When you think of an Ales for ALS™ beer the first thing that comes to mind might be a juicy East Coast Double IPA from a small brewery in New England, a clean, piney West Coast Pale from the Pacific Northwest, or a smooth, easy-drinking midwestern lager. However, while the majority of the brewers in the program are based in the US, the Ales for ALS™ hop blend has made its way to a few countries around the world. For the past few years, we have even had a participant on the opposite side of the globe: Yoho Brewing of Japan.

To find out more about how and why they got involved with Ales for ALS™, what they’re brewing, and the craft beer scene in Japan, we spoke with Yoho brewer, Kohei Mita.

ALS TDI: First off, can you tell me a little bit about the history of Yoho Brewing?

Kohei Mita: YOHO Brewing was founded in 1997. The founder was impressed by the craft beer that he came across when he studied in the United States and decided to start the business in Japan. It was the first brewery in Japan to produce authentic craft beer in cans for nationwide distribution, and it is now one of the most widely produced craft breweries in Japan.

Our flagship product, “YONA YONA ALE”, is the most widely consumed American pale ale in Japan. Wonderfully, we have always been supported by warm fans and are fortunate to be one of the most successful breweries.

For our readers in the US who might not be familiar, what is the craft beer scene like in Japan?

The market share is still small at about 1.2%, but with nearly 600 breweries, it is a solid and growing industry. Although the market share is still small compared to the U.S,. I think the quality of the beer is very high. As evidence of this, many Japanese breweries have won medals at international beer competitions. I believe that the careful, diligent, and elaborate nature of the Japanese people has had a positive influence on craft beer brewing. We would love for you to come to Japan and try our beers!

How did you find out about the Ales for ALS™ program and the ALS Therapy Development Institute (ALS TDI)?

We use a lot of hops from Yakima, Washington to make our beer. We were referred to Ales for ALS™ by our hop supplier, McKinnon International, which is a company in Seattle. When we first heard about ALS from them, we felt that we wanted to do something to help, and we also really connected with the cooperative effort of brewers working together to come up with hop blends to support this cause.

What has it been like participating in the program from overseas?

We were the first brewery outside of the United States to participate in this program and until a few years ago, the only one. We hope that our participation will make this effort global and help raise awareness of ALS. In fact, our participation in Ales for ALS™ has changed the map displayed on the campaign website from the North American continent to a map of the world. It is a small step, but I think it is very important. We brewers can only do so much, but the role of beer is to promote comfort and mutual aid, to help people connect through dialogue. In a sense, this is one of our activities to make the world a happier place with beer. There are no borders.

Why do you think it’s important to support ALS Research at ALS TDI?

We believe that ALS is a very difficult disease and needs lots of support. On the other hand, it is also a very rare disease and we feel it is difficult to expect a for-profit company to invest lots of money to solve it. We understand that ALS TDI is a non-profit, neutral research organization with global relationships and the latest knowledge. We are honored to be able to support them. And we hope that our activities will help people become aware of these difficult issues surrounding ALS.

Can you tell me about the Ales for ALS™ Beer you are brewing this year?

The beer we are brewing this year is a Double IPA. Based on the flavor trends of the hops used in the blend, we decided on an IPA that would take full advantage of them. We chose to brew a double IPA that is high in alcohol content and is full-body, rather than a session IPA or a Hazy IPA, which are the lighter IPAs, because we wanted people to savor the beer while thinking about ALS. The specs are as follows: Style: Westcoast Double IPA, AE: 3, ABV: 8.0, IBU: 42.8

What has the reaction been among your customers to the beer? Has anyone expressed appreciation for your support of ALS research?

I feel that they are very favorably received. I feel that volunteer activities are not as active in Japan as they are in the West, but many of our clients support this kind of initiative. We have been able to continue this activity for more than five years because we ourselves feel the satisfaction of gratitude and contribution.

Where can people find your beer? Is it ever available in the US?

You can drink at “YONA YONA BEER WORKS”, our official beer restaurant. There are 8 locations in Tokyo. Unfortunately, you cannot drink it in the U.S., but we hope that Japanese beer fans will be aware of this activity.

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