old brewery worker with a mental disability. "This has become a lot of fun," he added.

Cyclo chief Masanobu Yamazaki, 42, launched employment support for people with disabilities in September 2014. At first, he provided jobs bagging screws, but the workers themselves began to think, "We want to succeed or fail with something we've made ourselves."

Employees pack freshly bottled beer at the brewery in Osaka on Oct. 21, 2019. (Mainichi/Maiko Umeda)

It was then that Yamazaki hit on the idea of a craft brewery. "If we do beer, we could sell a lot of it," one of the workers said. A lot of the workers also big suds fans. Furthermore, beer had been made illegally in Nishinari Ward during the violence of the 1990s. Years later, many of Yamazaki's workers told him of this episode.

And so in 2017, he rented a brewery space in Osaka, and he and the workers began doing test brews. Next, Yamazaki obtained a brewing license and, in April 2018, opened Derailleur Brew Works. After plenty of test-brews and tasting, the brewery released its fresh, brisk Nishinari Riot Ale.

Now, the brewery has turned out 23 kinds of suds. In the past two years, the number of disabled people working at the factory has about quadrupled to 65.

"There are more workers with perfect attendance records now than before, too," said Yamazaki. "Maybe it's the unifying force of alcoholic beverages."

He is planning to expand the beer business. Nishinari Riot can now be found in stores across Japan, but production at Derailleur Brew Works can't keep up with demand, as personnel costs currently drink up nearly all the brewery's profits.

To solve the capacity problem, Yamazaki purchased an about 265-square-meter property in the Osaka commercial area of Haginochaya in June this year. There, a new brewery will rise. When it opens sometime next year or beyond, it will quadruple the company's production capacity, and Yamazaki will also hire about 40 more people with disabilities to work there.

"I want to be able to up our production capability and create a working environment that really motivates people, including those with disabilities," said Yamazaki.

(Japanese original by Tatsuki Noda, Osaka City News Department)

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