The back wall of Mikkeller Tokyo is filled with a wide selection of beer—a cycling microcosm of the burgeoning Tokyo craft beer scene. There’s variety here people crave—a variety that beer lovers search for and hunt down with each glass.
And so it was interesting—and intriguing—to note the IPA in the bottom right corner.
Drunk Coffee, by Trunk Coffee.
This was how I found myself at Mikkeller—to meet and talk with Trunk Coffee founder Yasuo Suzuki about his most recent project: a specialty coffee and pale ale collaboration with Shiga Kogen, one of Japan’s leading craft beer brewers.
“So, how’d this all start?” I asked.
“When I first had Shiga Kogen’s IPA,” he said, “it was really, really good. I was so impressed. So I wanted to create something, the best product I could, with a brewer I respected. And right now there’s Blue Bottle, Fuglen, and a lot of foreign brands in Japan, but I wanted to show the world that this is what Japan can do. That’s really what I wanted to show people.”
Suzuki is nothing if not passionate. His coffee career began in Denmark, where he begged his way across the country for barista work. He was a man obsessed—immersing himself in the flavors, scents, and techniques of the coffee world. Upon his return to Japan, Suzuki helped open Fuglen Coffee, and in August of 2014, founded Trunk Coffee in Nagoya—a roaster now considered one of the most respected specialty coffee companies in Japan.
Suzuki was adamant about creating a light beer—he’d seen coffee stouts before, but he wasn’t interested in what had already been done. He wanted to create something new and unique.
This meant testing—Shiga Kogen and Trunk Coffee tested some ten different beans before settling on Nicaragua Limoncillo, a natural process Pacamara with a fruity individuality Suzuki felt wasn’t lost to the hops in the IPA. To hear Suzuki tell it, it’s a beer that quenches a coffee craving.
“It’s like, when it’s coffee time, or tea time…we created a flavor for that. For example, there are beers you drink with dinner, and with food, and there’s a variety of alcohol for before food, after food, and during food. Shiga Kogen’s beers are designed for food, but in this case we wanted something with a different kind of timing—so we came it at from that angle; a beer for when you feel like drinking coffee.”
Suzuki said he’s always wanted to make a coffee beer. He spoke of the beer as an opportunity to introduce the taste of specialty coffee to the craft beer world. But deeper still, he hopes it brings a little attention to Nagoya—a place he aims to put on the map with his coffee.
“Nagoya is home to Trunk Coffee. But nobody knows what kind of place it is. Through coffee, people can learn about Nagoya. And through this beer, beer lovers can learn more about coffee. In that way I can create opportunities for more people to drink coffee. I want to create these opportunities—ways to bring people’s attention to Nagoya.”
And it would seem the coffee has made its mark—the first round of Drunk Coffee has quickly become hard to find, with the initial run of 10,000 bottles selling out in the first week. Suzuki said if you’re lucky you might still find it at a few craft beer bars. Fortunately though, the future is bright for coffee beer—and at the moment Suzuki is thinking of an Ethiopia washed coffee as his next project.
“If you think of Nicaragua Limoncillo as a male, then this Ethiopia washed is a female. That’s how different they are. I’d really like to try and make a new, delicious beer that differs from the Limoncillo. And we want to continue putting out something fresh. Coffee changes with the seasons, and year to year, so we want to make beer with what coffees are fresh at the time,” says Suzuki.
When you hear Suzuki speak about it, it’s easy to get drawn in—he’s animated, excited, and passionate. He says the project is about coffee, and sharing it, and teaching people in his hometown, but it’s clear that he’s also driven by a need to experiment and challenge himself. There’s a creativity in his head and in his heart that coffee is a conduit for—it’s the pursuit of the unknown, and the potential that lies there.
And the potential for coffee beers, it would seem, is great.
Hengtee Lim (@Hent03) is a Sprudge.com staff writer based in Tokyo. Read more Hengtee Lim on Sprudge.
With additional photos courtesy Nik van der Giesen.