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Sean Collett, 34, is the head brewer, co-founder and co-owner of Two Rabbits Brewing Company in Omihachiman, Shiga Prefecture. Two Rabbits brews its own distinctive Australian-themed craft beers, and the owners also run the Rabbit Hutch Craft Beer Cafe.
1. What’s your background? I was born in Australia to Kiwi parents and grew up in Adelaide.
2. How did you end up in Japan? My wife and I lost our first child at 37 weeks. At the same time, I was trying to get out of the dog-eat-dog fossil fuel industry, and so we decided it was time for both of us to take a step back, rethink and reset. We came to Japan so I could undertake my MBA at Kyoto University.
3. How did you get into brewing? I was introduced to it by a friend and I brewed at home throughout my 20s. When we decided to start Two Rabbits, I went back to Australia to get my professional qualification in brewing.
4. How did you end up in Omihachiman? I constructed a model of where our markets and suppliers were, and the costs of transportation between those locations. Using this, we found Omihachiman and the residents were really supportive. It was an easy decision to make.
5. What’s Omihachiman’s vibe like? Omihachiman is a lovely little canal town situated on the eastern side of Lake Biwa roughly halfway between Otsu and Hikone. People can walk freely around the old town and canals, and the area is often used to shoot samurai dramas and films.
6. Where are you based? The cafe is located on the south side of the main canal on the second floor of an Edo Period (1603-1868) warehouse. The brewery is a short walk across the canal.
7. Do you get a lot of local customers, or is it more tourists? The majority of our customers are local drinkers. Local in the sense that they are either from Omihachiman or elsewhere in Shiga Prefecture.
8. Why the name Two Rabbits? While my wife and I were trying to decide on our next steps during our time in Kyoto, a whole range of ideas and opportunities presented themselves. My wife turned to me in frustration and recited a Japanese proverb: “If you chase two rabbits, you’ll catch neither.” It felt like a good grounding and reminder to us to stick to one thing and do it well.
9. Was it difficult to start up? The laws are strict and there’s a decent amount of red tape. However, when we started the brewery, we spent a year going back and forth to our tax office (the Japanese tax office controls the entire brewing/alcohol industry), so when it actually came to applying for the license, they were already very familiar with us and what we were trying to do.
10. Is craft beer becoming more popular in Japan? The statistics I’ve seen show that regular beer sales have been on the decline over the past few years, while craft beer sales are trending in the opposite direction. This has some of the “big boys” running scared, and they’re trying very hard to jump on the “craft” bandwagon.
11. Why do you think that is? Craft beer contains a lot more love per liter than regular beer.
12. You mention on Instagram the Rabbit Hutch has an Aussie pub vibe. What does that mean? The menu is full of Aussie pub favorites like chicken parmies, seasonal meat pies and sausage rolls. The beer is influenced by my Aussie-Kiwi background and I guess the overall vibe of the Rabbit Hutch is relaxed and friendly.
13. Do you ever put on events? Yes. Last year we threw a birthday bash. We had bands playing at the brewery and the Rabbit Hutch. We also had a Halloween party where all the staff dressed up. Our customers had a ball.
14. What’s your most popular beer? Our Aussie Pale Ale is very popular as there’s nothing else really like it in Japan. Our Rabbit Punch Mountain IPA usually sells out within 24 hours, too.
15. Do you use all local ingredients? No. Japan doesn’t have its own malting industry, so our malt comes from Australia, the U.K. and Germany. The hops we use come from Australia, New Zealand and the U.S.
16. Do you think this will change in the future? We have started working closely with our friends at Ikari Farm. We use their raw wheat in our wheat beers (Kinkan Wit, Classic Weizen, Wheat IPA), and there’s talk of growing barley and possibly malting it at some point down the line.
17. Has the pandemic impacted your business much? It did initially. Our business model was based around the selling of kegs to bars and restaurants that specialize in craft beer. When COVID-19 hit, we shut down the Rabbit Hutch temporarily, and all our keg sales naturally dried up.
18. How did you cope? We went into bottling mode, but the system wasn’t made for such huge volumes, so we ended up importing a Canadian-made canning line. We’re now trying to keep up with demand.
19. Any expansion plans? We’re planning on possibly expanding our Rabbit Hutch and opening up in other cities in Shiga, and we’d love to be able to set up a pop-up in Tokyo every now and then.
20. Where can people buy your beer? There are numerous places that serve our beer on tap in Kansai, as well as bottle shops selling our cans. Outside of Kansai there are a few places in different cities that buy our beer, however the easiest way is to probably buy directly from our online shop.
By Iain Maloney, The Japan Times