Nagano Trading, the craft beer wholesaler and importer, opened Antenna America taproom back in 2013 as a showroom for their extensive American craft beer line up. AA’s location near Kannai Station is above Nagano Trading’s head- quarters, tucked away in a small side street. AA’s name symbolizes their mission to transmit, transport and connect great craft brewers with craft beer lovers as well as offering American food culture in Japan. (The brand’s acronym “AA” is also a nod to the owners’ names, Andrew and Akemi Balmuth.) Eventually this showroom started serving American food including Andrew’s famous chicken wings.
Started in 2004, Nagano Trading has always gone against the beer industry’s status quo. Although many advised them that “the consumer would never notice” if their beer wasn’t shipped over in refrigerated containers, the Balmuths decided to implement a strict 100% cold-chain importation system for maximum freshness. This means the beer they import stays cold from the point of origin to their destination in Japan. Nagano Trading’s loyalty to high quality control paid off when they started winning exclusive importing rights for some of the best niche breweries in the United States, building credibility with the core craft beer crowd.
The percentage of craft beer drinkers in Japan wasn’t increasing as much and demand was still very low, so to attract a wider audience, Nagano Trading went after bigger craft beer names including Sierra Nevada, which was a five- year negotiation.
“Sierra Nevada changed our life,” Akemi Balmuth believes. “Introducing a major brand like them in Japan opened up possibilities for Antenna America to have bigger retail chains and reach a whole group of beer lovers who don’t drink craft beer yet.”
When you think of attracting big crowds in Japan, you think of Tokyo. So why Yokohama? Yokohama is home to Kirin Beer, one of Japan’s biggest breweries, and thereby has a history and culture of beer plus an openness to craft beers. The city also has a sister-city relationship with San Diego, which is home to some of the craft beers Nagano Trading imports. But what really struck a chord in the Balmuth’s hearts was Yokohama’s trademark harbor and portside culture. Akemi had graduated from a university in Kobe, another port town in the Kansai Region, and missed being near the seaside hearing the sounds of container boats docking.
“We first ran Nagano Trading from Ginza, Tokyo,” says Akemi. “But when we came to Yokohama looking for a new location, we immediately felt comfortable.”
As Antenna America’s name spread among the food and beverages industry, it caught the attention of high-end grocery chain store Queens Isetan. The two companies collaborated to open their second location in Shinagawa Station’s Atre building. Because of the limited space, this location serves as a bar for thirsty passersby. Beers are mainly served on tap with 20 to 25 varieties of canned or bottled beers available.
Akemi hopes that Antenna America’s third location at the bustling Yokohama Station will attract non-craft beer drinkers open to trying something new. This spacious location is similar to the Kannai showroom in that it boasts a wide variety of beers from 12 oz. niche brands to barrel-aged vintage bottles that look like wine. During the day, patrons can sample beers with hot dogs and mixed nuts. After 5 p.m., they will serve their famous chicken wings, waffle fries and jalapeno poppers. Depending on the week, you’ll find tap takeovers of new brands only available at Antenna America, tastings and game and education events. Bilingual staff members are available at all locations.
Antenna America Yokohama
Food & Times Isetan Yokohama Joinus, Shin Sotetsu Building, 1-5-1 Nanko, Nishi-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa-ken 220-0005
Tel: (045) 548-8733
Antenna America Kannai
5F Yoshida Kosan Building #6, 5-4 Yoshida-machi, Naka-ku, Yokohama, Kanagawa-ken 231-0041
Tel: (045) 315-5228
Antenna America Shinagawa
2-18-1 Konan, Minato-ku, Tokyo 108-0075
Tel: (03) 6717-6262