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Japan brewing giant, sake maker team up to craft spirits from aging beer amid pandemic

Staff members of Yo-ho Brewing Co. and Totsuka Shuzo, which jointly developed "craft spirits" from soon-to-be-expired beer, are seen in this photo provided by Yo-ho Brewing.

NAGANO -- A major craft beer brewery in central Japan has teamed up with an over 360-year-old Japanese sake maker to produce "craft spirits" by distilling beer that was on the verge of disposal due to flagging consumption amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

    Yo-ho Brewing Co., based in the mountain resort town of Karuizawa, Nagano Prefecture, jointly developed the product with Totsuka Shuzo, a sake maker in the prefectural city of Saku whose foundation dates back to 1653.

    After a stream of temporary closures of eateries to which Yo-ho Brewing shipped barreled beer, about 12,000 liters of beer was on the brink of disposal as the products' expiration dates neared.

    "Do we have to discard beer that we crafted with affection? Isn't there a way with which we can turn it into an enjoyable beverage?" pondered staff of the craft beer giant. It was then that Totsuka Shuzo, known for its high distilling technology and unique products such as tomato shochu, caught their eye.

    The two types of craft spirits co-developed by Yo-ho Brewing Co. and Totsuka Shuzo are seen in this photo provided by Yo-ho Brewing.

    When a Yo-ho representative approached Totsuka Shuzo to ask whether it was possible to create spirits by distilling beer, the established sake maker was quick to accept the request for cooperation.

    The cross-industrial project turned out successful. "As it was the first attempt of its kind for both our companies, we went through some difficulties. But we had fun and a good experience," recalls a Yo-ho public relations official. "Perhaps because we deal with two different types of liquor, sake and beer, we've been able to realize the difference in the expressions of aromas."

    So from the aging beer they produced craft spirits that exude hop-derived fruity aroma and sweet malt flavor. The products were named "Mirai Zukuri 2020" (Building a future 2020), in the hope that "people will talk to those around them while enjoying the liquor and spend their time together to pave the way for a bright future," according to the firms.

    From Nov. 4, the spirits will be available at Totsuka Shuzo and other establishments. Out of the products' sales proceeds, 100 yen per bottle will be donated to the nonprofit organization Foodbank Shinshu based in the prefectural capital of Nagano.

    "As we continue to experience hardships, we developed the products so they can help build a better future, even if only a little. We'd be happy if people can enjoy talking about their futures together with those close to them with the spirits in their hand," a Yo-ho Brewery representative commented.

    (Japanese original by Mari Sakane, Nagano Bureau)

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