How Wisconsin craft beer became available halfway around the world

Credit: Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company

By Christina Lorey

January 4, 2024

Running a business in a different state with a one hour time difference can be a challenge, so imagine building one in a time zone 14 hours away! That’s become Madison native Rob LoBreglio’s reality for the past year.

The Great Dane Pub & Brewing Company’s co-founder is about to open a brewery in Sendai, Japan with his friend and former brewing apprentice, Tetsuya Kiyosawa, who’s from that area. (Sendai is two hours north of Tokyo by bullet train.)

BEST BREWERY IN MADISON? Great Dane is in the running. Cast your vote!

After suffering devastating damage from a 9.0 magnitude earthquake in 2011, Sendai is experiencing a building boom: with a growing population (one of Japan’s youngest), three pro sports teams, seven universities, and now, a Wisconsin craft brewery.

LoBreglio has always been on the forefront of America’s brewing scene, and now, he’s a global leader.

“When we first opened the Great Dane in 1994, the number of small brewpubs was just a few hundred in America. It’s over 11,000 now,” he said in an interview with The Cap Times. “And tastes have changed. It’s funny: Our Old Glory American Pale Ale, when we first opened, was considered too hoppy for a lot of people. Now, it’s nothing compared to the kinds of IPAs people are consuming.”

LoBreglio explained that, a few year ago, craft beer only made up 1.5% of Japan’s market. Now, it’s between 3-4%, and LoBreglio expects it to reach 8% in the next decade.

“That’s double what they have now, and they honestly just don’t have enough producers for all of that extra beer. In Sendai, they closed their big brewery, making us the only real packaging craft brewery in the city,” he explained.

Great Dane Brewing K.K. (Japan’s version of an LLC) is the first foreign brewing company with a brick-and-mortar brewery in Japan. LoBreglio is already planning to bring some of his Japan-specific brews to the states.

“If coordinately properly, there could be an international kanpai, or cheers, when that happens,” he joked. “If we wait until daylight saving time changes, we’ll be different by only 14 hours, so when it’s 11 in the morning here, it’ll be 1 in the morning there.”

LoBreglio’s Japan location is scheduled to open this Friday. Click here to follow along on social media!

RELATED: The Story Behind Wisconsin’s Popular Line of Progressive Brews


  • Christina Lorey

    Christina is an Edward R. Murrow-winning journalist and former producer, reporter, and anchor for TV stations in Madison and Moline. When she’s not writing or asking questions, you can find her volunteering with Girls on the Run, the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, and various mental health organizations.


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