Announced last month, Kirin Beer – part of massive Japan conglomerate Kirin Company Ltd – will take a 33.4% stake in Karuizawa, Nagano-based craft beer brewery Yo-Ho Brewing, marking it as the first major Japanese brewer to invest into the country’s growing craft beer movement. However, the move is likely to throw the supply of Yo-Ho beers to Singapore into doubt.

Yo-Ho Brewing, best known for its Yona Yona Ale, has in recent years become Japan’s biggest craft beer maker – its production output topped 240,000 cases last year – since Japan relaxed its liquor tax laws in 1994 that led to a surge in the number of microbreweries in the country.

The move is widely seen as a way for the maker of Kirin Ichiban Shibori to diversify its portfolio in a domestic beer market that has shrunk in nine straight years while many craft breweries have experienced double digit growth. Kirin, one of Japan’s four major brewing companies, is expected to invest more than 1 billion yen ($9.2 million) in Yo-Ho. As part of the deal Yo-Ho will retain management control, but is set to consign a significant portion of its production to Kirin. The two brewing companies is also expected to “cooperate in shipping, procurement, product development and online promotion”.

Some industry observers are concerned that Kirin may exert undue influence over its new partner, but Kirin executives have stressed that it will not be overseeing Yo-Ho, but instead hope to get its younger executives to learn from Yo-Ho.

“A traditional beer company has limited ideas about development and marketing, so the partnership with Yo-Ho is encouraging,” Kirin’s president Yoshinori Isozaki had said at the press conference announcing the news of the investment.

Eastern Craft Trading is currently the official importer and distributor of Yo-Ho’s beers in Singapore, while Kirin is imported and distributed by Asia Pacific Breweries (APB). Considering that the two new partners have already announced that they will be cooperating on shipping and logistics, it’s a likelihood that, assuming APB intends to carry YoHo’s range in Singapore, Eastern Craft Trading may lose its distribution rights to Singapore’s largest brewing company, now owned by Heineken.

But Eastern Craft Trading director Jeremy Reynolds has revealed that they have in the past week just re-signed an annual contract with Yo-Ho Brewing that sees them retaining their distribution rights at least for the coming year. “They’ve told us that nothing’s changed so far,” says Reynolds, who met brewery representatives in Japan last week.

So it’s safe to assume we’ll continue to see Yona Yona Ale in Singapore for now.


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