Atsushi Murakami: “If Tono becomes synonymous with hops in Japan, I will be happy”

Atsushi Murakami, 58, is a researcher at the Kirin Brewery and creator of the Murakami Seven hop variety. He has published peer-reviewed studies on the molecular phylogeny and genetics of wild hops, and serves as an advisor to BrewGood, a community development social initiative in Tono, Iwate Prefecture. He also runs Brew Note Tono, a jazz vinyl bar located in a reformed warehouse.

1. Where were you born? Shiwa-cho, Iwate. It’s about an hour drive from my jazz bar (Brew Note Tono).

2. You are known as the inventor of Murakami Seven, a world famous hop variety. Is it true that Kirin once asked you to destroy it, but you hid it instead? Yes. Funding for our hops research and development program (Esashi) has dried up and maintaining the fields is very expensive. Fortunately, my bosses in Kirin were very nice. So they let me continue to improve my creations on my own. I saved 20 of the 800 strains of Esashi hops I was developing. The best of them was the seventh iteration. So I named him, Murakami Seven.

3. Can you describe Murakami Seven? Can I say something strange? I like to compare Murakami Seven to (the traditional image of) a Japanese lady. She may seem calm, quiet and reserved, but under this presentation, she is full of strength. Just when you think you understand Murakami Seven, you say, “Wait, what is that? Oh! Now I see!”

4. Could you compare Murakami Seven to a particular song or artist? Hmm… it’s not jazz. It’s classical music. Probably baroque. Let me think… (Murakami selects a record and puts it on). Here is Bach, “Cello Suite No. 1 in G major”. It’s Murakami Seven.

5. What is the defining characteristic of Japanese beers? Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo: the great Japanese beers are all German-style Pilsners. But there are craft brewers exploring weizens, IPAs and the like.

6. Is there a type of beer that Japanese craft brewers do particularly well? The problem is that you can’t produce anything too different. Kirin has made weizens but they don’t sell. Most consumers buy only Pilsner styles. The market is very narrow.

7. Have you been knighted in Germany? No no. But they call me the “hop doctor”. I’m a brewer – they call it a “masterin Germany. I’m also a hops breeder and a chemical analyst. They’re usually separate careers in Germany, but I do all three. So they recognized my accomplishments.

8. Do you own the rights to Murakami Seven or is it owned by Kirin Brewery? In Japan, it is considered shokumu hatsumei, which is an invention created on the company’s time. The employer, in this case Kirin, therefore retains the rights.

9. What do you think of this? Well, I worked on a small salary for 10 years, then finally got a big raise. With the success of Murakami Seven and a few other accomplishments, I got a very generous retirement package!

10. Did you have a passion for beer or hops before joining Kirin? No not at all. I just wanted to do some research, and this was the best way to do it. It allowed me to do what I love: science. Now, of course, I love beer.

11. Do you need passion to have a successful career like yours? Absolutely, and a long term goal. In fact, from day one I intended to open a jazz bar like this. I started collecting these records with my low income – which drove my wife crazy – but I knew that one day I would make my dreams come true. I would be successful in my career and it would pay off in retirement. I loved research, so I could work hard with pleasure along the way.

12. We live in an age of short attention spans. Is there a secret to cultivating focus and delayed gratification? I do not think so. I think it’s mostly in the genes. I have always liked to work little by little on my own projects. That’s my nature. Ask my wife. Human nature exists for all of us.

13. Why did you choose to open a jazz bar in Tono when you retired? This Kura (warehouse) was very cheap! Also, my hometown is not as open-minded as the people of Tono. I developed a good relationship working here for so many years and they let me do whatever I wanted.

14. You work with the city of Tono and BrewGood promote the cultivation of hops and beer in the region. Do you think Tono has a future as a beer mecca in Japan? If Tono becomes synonymous with hops in Japan, I will be happy. That’s the point. If you say “hops” in Japan, you should think of Tono. But some foreign guests just come to visit my jazz bar these days. They have no idea of ​​my connection to Kirin or beer. It has been interesting.

15. What advice do you have for beginner brewers, what kind of beer should they try making first? Don’t waste it! If you put all that work into brewing something and it goes wrong, you’ll be too disappointed to try again. So keep it simple and do it right so you can enjoy the beer you make. Pilsner is the hardest type to make. So I wouldn’t recommend a Pilsner to start with. Something fermented at a high temperature (like a beer) is safer.

16. Are there any new beer trends, like sour and lambic beers, that you find exciting? Fruit beers are on the rise in Japan. The whole country tries them, but they are actually very difficult. The quality of bitterness is very difficult to control. It’s just my opinion. Apples and grapes have organic acids that are really different, so when you get it right, it’s fascinating.

17. In your opinion, which country produces the best beer? The Czech Republic. I went to Budweiser Budvar Brewery and tasted their Pilsner and thought – this is it! I had never tasted anything better. It’s a perfect beer. And so cheap!

18. How does the Czech Republic produce the best beer in the world at such low prices? If they raised prices, people would revolt! They drink by far the most beer in the world.

19. People who are really into beer or wine often seem to have very good taste in other areas like music. Is there a link? All of these things allow us to truly enjoy our time in life. With beer and music. It’s a good combination. Especially to enjoy our private time, when you don’t even need to talk. With drinks and music you can just enjoy.

20. Finally, the most important question of all: what is the best hangover cure? (Long pause) When I worked for Kirin, we always had our “cheer time” around 5 p.m. Without fail, I went home and had dinner with my family. That’s all. If you start at 7 p.m., you’re going to drink too much too late. Always dine with your family!

Atsushi Murakami’s jazz vinyl bar Brew Note Tono is located at 2-11 Chuo-dori, Tono, Iwate Prefecture. Murakami Seven hops can be enjoyed in Spring Valley Brewery’s Murakami Seven IPA and other select beers. BrewGood offers community-focused Beer Experience tours, including local hop farms and beer tastings in the Tono region. For more details or to arrange a visit, visit brewgood.jp.

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