2021 Plans Reviewed

Review of plans for was a very busy and stressful year
Blog: Whitabootery
Categories: 13-minute read

In January last year, I wrote a blog post about my provisional plans for 2021 , this seems as good a time as any to review the plans and assess how well I managed to move towards achieving them.

With the global challenges of 2020 bleeding through to much of 2021, there were certain goals that were either not legally achievable or I simply didn’t feel that the risk of infection was low enough to pursue the goal in question. Protecting my family from covid-19 was a constant consideration and at times perhaps I was more cautious than I strictly had to be but in this regard I have absolutely no regrets.

So “excuses” given, let’s review the plans in order of their placement within the previous post:

Japanese Local Government’s Rural Rejuvenation Initiative (kyouryokutai programme - 協力隊)

Whilst not explicitly highlighted as a goal for the year, my year start blog post mentioned that pretty much everything I planned for the year was done so in order to enable us to apply to this scheme. Both my wife and I successfully applied and were accepted into the kyouryokutai programme for Hidaka village in Kōchi prefecture on the island of Shikoku in Japan. My contract is due to start on June 1st 2022 and my wife will start a few months later once our second baby is old enough to attend kindergarten. I was pretty nervous during the interview with the town mayor, deputy mayor and various village people but they were very lenient on me with their questioning and I held my nerve and responded appropriately in reasonably acceptable Japanese. There is an implicit requirement for a driving license, but as long as we were trying to obtain licenses, the village officials seemed to be content and if we need or needed to learn in Japan, I don’t think this would have been a particularly big deal.

Brew more regularly

In January I set the target at completing 15 brew days by the end of 2021 and in order to enable this to happen we invested in an additional conical fermenter, allowing me to be able to brew more frequently (approximately every two weeks). I am delighted to say that at the time of writing, I have managed 18 brew days with 1 more planned before the year ends!

Thanks in part to teachings from my part-time MSc in Brewing and Distilling course, in big part to great advice from my friend Ken from Mukai Craft Brewing and in part due to my diligence and experimentation, I’ve progressed quite well this year. I decided to put my tech skills to use and developed a beer recipe database and front end web site (which still needs to be more populated) which also helped me lean on the knowledge of other brewers in order to get to the point where I am developing my own recipes. I’ve still much to learn and much recipe development to do but I have been reaching out to family who are experts in tea in order to help me think about flavour combinations that will make for unique and interesting beers featuring their delicious products.

My brewing will hit somewhat of a wall early next year as I’ll need to pack up my equipment for transit to Japan where it is currently illegal to brew anything over 1% ABV (alcohol by volume) at home. I’m not overly concerned by this as I have always planned to brew low alcohol beers as part of my beer line up and this will give me adequate opportunity for experimentation with different techniques for doing so.

Establish brewing network in Japan

I reached out to a number of breweries during the first half of the year and established contact with some cool brewers, I look forward to future in-person meetings with these brewers and more. I had plans to contact every brewer in Shikoku but there are so many new breweries popping up so it was becoming less viable. Instead I accepted an invitation into a facebook group offer to a group for Shikoku craft brewers. I had to create a new account because I don’t have a personal one, nor do I have any intention of creating one, but access to this group of brewers has already proven invaluable and so putting my principles aside in order to be part of this community seemed to be a worthwhile idea.

Once I’m in Japan, I have the opportunity to work with Ken Mukai from Mukai Craft Brewing for a while, which I am very excited about. The details are yet to be discussed and I certainly don’t want to be a burden or outstay my welcome but with our own brewery being 2 to 3 years down the road, I’ll be happy to help Ken out for as long as he can use me. Aside from this, I hope to experience brewing at other breweries around the prefecture or island in order to strengthen community relationships and glean industry knowledge from the brewers who have come before me.

Experience breweries in Scotland

This has unfortunately been the main challenge affected by covid-19’s continuing prevalence. It has been a difficult time for breweries (as it has for everyone) and whilst many of them have adapted well, it just wasn’t feasible to visit them during the year. I did manage a few brief chats during the Edinburgh beer festival but otherwise I’ve not pushed this as a priority due covid concerns, and lack of time really, learning to drive, studying my course, working full-time, preparing for interviews, looking after my daughter and preparing for our second daughter, as well as trying to brew as often as possible has meant that I’ve had almost no free time to allocate to this.

I did contact a brewery, one of the creators of which is a friend of a friend, and whilst they seemed happy for me to visit at some point the timing wasn’t ideal as a new head brewer was about to start and get used to operations etc. Trying to find a good time to even meet for a beer proved to be a challenge and so, unfortunately the visit didn’t happen.

Whilst I am a little disappointed not to have managed a single visit, I’m not going to let it bother me, if I can fit a visit in during 2022 before me move to Japan then cool, but with a new daughter incoming, my priorities are likely to shift.

Continue studying the science of brewing

Very happy with progress in this regard. I’ve completed two courses now and am on the verge of completing my third of four. Indeed, at the time of writing this I am somewhat procrastinating when I should be studying for the final assignment which is due in 5 days time.

I wouldn’t necessarily say that I have enjoyed each of the courses equally but regardless they have all been invaluable and helped me greatly develop my understanding of brewing. Due to the fact that I have been so busy with everything else in the year, I have primarily been studying to pass the assignments and not been able to really deep-dive into the bones of what I am interested in, however, I have been gathering lots of resources so that once I am in Japan and have more time on my hands, I can really settle in and study everything I want to study.

After this current course is done, I have a final course which due to scheduling won’t start until September 2022, it will be focussed on cereals, malting and mashing processes and I look forward to learning more about this from an academic perspective.

Get house in order

After much searching we found some very good tradesmen to work on finishing our garage conversion, unfortunately due to their personal circumstances the work which is almost complete has been on hold for a few months so we’ve not achieved the progress that I hoped but they have done an excellent job and I’m hopeful that they can complete the work soon and we’ll be ready to put the house on the market early in 2022.

We were very lucky with regards to our future living situation and have a rental house being held for us until we move over to Japan. We will need to live with my in-laws for a short while in order to furnish the rental house but I’m very happy that we’ll be able to move into a space of our own shortly after arriving in the village.

Groundwork for future brewery

Nothing much has changed in this regard since the post at the start of the year, which said:

Most of the work required towards our future brewery, can’t really start until we are in Japan. Also, as the intention isn’t to establish the brewery immediately, but rather continue my studies and gain some industry experience, the majority of the groundwork is really just research and clarification into licensing requirements and laws, and understanding the hoops that we need to jump through when the time comes, the more we can line up in advance the better.

At this moment in time, I’m thinking that we may build a taproom before we work on the brewery. The thinking is that a) we’ll need one, b) it will help with networking with other craft brewers if I’m selling their beers, c) will potentially open up collaboration opportunities for exclusive small batch limited edition brews to be sold in our taproom and, d) it exploits my almost two decades of experience in working in pubs in Scotland.

The intention would be to have uniform branding between the taproom and brewery, and so we can do work on reserving web domains, logo design, and as above, reaching out to brewers etc. before moving over.

However, I have reached out to a graphical designer friend who has agreed to turn my logo design draft into something of a more professional quality! I’ll be working on the website and reserving domains etc. soon after moving to Japan.

Obtain a driving license

After paying an agency who were sure they would be able to sort out driving lessons with an automatic car in our area with no issues, they failed to do so, the result being they charged me £150 for booking a £62 driving test. Dicks.. So, in somewhat of a panic I sent out emails to each and every driving instructor or agency that covered our area and was very lucky to get a response from Kate at Fastrackpass .. but we had to go with manual as there was no automatic availability. With an incoming test I had little choice but to go for this option. Kate hooked me up with a local driving instructor Duncan and set about finding a better test date and location as the one I had booked wasn’t at our local test centre (due to covid-19 related backlogs it was a take what you are given scenario). Within days of my first driving lesson, Kate had managed to secure a test a few weeks later than the initial one but at my local test centre. Many lessons were taken before the date but I felt that we had only just finished learning right before the test, so my nerves were a jangly bag of spanners on the day and I failed within the first 10 minutes of the test.

However, I needed to get a license and ideally one with a date of issue that is more than 90 days before our exit from Scotland as this is a requirement for the conversion of UK to Japanese driving lesson to be a relatively straight-forward process. As such, we lined up a few more lessons which were more focussed on practice and confidence building, and tried to find another test date, which was actually yesterday.

My wife who had an issue with a BSM (British School of Motoring) instructor just not turn up for her first lesson, also switched to Duncan, and Kate was lucky enough to find her a test at our local centre (rather than in Stirling which is too far for the instructor to lend his car), her driving test is soon - fingers crossed! BSM were somewhat difficult to get a refund out of but after several months of following their processes, I found an email address in their terms and conditions and we sent an email demanding a refund on the threat of invoking trading standards and solicitors. Refund was issue within the hour!

.. oh yeah, I passed.

Continue to find family time

2021 has been a fantastic year in regards to witnessing the development of my daughter, she is awesome! Frustrating as hell at times, but I am so happy to spend time with her and miss her terribly when she spends time away at her granny’s house.

As also alluded to a few times above, thanks to a last roll of the dice kind of situation, we have a new baby on the way due in mid-March! Opinions were split in the household and wider family over preferences for the baby’s sex (obviously not really important, health being the only real property we care about) with my daughter and I being in the minority with a preference for another little girl. The 20 week scan was inconclusive in identifying sex but the sonographer was leaning heavily in the female prediction camp, a second scan at a local ultrasound centre reinforced this opinion but again couldn’t be certain, so whilst we may still be surprised when they arrive, it seems like baby number two will be devoid of an Y chromosome, packing instead, double Xs.

2021 brought some unexpected, awesome news out of the blue. One Sunday during our weekly Papa & Daughter movie and popcorn session, I heard someone pop something through our mailbox but didn’t get up to investigate immediately as I was enjoying cosy time with my daughter. When I checked later there was a hand-written, hand-delivered letter to me which was a pretty unusual event. Whilst the letter contained some potentially concerning health news (which is in hand and not currently a concern) it also contained the phenomenal news that I have a sister whose existence I knew nothing about until that point. The letter was from her mum, the wife of my biological father (whom I’ve had no relationship with since I was an infant - a pattern which will continue) and it introduced my sister to me as a 20 year old who has “always” known of my existence. The letter rocked me but tentatively I reached out and we finally made contact by email in June, we then agreed to communicate using online chat via matrix and met in person for the first time in November. We have briefly caught up again just a few days ago and we’re looking forward to our next meet up. So whilst not in my original thoughts for the year, this definitely qualifies for inclusion under family time!

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This may have been the most stressful year of my entire life, and we’re not out of the woods yet, there is still a lot to get done before we move to Japan (hopefully in late April), but I have to be pretty happy with the goals that I did achieve, yes it would have been great to visit some Scottish breweries but I can become a brewer without having done so and perhaps there will be an opportunity or two in 2022, though I’m not investing much hope in that being the case with Omicron cases on the rise.

We’ll have to see if our plans are affected by covid-19’s resilience, but those are considerations for another post in the new year covering my plans and goals for 2022.

Onwards!



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