Brewer Spotlight: Japas Cervejaria Brings a Taste of Japanese Ingredients and the Brazilian Craft Beer Scene to the United States
Maíra Kimura, Yumi Shimada, and Fernanda Ueno are the brewers, creatives, and entrepreneurs behind Japas Cervejaria, one of craft beer’s most exciting breweries hitting the United States market all the way from Brazil. The term “Japas” is what people of Japanese descent are often called in Brazil, frequently without their permission. So, Maíra, Yumi, and Fernanda decided to take back the word and, for them, turn it into a celebration of their Japanese-Brazilian heritage. Japas Cervejaria, therefore, is just that: a celebration of Japanese culture, the Brazilian brewing scene, and the overall craft beer community.
So much is special and unique about Japas Cervejaria. There’s the blending of Japanese and Brazilian cultures, a fitting combination many of us in other parts of the world may not immediately realize -- Brazil actually has the largest Japanese population outside of Japan. There are the unique ingredients that not only teach beer drinkers about Japanese cuisine, but treat them to fresh, novel, exciting variations on their favorite styles. There’s the fact that this brewery is helmed by three women. Plus, all three cofounders, with Maíra and Fernanda spearheading brewing operations and Yumi handling all artwork and communications, have built this brand while working other jobs and living in different cities -- though they are actively working toward and getting closer to being able to focus on Japas full-time. For these reasons, and because we’re simply hooked on Japas’ beautiful beers, we were thrilled to sit down and chat with Maíra, Yumi, and Fernanda.
How did you all find each other on your craft beer journeys and start Japas?
Maíra: I started working with beer when I came back to Brazil. I had lived in Paris and worked in marketing, and I was looking for something different, something to make. I went to England for fourth months to take a beer course, and realized beer could be more than a hobby. Realizing it could be a professional path changed my life. I went back to Brazil, took a lot more courses, and opened a gypsy brewery.
Fernanda: I started homebrewing in 2008. Back then, I was studying food engineering in the south of Brazil, looking for courses in brewing. I got an internship at the brewery where I still work today in 2009, so that’s been 11 years.
Yumi: I’m in advertising and publishing, working as an art director. Seven or eight years ago, I was taking a beer sommelier course, and I met Fernanda. My life changed.
Maíra: I met Fernanda and Yumi in the beer scene. Around 2014, we started to think about doing something together. Back then, we were just playing around, thinking how we could do something with Japanese ingredients since we were all Japanese descendants. We made an American pale ale with wasabi and loved the results, so we started looking for partners to brew with us. We established Japas as an actual company and found a brewpub in São Paulo, who opened the doors for us to brew a 700-liter batch.
We knew we had something really interesting on our hands, so looked for other partners in order to brew regularly. Before Covid-19 hit, we were up to brewing one new beer per month. Our friend owns a company in the United States; it’s kind of an importer, but she actually brews our beer there so Japas can grow in the U.S.
How has the reception been, how have people been responding to the beer?
Maíra: Here in Brazil, we started really slowly and very carefully. We were still learning back in 2014, which was really the beginning of the craft beer industry here. The States is more mature as a market, and by the time we got to the States, we were more mature, too. I think the reception was this surprise at how different the things we’re doing are...People seem to really like what we’re doing, and we’re very excited to be so well received.
Since you have such unique and creative beers, let’s talk a little about the brainstorming and creation process. In terms of what’s going on in craft beer today with different trends, and Brazilian influences, and Japanese influences, how much do you consider each of those facets?
Fernanda: We brew in a different way because we like to mix things -- not just ingredients but also concepts of Japanese culture. We get inspiration from food, too, because we love to go out and eat. We’ll mix very different ingredients in beers to bring new flavors to people.
Maíra: We like to tell the story of beer, dig more into our Japanese [heritage], learn, and teach people -- we feel like we’re telling people about the Japanese culture as we learn. It’s an interesting process for us, not only as [brewers], but as people, too.
Yumi: We want to understand our past, of the Japanese culture moving to Brazil. It’s a big story, a mix of pasts and futures and cultures. We are Japanese Brazilians, which is very different, and we are three girls making beer, which is very different in this business. It’s satisfying and fulfilling.
Fernanda: We only brew what we like to drink --
Maíra: We don’t make sweet beers at all, like what’s expected from a women-owned brewery. We hate sweet beers.
Fernanda: We have a list with ingredients that we want to use one day, all seasonal. The list has a calendar of when they’re available in Brazil and also now in the U.S., so we see what do we have available, what style can we brew with this or that, and what concept can we create with the name and label? Sometimes we start with the concept, too. The first beer to come to us with Japanese ingredients was for the anniversary of Japanese immigration to Brazil, and we chose fruit that was also an “immigrant” in Brazil. We’ll try to make a test brew together even though we live in different cities, so we’ll meet at Yumi’s house in São Paulo or at the brewery where we brew -- and then with our ideas, Yumi will build the label from scratch. Every beer has its own story.
Let’s talk about each of the beers, starting with Sawā Yuzu.
Fernanda: The Sawā Yuzu is part of a line of sour beers where we switch the fruit depending on what’s seasonal. Yuzu is my favorite. It’s like a mix of tangerine and lemon.
Maíra: It’s very aromatic. It’s used in Japanese cuisine and is a really rare ingredient. The peels are very aromatic and the juice is really sour, so it gives more sour notes to the beer, but doesn’t overpower it.
Fernanda: In Brazil, it’s hard to find, so we call upon our small farmer suppliers. We try to have a relationship with small, local producers and Japanese farmers -- we’re very united and support each other’s businesses.
Matcha Shukurimu is a New England IPA brewed with matcha and vanilla, where did the inspiration for that beer come from?
Fernanda: Shukurimu is a dessert we love. We used to go out in São Paulo and get this dessert in the Japanese neighborhood. We’d always be eating this and one day, we thought, “We should make a beer with this.” Our favorite version is made with matcha, which is where we got the inspiration for the beer.
And what about Matsurika, a pilsner with jasmine petals?
Fernanda: For a long time, it’s been the number-one pilsner in Brazil. It has a specific ingredient not typical for Brazil [the jasmine petals], and it’s our flagship for now in the U.S.
What is the craft beer scene like in Brazil?
Fernanda: It’s growing now. It’s a recent thing, so the market is still small, and big brands are still the biggest volume consumed. But we can find really good beers here. The brewers here are very inspired by what’s going on in the U.S. and the international market as a whole, and they’re creating new things. There’s already an original Brazilian style, that’s sort of like a Berliner weisse, that’s growing very fast.
In terms of being women in brewing, we still haven’t reached a point of total equality here in the United States -- what is that like in Brazil, is it still a bit more rare to have a brewery run by women?
Maíra: In the beginning, it was more rare. Fernanda and I have been brewing since the beginning of the craft beer market, and women have been rare especially in brewing positions. But in those and other positions like sales, it’s growing now.
Fernanda: Nowadays, there are a lot. We have a big group of female brewers and women working in different parts of the brewery, from logistics to maintenance. It’s very good to see this, but it’s still hard for us. We feel like we need to work more than men.
Maíra: Men used to think we’re not capable enough, and that we were there just for their pleasure. They used to hit on us -- we’ve all been through difficult situations in this sense.
Fernanda: We still face disappointing things. There are technical conferences happening and they are all men. There are so many women working and researching, and they’re very capable, and yet, they’re not invited.
Maíra: We only get invited to speak at stuff where it’s “how women work in beer.”
It seems crazy that we’re still not at the point where brewers are described as brewers regardless of their gender or gender identity, and that gender even tends to be a part of the conversation at all when we should just be talking about the beer. But some feel that it’s necessary to be vocal about gender equality until we get to that point, where women have an equal presence in brewing. What are your feelings on this?
Fernanda: We are tired of all this, but we need to talk about it.
Maíra: It’s an important conversation. We have to keep talking about this so it gets normalized. To get to [men’s] level, we feel like we have to prove more. We’ll be pouring beer in our booth, and people get there and say, “I want to talk to your boss,” and I say, “No, I’m the boss.” It’s very frustrating, people don’t trust us in a way. I feel like we have to keep talking about it even though it’s so tiring.
What do you think the future holds for Japas?
Fernanda: We’re very focused now on expanding the business in the U.S. Then we want to be in Japan, that’s one of our dreams.
Yumi: And to live off this beer.
Fernanda: Yes, we want to have [Japas] as our sole living; right now we still have to do side jobs and freelance gigs to pay the bills.
Maíra: It feels like we’re on the right path now. We have dreams of things we want to accomplish. We want to have a brewpub. We want to have other products besides beer. And, we want to have a lot of beer!
TapRm is excited to announce a live tasting event we will be hosting with Japas in the coming weeks! Stay tuned for details on this virtual event and get ready to sip on Japas' delicious brews and learn more about how each is uniquely crafted!