Of the myriad breweries in the craft beer scene, how many are run by women and blending the cultures of Japan and Brazil? The answer is not many as beer, like so many sectors, continues to be overly represented by white males. And that is exactly what makes Japas Cervejaria extremely compelling. That, and the brand makes an extremely tasty beer – with its very own aesthetic and taste spectrum.
The brewery was founded in 2015 and founded by three third-generation Japanese-Brazilian Brazilians. The trio consists of brewer and business strategist Maíra Kimura, creative director Yumi Shimada and brewer Fernanda Ueno. If you haven’t heard of it and you love beer, you probably will soon.
The beers pay homage to Japanese and Brazilian cuisine and feature ingredients like ginger, yuzu, jasmine and more. There’s a sour line called Sawā and some very creative others, like a refreshing Witbier with orange zest and ginger and an IPA with blueberries and jabuticaba. They even make a matcha beer. It’s all a reflection of the beer industry of the sizable Japanese population living in Brazil (at 2 million people, it’s the largest outside of Japan). The beers are a tribute to this culture and many of the ingredients – all natural – come from other Japanese Brazilians in Brazil.
Get to know the founders
Ueno says she has always been close to craft beer thanks to a father who was very interested in the scene. She dabbled in architecture before studying food engineering, which led to many homebrew projects. Since then, she hasn’t stopped brewing.
Kimura followed a similar path and started home brewing around 2009. “In 2011 I went to England to learn professional brewing and took a technical course,” says Kimura. “I also received my Brewer’s Certificate from the Institute of Brewing and Distilling that same year.”
Fascinated by the boom in the craft, Shimada completed an apprenticeship as a beer sommelier in 2012. She started going to festivals and trade events (where she met her partners) and got gigs doing artwork for breweries.
How Japas Cervejaria came into being
It all started with a beer called Wasabiru.
“We got together in 2014 to brew a beer just for fun and we brewed a 40 liter batch on a home brewer,” recalls Ueno. An American pale ale was the base, a blank canvas on which to experiment with Japanese ingredients.
“When the beer was ready, we all went to Yumi’s in São Paulo to try it, and everyone liked the version with wasabi,” she says.
It was such a hit that a brewery in town invited the crew to make an 800-liter batch. The release party was a huge success and the brand was born the following year.
In 2019, Japas Cervejaria began brewing in the States. They’ve been able to do this through Beerternational, an innovative program that allows foreign breweries to brew fresh batches of beer in the United States. Several states are carrying the line at the moment, and more should follow.
These things take time, especially when you’re dabbling in an industry historically dominated by white males, not to mention operating globally with severe supply chain bottlenecks (especially hard for a brand that’s lesser known, harder to finding ingredients used).
building a brand
Shimada offers the word “resistance” when asked about navigating the landscape. “If it’s difficult to represent women in the beer market, imagine how it feels for Asian women, black women, transgender people, etc.,” she says. “Our role is to not only raise awareness of our empowerment of feminism and Asian causes, but also to embrace all types of diversity that are often excluded.”
They’ve teamed up with like-minded outfits and attend festivals that support the bigger cause, like Beers Without Beards and RIDEA Fest. They’ve weathered the pandemic, temporarily curtailed production, and gotten creative by opening a gift shop with some standout swag. The beer crowd is starting to pick up and it feels like the momentum is back, if not building. Part of that will always have to do with a solid narrative.
“We hope to always stay true to our history and stories and to honor those who have come before us,” says Kimura. “In this case, I mean our families and ancestors, but also the women who paved the way throughout history in so many ways that have made it possible for us to be here today. We are always very aware that our brand is something we build as we move forward, with the help of so many people. And we also try to look to the future and learn from new trends not only in the beverage industry but on a more global level.”
What’s next for Japas Cervejaria
What stands and comes for the brand? Ueno says they’re working on a new Brazil-Japan line, with beers like ICHI/UM (a New England IPA with yuzu and cocoa) and NI/DOIS, a Russian imperial stout with Brazilian vanilla and ponkan or honey tangerine. “It’s a way of showing who we are through our beers,” she says.
There are many breweries in the states that they would like to partner with, along with non-beer brands. “In short, we have fun when we see a lot more than just beer,” says Shimada. “Our dream? Maybe some Japanese brands like Asics, Mizuno, Sanrio, Uniqlo etc.”
The beer is good and worth looking for, but the message is even more important. “It helps me to know my past and family history, that’s where I can best express my creativity and where I can see that we have a mission that goes way beyond beer, but also awareness of women’s empowerment.” , Asian pride and also all kinds of diversity in an environment that still shows white and male dominance,” says Ueno.
Perhaps the best news so far is this: Japas Cervejaria has just completed a whirlwind tour of the US, delighting beer lovers across the country with their work. Chances are their beers will be available on a larger scale very soon. They have Texas and South Carolina in their sights, hopefully more is in the works.