Great Dane Goes Global: New Brewery to Open in Japan

Some breweries expand to neighboring cities. The Great Dane goes to Japan.

After several years of planning, Great Dane Brewing will open as a production brewery and tasting room in Akiu Onsen, Sendai, about two hours north of Tokyo. The brewery, operating separately from Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. in the U.S., will focus on canned and bottled beers that will be sold throughout Japan.

The brewery is the brainchild of Rob LoBreglio, co-founder and brewmaster for Great Dane Pub & Brewing Co. LoBreglio will serve as CEO and brewmaster for Great Dane Brewing in Japan. He originally had the idea after spending time in Japan as a consultant and having deep connections to several craft-beer industry vets in the country.

“This is a dream come true. I get to work alongside some great people and close friends who are so dedicated to strengthening the craft beer industry in Japan,” LoBreglio said. “Along with featuring current Great Dane beers, we plan to create a range of new beers. We’re going to have a lot of fun with it and will certainly bring some of those recipes to Wisconsin.”

The brewery will live in the heart of one of Japan’s longstanding tourist destinations, offering a tasting room for visitors to try the latest beers. Additionally, they’ll feature a specially crafted food menu that pairs perfectly with Dane brews.

Construction on the brewery is set to begin later this summer with plans to start distributing beer throughout Japan in early spring of 2023.

A long connection to Japan

LoBreglio has longstanding ties to Japan, a country he’s visited regularly for years. 

Through his brother, a professor of Japanese studies, he met Tetsuya Kiyosawa in the mid-90s. At that time, craft beer was still looking to gain broad acceptance, and Kiyosawa was passionate about being part of the industry.

Kiyosawa trained under LoBreglio for two years, before ultimately returning to Japan, where he worked in the beverage industry, including a tenure at Yoho Brewing Co., one of Japan’s largest and most successful craft breweries.

The duo had discussed the idea of a brewery in Japan for years, bringing their knowledge and experience together under one roof. In his new role with Great Dane Brewing, Kiyosawa will oversee distributor relations, brewery productions and community involvement.

“Tetsuya is a dear friend and a true student of craft beer,” LoBreglio said. “His intricate understanding of the industry is invaluable, and I can’t wait to again work alongside him.”

Deep Madison ties

The concept for a brewery in Japan gained additional traction when LoBreglio met Phil Dawson, a former Madison-area sports media personality. Dawson shifted his interest to craft beer, became a certified brewer, and moved to Sendai with his wife, who was born in Japan. 

Dawson, who is well connected throughout the Japanese craft beer scene, will serve as assistant brewer.

Additionally, Shinji Muramoto, originally from Sapporo, Japan and owner of Muramoto in Madison, will serve as president, overseeing the brewery’s tasting room. A longtime friend of LoBreglio, Muramoto is one of Madison’s most decorated chefs.

“The strength of this team cannot be overstated,” said LoBreglio, who also received an investment from Dane co-founder and president, Eliot Butler. “From the beer and food to a strong respect for Japanese culture, we have a group that’s as passionate as it is talented.”

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