Craft beer fans were shocked late last year while browsing the app-based beer retailer Tavour. The company works with more than 600 American craft breweries, and users regularly see some of the country’s most unattainable brews. But, a young brewery called New Hokkaido made craft fans do a double-take — was Tavour shipping in suds from far-off Japan?
The answer is, ‘kind of.’
New Hokkaido is the brainchild of Gustav Dose, founder of Montana’s celebrated Mountains Walking Brewery, one of the most popular producers working with Tavour. Dose is half Japanese and spent much of his childhood on the island of Hokkaido, where many of Japan’s 200+ microbreweries are based.
“My mother is Japanese, and it’s my first language. My name is Gen, and I grew up as both Gentaro and Gustav,” he explained. “So, in many ways, New Hokkaido is Gentaro and Mountains Walking is Gustav, to me anyways.”
To pay homage to his heritage, Dose is combining Japanese brewing practices with American craft. Every beer from New Hokkaido features prominent additions of Japan-sourced rice — as traditionally practiced by Japanese breweries — and most also utilize bold American hops. And, it will likely stay that way.
“I think the rice is central to New Hokkaido,” said Dose. While rice isn’t often seen in American craft IPAs, the distinct flavor of the grain creates a unique experience, adding a drier, crisper flavor that compliments the fruity, American-grown hop varieties.
That’s not the only innovation that makes this project so exciting; with New Hokkaido, Dose is creating an entirely new type of brewery.
“New Hokkaido is a ‘phantom brewery’ that pops up around the world,” he explained. “The first place happens to be here at Mountains Walking in Bozeman.”
What those pop-ups might look like remains to be seen — not even Dose seems entirely certain as yet. Most likely, he will work with different breweries around the country (and possibly the world) to create a variety of beers under the New Hokkaido label. Each will combine Japanese brewing practices and flavor profiles with the individual personalities of the different breweries making the beer. For now, New Hokkaido beers are nearly impossible to find outside of Montana, except for limited amounts available on the Tavour app.
So far, New Hokkaido has released just over a dozen beers, running the gamut from new-school Hazy IPAs (that they endearingly call “Snowy IPAs”) to classic Japanese-style Lagers, Fruit Beers, and even a couple of Hard Seltzers. So far, only 3 IPAs — called Oni, Yuki Onna, and Yabai Tanuki have found their way onto Tavour, but the company plans to offer more varieties in the future. Unsurprisingly given Dose’s success with Mountains Walking, all the brews from his new project have earned high marks from consumers.
One day soon, breweries all over the country may be embracing Japanese beer culture and producing brews for New Hokkaido, but for now, craft aficionados looking for a taste will have to either head for Big Sky Country, or check out the Tavour app.