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Blue Moon: Brewed for success

By Kieron Cashell

Japan Today chats with head brewer Keith Villa about Blue Moon craft beers in Japan.

How did you get involved in the craft beer industry?

Originally, I wanted to become a doctor, specifically a pediatrician. In my senior year of university (University of Colorado in Boulder), Coors brewing company put an advertisement out looking for someone to do brewing research. I went along with about a hundred other students and the next day they called and said that I was the most qualified. I went back to my dorm and asked myself if I wanted to work with sick people or beer and I thought, well I’ll try beer for a year and if I don’t like it, then I’ll go to medical school. After a year, I really loved doing this research with beer and yeast and so I told them I was going to quit and go to school at University of Colorado in Boulder and get my Ph.D there. Then they said, “Well hold on, what if we send you to Belgium to get your Ph.D in brewing?” And I said, sure.

You studied Brewing in Belgium for a few years. Was there a big difference in techniques there than in the U.S.? And how did it influence your outlook and approach to brewing?

Yes, because back in 1988 to 1992 when I was in Belgium, brewing with spices and herbs was almost unheard of in the United States. When you talked about beer, it was the clear, Pilsner beer…and a spiced beer just sounded strange back then. But in Belgium, that was normal—brewing with any kind of spices or fruits was something that they’d been doing for 300 years at least, so that was the first hurdle to get over—that you really could brew good beer with spices and fruits. The other thing was food friendliness. Belgian beers were always made to be food friendly, like wines. And American beers, they were not designed to be food friendly, per say; they were designed to be refreshing and thirst quenching. People thought it was strange to pair beer with food, in a culinary way. So those were the real distinct differences that I found between American brewing and Belgian brewing.

Tell us how Blue Moon came into being?

I started testing at our little brewery in Denver under Coors Field -- the stadium of the Colorado Rockies baseball team. We would try our beers out on the baseball fans, and found that Belgian white beer was very, very liked by the customers. They didn’t know what it was, but they loved it. The recipe is based on what I tasted in Belgium but with some changes. I put in oats to make it and I used Valencia orange peels instead of the Curacao orange peels that the Belgians use. The premium Valenica orange peel gives a much better smell and citrus flavor. This was at that time really risky. Coors were expecting some sort of Pilsner beer. It was almost unheard of to produce a Belgian style.

But we did it — just based on the recipe and the flavor profile. People loved it. Blue Moon was born. The name came from our administrative assistant; she said, you know an opportunity like this only comes around once in a blue moon ... why don’t you call it Blue Moon Brewing Company. And so, I thought, wow, that’s great! Since we were on a shoestring budget, we didn’t have much to reward her ... so we gave her a T-shirt for naming the company.

Was it a surprise the beer gained popularity, particularly in establishments that previously did not sell Craft beer? And do you feel in this respect that Blue Moon is somewhat of a cross-over beer?

In the early days, it wasn’t successful. It was really hard because people didn’t understand what Belgian beer was, and they didn’t understand the whole Blue Moon / cloudy beer thing. It was tough to educate people. Nowadays, we’ve reached the point where people understand what we’re about and we are successful and it is a cross-over beer for people who like regular Pilsner beers, but for those people who want just a little more flavor — but in a balanced way, they can come to Blue Moon and try us without having to deal with a stronger craft beer, like a real bitter taste, or something very strong etc.

Do you feel Blue Moon will do well in Japan?

I’m almost positive it will, because I think that the flavor profile is something that appeals to the Japanese palate. Their food is so well balanced with little nuances of flavor here and there, they take so much care and time into putting together the right flavor profile. Much like we do at our brewery. We put everything together to create the flavor of Blue Moon - again using natural ingredients. I think that the Japanese people really love when something natural comes together, the fact that it pairs with the food here, and just the appearance of it—it’s unique.

How does your marketing approach differ here than in, say, the U.S.?

In the U.S., we are more established. We the number one craft brand, people know about Blue Moon and it's the “go-to-beer” for a lot of people. We actually ran our first television commercial in the U.S. about two years ago. And so now we have commercials — not a lot of them, but we do have some commercials. Here in Japan, a lot of people may not know about Blue Moon, so what we’ll do is try the same strategy we did with Blue Moon in the States, when we first stated—that is, just go to the restaurants that serve specialty beer and specialty foods. Restaurants where the chefs really care about the food, then grow it from there. We don’t want to flood the market with Blue Moon, because if people don’t know about it - they probably won’t buy it. So we’ll just put it into the right accounts here and let it grow organically. We will be patient.

What are the biggest challenges you face in your business today?

I guess one big challenge we face it that people think that we’re big now and may not stay true to our roots. But as the founder of Blue Moon, I try to make sure that we stay true to all those early ideas that kept us together. It’s easy to stray from the things that made you successful.

What is the best part of doing what you do?

Just experimenting with new ingredients, making new beers - that is really fun. And the other fun part is talking to people about Blue Moon and our beers. So, to me, those two are right at the top. I love experimenting with new ingredients — just like any chef in a kitchen would. And I love talking to people about our brewery and our history.

If you never got into brewing, what would you be doing now?

I’d say, “Open your mouth and say ‘Ah.’”

What is your favorite food/restaurant in Japan?

I love sushi, so any restaurant that serves sushi.

What do you like to do in your spare time?

I golf, ride Harley-Davidsons, go mountain biking and I snowboard. I like to stay active, because if I don’t—I drink so much beer that I would be about 300 pounds.

© Japan Today

©2024 GPlusMedia Inc.

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Shouldn't matter that they are owned by Miller-Coors. As more "craft" beers succeed the line between them and mass brewers is blurring. Samuel Adams is often criticized for leasing brewing space from mass brewers. Their response? It's not the kitchen that's important, it's the cook and the recipe.

2 ( +2 / -0 )


true-- to an extent.

If the large organization employing the "chef" lets the chef do what he's good at the way he likes, you will get very good and very unique tastes. But if the chef is micro-managed, or made to be obedient to sales research that say "A" product is thought of as "excellent" by 40% of the people, "acceptable" by 20% and "bad" by 40%, whereas product "B" is thought of as "excellent by only 5%, but "acceptable" by 90%, then we should make product "B" for greater sales. This is of course the problem with the Hollywood end of the movie industry.

It sounds like this guy can make good beers (tho of course he can't voice dissatisfaction in this kind of interview)

In any case, I like drinking a variety of beers and am glad they are more available in Japan now, however, the imports are over priced. I look forward to the day when local beers can be more affordable.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Just drank one of these 2days ago, the Mrs brings me home diff beers she finds, I thought it was a J-made micro brew.

It was pretty good, went well with my shishito & eshareto out on the deck in the evening!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I never really considered Blue Moon to be craft beer. Craft beer would be more like Firestone Walker in the States, or Baird Brewing, in Japan.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Blue Moon! One of my favorite US-made Belgian ales. Goes down great with a thin slice of orange.

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

Belgian white beers are a completely different category. Some people like them, some people don't. Personally, I'm not a big fan of Blue Moon.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

I happen to be in Colorado right now on vacation. No one sells this here, lol.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Beer is only as good as the water used... Kirin bought in Hawaii is brewed in Canada..

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I bought a bottle of this a few days ago and it was pretty nice. I drank it straight from the bottle, so didn't get to see the colour though.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Definitely not a belgium ale tasting beer. I do not like cilantro and citrus peel in my beer. I'll add that myself if I really want it... which I don't.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

No one sells this here, lol.

There are so many beers in the US that it is hard finding this stuff from the others. If not for this article I would have not known about it. I do believe I have seen it before on shelves.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMJQHQhfD98 (Keith Villa commercial)

http://www.youtube.com/user/BlueMoonBrewingCo/videos (have never seen any of these commercials, => but I don't watch TV anymore (Roku or NSA/internet(s) spy grid only)

0 ( +0 / -0 )

There are many better beers in Colorado than Blue Moon. Oscar Blues, Left Hand, Breckenridge, Boulder, and many others. Blue Moon is a beer for those who do not like to drift too far from main-stream beers. Blue Moon is sold all over Colorado...and has a lot of marketing budget due to its parent company.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

This is one of my favorite US beers, but I like Belgian wheat beer in general. In England, my favorite was Leffe, which they sell for a whopping 500 yen for 150ml in stores here, whereas before I could get two 750ml for £5. Ah well I can still pick up Blue Moon from the base as I wouldn't expect it to be cheap here either.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

500Yen for 150ml of jeffe?

You are being ripped off, I pay 430yen for 330ml bottled and 100% imported.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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