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Now served at Narita Airport: a crisp IPA made with leftover rice from JAL's lounge buffet

For speed of service, airlines' airport lounges typically rely on buffet-style serving alongside à la carte options. Of course, the downside of preparing all that food in advance is food waste. After visiting Japan Airlines' lounges and kitchens, a Yokohama-based craft brewer figured one of the scraps would be relatively easy to divert from the waste stream: leftover rice.

Launched this week, Japan Arigato Lager is a Cold IPA with a 'light body and sharp taste.' It's made by Utage Brewing using cooked rice sourced from the buffet counters in JAL's international lounge at Narita Airport, an ingredient that would've otherwise been discarded. Far from being a one-off project, upcycling 'waste' ingredients is actually the brewer's core focus. It previously honed in on Japan's immense emergency stockpiles, brewing near-expiration cookies into Loop Marunouchi, uncooked rice into White Thumb Rice and kanpan biscuits into Brown Thumb Kanpan.

Japan Arigato Lager was born out of the JAL Wingman Project, a business contest organized by JAL Innovation Lab to uncover opportunities for boosting the airline's sustainability efforts. Utage Brewing's parent company, Beer the First Co., Ltd., won the competition and started fermenting JAL's leftover rice. The airline is selling the lager through JAL Mall, in select stores in Japan and, of course, in JAL's First Class Lounge at Narita Airport.

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Sustainability efforts by airlines (or other fossil-fuel-intensive industries) rightly risk being viewed as greenwashing. After all, diverting uneaten rice from lounge bins is a minuscule measure in light of the carbon emissions produced by just one day's worth of flights departing from Narita.

However, an appealing product made from leftover grub is a legitimate tool for educating consumers about food waste and related environmental concerns. A can of upcycled rice beer in an airport lounge could be the friendly little data point that builds on countless others to shift a person's thinking on how their habits impact a rapidly heating planet.