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Brewers Assistant Steve Chennault tests some of the American Amber concocted at Sharky’s Beverage Company at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan.
Brewers Assistant Steve Chennault tests some of the American Amber concocted at Sharky’s Beverage Company at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. (Allison Batdorff / S&S)

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Dave Boerner didn’t start out as a beer nut. He was a chu-hi guy, preferring the shochu-based coolers.

He didn’t even like beer.

But he just couldn’t resist the opportunity to become Sharky’s Beverage Company brewmaster. After all, he’d be in charge of making a product people really wanted. Plus, “brewmaster” just sounds cool, he said.

“I liked the title,” said Boerner, who was working in Morale Welfare and Recreation’s food and beverage service division when the MWR director floated the brewery plan in 2000. “And I liked the idea of doing something different.”

Something different is the backbone of the craft beer concept, which strives to give beer drinkers more choice for their favorite frosty.

“There really is a beer for every occasion,” Boerner said.

In March, they will roll out Blue Ridge Stout, to go with the flagship beers of American Amber and Eagle Lager that they sell to Club Alliance, Officers Club and Seaside Restaurant on Yokosuka Naval Base, the Atsugi Officers Club, New Sanno Hotel and occasionally Camp Zama.

In spring, they’ll switch out the stout for a Cerveza Dorada; in summer, a Kitty Hawk Red Ale; fall will find a Pilsner on tap and winter brings Get Jolly Strong Winter Ale.

Exotic blends such as British Style Fuggle, Honey Wheat, Marzen, Tripple Jon and Yokosuka Porter beers are available for special orders with a 10-keg minimum.

The challenge is getting people to try something new, Boerner said.

“A good 80 percent of our clientele are young sailors.… Most aren’t familiar with the vast variety of beers out there,” Boerner said. “Brew pubs are a niche market in the States, much less on a Navy base.”

Currently, “craft” breweries produce about 3 percent of the beer consumed in the United States. But beer culture is growing and people are expecting more out of their brews, Boerner said.

“I tell people to think of beer like wine. It’s quality, not quantity,” Boerner said. “It’s not about getting drunk. It’s about enjoying your beer.

“If I get it right, a person from England would recognize an English ale (or Fuggle),” he said. “A person from Ireland would know, ‘That’s an Irish stout.’ That’s when I’m doing my job.”

He said many customers at Sharky’s, unsure of the homemade beer, often choose the old stand-bys of Miller or Budweiser. But Petty Officer 3rd Class Ezekiel Tyler tried a craft beer and pronounced it “good.”

“It wasn’t anything special or strange,” Tyler said, adding that he’d drink it again.

And base prices are cheap. Most brew pubs charge from $3 to $5 a glass, Sharky’s beer is $1.50 or $5 for a pitcher.

Sharky’s is the only brewery on a U.S. base in Japan, Boerner said, adding that it brews about 500 gallons of beer a month. He said it has the capacity to brew 1,240 gallons in the single kettle and five fermenters on the first floor of Club Alliance.

Boerner said he learned his craft in 2000 from Master brewer Jonathon Downing from England. He in turn is passing on the skills to two certified brewer’s assistants.

Assistant Steve Channault admits that some tasting goes with the work.

“It’s a requirement,” he said.

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