Japanese beer is beloved all over the world for its unique flavor, aroma, and brewing techniques. From the crisp and refreshing lagers of the major breweries to the bold and complex flavors of the craft beer scene, Japan has a rich and diverse beer culture that is worth exploring.
While japan is more famous for its sake and perhaps even its sought-after whisky, it’s beer that most Japanese turn to for their drink of choice at the Izakaya after work or meeting up with friends.
In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at Japanese beer, from its history and production methods to the most popular styles and breweries on offer today.
History of Japanese Beer
The history of Japanese beer dates back to the late 19th century, when the country opened its doors to the world and began to adopt Western brewing techniques. The first brewery in Japan was established in Yokohama in 1869, and by the turn of the century, several major breweries had emerged, including Sapporo, Kirin, and Asahi. In the decades that followed, the Japanese beer industry continued to grow and evolve, with the introduction of new styles and brewing methods, as well as the rise of the craft beer movement in recent years.
Japanese beer is typically brewed using a combination of malted barley, hops, water, and yeast. The brewing process is similar to that of other beer-producing countries, but there are some unique elements that set Japanese beer apart. One of the most notable is the use of rice in the brewing process, which gives many Japanese beers a distinct flavor and aroma profile. Other brewing techniques, such as the use of open fermenters and the introduction of special strains of yeast, also contribute to the unique character of Japanese beer.
Popular Beer Styles
Japanese beer is known for its crisp and refreshing lagers, which are often enjoyed with food or as a refreshing drink on a hot day. Some of the most popular styles of Japanese beer include:
- Pilsner: A light and refreshing beer that is known for its clean and crisp taste, with a subtle hop bitterness.
- Lager: A slightly sweeter and fuller-bodied beer that is often enjoyed with food, particularly sushi and other Japanese dishes.
- Dark Beer: A rich and full-bodied beer that is brewed with roasted malts, giving it a deep and complex flavor profile.
- Wheat Beer: A lighter and more refreshing beer that is brewed with wheat instead of barley, giving it a distinct citrus and spice flavor.
Japanese Craft Beer
While the major breweries in Japan dominate the beer market, the craft beer scene in Japan has been steadily growing in recent years. The craft beer movement in Japan is known for its bold and experimental flavors, with many breweries using local ingredients and unique brewing techniques to create one-of-a-kind beers. Some of the most popular craft breweries in Japan include Hitachino Nest, Baird Beer, and Shiga Kogen. (more on this below)
Japanese beer is known for its versatility when it comes to food pairings. Some popular food pairings for Japanese beer include sushi, sashimi, and other seafood dishes, as well as heartier dishes like ramen and grilled meats. Because of its refreshing and clean taste, Japanese beer is also often enjoyed as a standalone drink, particularly on a hot day or after a long day of work.
Most Popular Beer Brands In Japan
Japanese beer has become increasingly popular in recent years, with its unique flavor, crisp finish, and refreshing taste. From the classic lagers of the major breweries to the innovative craft beers of the smaller breweries, Japan has a wide range of beers to choose from. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the 6 most popular Japanese beer brands, so you can discover what makes each one so special.
Sapporo is one of the oldest and most well-known beer brands in Japan, dating back to 1876. Its flagship beer, Sapporo Premium Beer, is a classic lager that is known for its crisp and refreshing taste. The beer is made with carefully selected hops and barley, as well as the famous soft water from the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, which gives it a unique and smooth flavor. Sapporo is also famous for its iconic red star logo, which has become synonymous with Japanese beer.
Kirin is another major player in the Japanese beer market, with a history that dates back to 1888. Kirin’s flagship beer, Kirin Lager, is a popular choice for its smooth and refreshing taste, with a slight hop bitterness. The beer is made with high-quality hops and barley, as well as the famous water from the Fushimi district of Kyoto. In addition to its classic lager, Kirin also offers a range of other beers, including Kirin Ichiban Shibori, a premium beer made with first-pressing wort.
Asahi is another well-known beer brand in Japan, with a history that dates back to 1889. Its flagship beer, Asahi Super Dry, is a crisp and refreshing lager that is known for its unique dry finish. The beer is made with carefully selected hops and barley, as well as Asahi’s special “Karatamizu” water, which is sourced from deep beneath the ground and is known for its purity and crispness. Asahi also offers a range of other beers, including the fruity and refreshing Asahi Black and the rich and complex Asahi Stout.
Suntory is a major Japanese beer and whiskey producer, with a history that dates back to 1899. Its flagship beer, Suntory The Premium Malt’s, is a rich and flavorful lager that is made with carefully selected hops and barley, as well as the famous water from the Yamazaki distillery. The beer is known for its complex flavor profile, which includes notes of citrus, caramel, and roasted malt. Suntory also offers a range of other beers, including the fruity and refreshing Suntory All-Free, which is a non-alcoholic beer.
Yebisu is a premium beer brand that is known for its rich and complex flavor. The beer is named after the Japanese god offishermen and is brewed using high-quality ingredients and traditional brewing methods. Yebisu’s flagship beer, Yebisu Premium, is a full-bodied and aromatic lager that is known for its crisp finish and subtle sweetness. The beer is made with carefully selected hops and barley, as well as the famous underground water source from the Ebisu district of Tokyo, which gives it a unique and distinctive flavor. In addition to its flagship beer, Yebisu also offers a range of other beers, including Yebisu Black, a rich and smooth dark lager, and Yebisu The Hop, a hoppy and aromatic IPA.
The Top 10 Most Popular Japanese Beers
Japan is known for its rich and diverse beer culture, with a wide variety of styles and flavors to choose from. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the top 10 most popular Japanese beers, and explore what makes them so beloved among beer drinkers in Japan and around the world.
1. Asahi Super Dry
Asahi Super Dry is the best-selling beer in Japan, and is known for its crisp, clean taste and refreshing finish. The beer was first introduced in 1987 and has since become a staple of Japanese beer culture. Asahi Super Dry is also available in a variety of different styles, including the Asahi Super Dry Black and the Asahi Super Dry Premium.
2. Kirin Ichiban
Kirin Ichiban is a premium beer that is known for its smooth, rich flavor and full-bodied taste. The beer is made using a special brewing process that involves using only the first press of the wort, resulting in a more complex and flavorful beer. Kirin Ichiban is also available in a variety of different styles, including the Kirin Ichiban Shibori and the Kirin Ichiban Frozen Draft.
3. Sapporo Premium Beer
Sapporo Premium Beer is a classic Japanese lager that is known for its crisp, refreshing taste and golden color. The beer is made using only the finest hops and barley, resulting in a smooth and satisfying taste. Sapporo Premium Beer is also available in a variety of different styles, including the Sapporo Black Label and the Sapporo Yebisu.
Yebisu is a premium beer that is known for its rich, malty flavor and smooth finish. The beer is made using only the finest malted barley and hops, and is aged for an extended period of time to develop its unique flavor. Yebisu is also available in a variety of different styles, including the Yebisu Black and the Yebisu Premium.
5. Suntory The Premium Malt’s
Suntory The Premium Malt’s is a premium beer that is known for its smooth, balanced taste and refreshing finish. The beer is made using only the finest malted barley and hops, and is aged for an extended period of time to develop its unique flavor. Suntory The Premium Malt’s is also available in a variety of different styles, including the Suntory The Premium Malt’s Black and the Suntory The Premium Malt’s Master’s Dream.
6. Orion Beer
Orion Beer is a classic Japanese lager that is known for its light, crisp taste and refreshing finish. The beer is made using only the finest hops and barley, and is brewed in the subtropical climate of Okinawa. Orion Beer is also available in a variety of different styles, including the Orion Draft Beer and the Orion Special.
7. Kirin Lager
Kirin Lager is a classic Japanese lager that is known for its light, crisp taste and golden color. The beer is made using only the finest hops and barley, and is brewed in the heart of Japan. Kirin Lager is also available in a variety of different styles, including the Kirin Lager Black and the Kirin Lager Classic.
8. Kirin Tanrei
Kirin Tanrei is a popular low-malt beer known as Hopposshu that is known for its light and refreshing taste. The beer is brewed using a special technique that removes some of the malt content, resulting in a beer that is lower in calories and carbohydrates. Kirin Tanrei is a popular choice for those who are looking for a lighter beer option, without sacrificing flavor or quality.
What is Hopposhu? Is it Beer?
Japan is known for its rich and diverse alcoholic beverage culture, with a wide variety of traditional and modern drinks to choose from. One of the lesser-known beverages in Japan is hopposhu, a type of alcoholic beverage that was introduced as an alternative to beer due to its lower tax rate. But what exactly is hopposhu, and is it considered a type of beer? Let’s take a closer look.
Hopposhu is a type of Japanese alcoholic beverage that is made using a unique brewing process. The process involves adding a small amount of hops to the fermentation tank, which gives the beverage a slightly bitter flavor and aroma that is reminiscent of beer. Hopposhu typically has a similar alcohol content to beer, ranging from around 3-6% ABV.
The History of Beer in Japan
Beer is a popular drink in Japan, with a long and interesting history that spans over a century. From its introduction to Japan in the late 1800s to its evolution into the booming craft beer scene of today, Japanese beer has undergone many changes and innovations. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the history of beer in Japan, and explore the key events and figures that have shaped its development.
The Introduction of Beer to Japan
Beer was first introduced to Japan in the late 1800s, during the Meiji Restoration period. At the time, Japan was undergoing a rapid modernization process and was eager to adopt Western customs and technologies.
In 1876, the first brewery in Japan, the Sapporo Brewery, was founded in the northern island of Hokkaido.
The brewery was established with the help of a German brewmaster, Seibei Nakagawa, who brought with him knowledge and expertise of German brewing traditions.
The Early Years of Japanese Beer
During the early years of Japanese beer, the market was dominated by major breweries such as Sapporo, Kirin, and Asahi. These breweries produced classic lagers that were popular with the Japanese public and helped to establish beer as a staple drink in the country. However, during World War II, the Japanese government imposed strict regulations on the production of beer, which led to a decline in the quality and availability of beer in the country.
The Post-War Era and the Rise of Craft Beer
After the war, the Japanese beer industry underwent a period of recovery and growth. Major breweries such as Sapporo, Kirin, and Asahi expanded their production and marketing efforts, and began to introduce new styles of beer to the market. In the 1990s, the Japanese beer scene underwent a significant shift with the rise of craft beer. Small, independent breweries began to emerge, offering a range of innovative and experimental beers that challenged the dominance of the major breweries.
The Present and Future of Japanese Beer
Today, Japanese beer is a vibrant and diverse industry that encompasses everything from classic lagers to bold and experimental craft beers. While the major breweries still dominate the market, the craft beer scene has continued to grow and innovate, with new breweries and styles of beer emerging all the time. Japanese beer has also gained a reputation on the international stage, with many breweries winning awards and gaining recognition for their quality and creativity.
The history of beer in Japan is a fascinating and complex story that reflects the country’s changing social, economic, and cultural landscape. From the introduction of beer in the Meiji Restoration period to the rise of craft beer in the 1990s, Japanese beer has undergone many changes and innovations. By exploring the history of Japanese beer, you can gain a deeper appreciation for its unique flavors and traditions, and discover a whole new world of drinking pleasure.
Craft Beer in Japan: Exploring Japan’s Booming Craft Beer Scene
Japan has a long and rich history of brewing beer, and in recent years, the country has experienced a surge in the popularity of craft beer. Japan’s craft beer scene is known for its unique and innovative beers, as well as its dedication to quality and craftsmanship. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at the craft beer scene in Japan, and explore the key breweries and styles that are making waves in the industry.
The Growth of Craft Beer in Japan
Although craft beer is a relatively new phenomenon in Japan, the industry has experienced rapid growth in recent years. According to the Japan Craft Beer Association, the number of craft breweries in Japan has increased from just a handful in the early 1990s to over 400 as of 2021. This growth has been fueled by a growing interest in unique and flavorful beers, as well as a desire to support local and independent businesses.
The Key Players in Japan’s Craft Beer Scene
One of the pioneers of Japan’s craft beer scene is the Yo-Ho Brewing Company, which was founded in 1996 in Nagano. Yo-Ho is known for its innovative and experimental beers, such as its award-winning Tokyo Black and Yona Yona Ale. Other notable craft breweries in Japan include Baird Brewing Company, which is known for its American-style beers, and Shiga Kogen Beer, which is known for its Belgian-style beers.
The Unique Styles of Japanese Craft Beer
Japanese craft beer is known for its unique and innovative styles, which often incorporate traditional Japanese ingredients and flavors. One popular style is the “Ji-beer,” which is made using locally sourced ingredients and reflects the unique flavors and terroir of the region. Other unique styles include the “Shochu Highball Ale,” which is made with shochu (a traditional Japanese spirit), and the “Sake Ale,” which is made with sake yeast and rice.
The Future of Craft Beer in Japan
The future of craft beer in Japan looks bright, with new breweries and styles of beer emerging all the time. In recent years, the industry has attracted a growing number of young, talented brewers, who are bringing new ideas and flavors to the table. As the popularity of craft beer continues to grow, it is likely that we will see even more innovation and experimentation in the coming years.
6 Top Craft Beer Brewers in Japan
Japan’s craft beer scene is home to a wide variety of breweries, each with its own unique styles and flavors. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at six of the top craft beer brewers in Japan, and explore what makes their beers so special.
1. Baird Brewing Company
Baird Brewing Company was founded in 2000 by American ex-pat Bryan Baird and his wife Sayuri. The brewery is known for its American-style beers, which are made using a combination of traditional brewing methods and innovative techniques. Some of the brewery’s most popular beers include the Shimaguni Stout, the Suruga Bay Imperial IPA, and the Angry Boy Brown Ale.
2. Kiuchi Brewery
Kiuchi Brewery was founded in 1823 and is one of Japan’s oldest breweries. The brewery is best known for its Hitachino Nest Beer brand, which features a range of unique and experimental beers. Some of the brewery’s most popular beers include the Red Rice Ale, the Espresso Stout, and the White Ale.
3. Yo-Ho Brewing Company
Yo-Ho Brewing Company was founded in 1996 and is known for its innovative and experimental beers. The brewery’s signature beer is the Yona Yona Ale, a hoppy American-style pale ale that has won numerous awards. Other popular beers from the brewery include the Tokyo Black Porter and the Suiyoubi no Neko Belgian White.
4. Shiga Kogen Beer
Shiga Kogen Beer is located in the mountainous region of Nagano and is known for its Belgian-style beers. The brewery’s beers are made using traditional Belgian brewing methods and feature unique and complex flavors. Some of the brewery’s most popular beers include the Takashi Imperial Stout and the House Belgian Ale.
5. Minoh Beer
Minoh Beer is a family-owned brewery that was founded in 1997 by three sisters. The brewery is known for its unique and innovative beers, which often incorporate traditional Japanese ingredients and flavors. Some of the brewery’s most popular beers include the W-IPA, the Yuzu White Ale, and the Saison du Japon.
6. Ise Kadoya Brewery
Ise Kadoya Brewery is located in the city of Ise and is known for its wide range of craft beers. The brewery’s beers are made using traditional brewing methods and feature a range of unique and complex flavors. Some of the brewery’s most popular beers include the Golden Dragon Ale, the Devil Craft IPA, and the Chocolate Stout.
8. Hitachino Nest Beer
Hitachino Nest Beer is a premium craft beer that is known for its complex flavor and unique brewing techniques. The beer is made using a combination of traditional Japanese brewing methods and modern brewing techniques, resulting in a rich and flavorful beer. Hitachino Nest Beer is available in a variety of different styles, including the Hitachino Nest White Ale and the Hitachino Nest Red Rice Ale.
9. Echigo Beer
Echigo Beer is a craft beer that is known for its unique flavor and brewing techniques and is brewed in the mountains of Niigata Prefecture. Echigo Beer is available in a variety of different styles, including the Echigo Koshihikari Rice Lager and the Echigo Stout.
10. Coedo Beer
Coedo Beer is another craft beer that is known for its distinct flavor and is brewed in the city of Kawagoe. Popular brews include the Coedo Beniaka and the Coedo Marihana.
The Sum Up
Whether you prefer the classic lagers of Sapporo, Kirin, and Asahi, the low-malt option of Kirin Tanrei, the complex flavors of Suntory, or the premium taste of Yebisu, Japanese beer has something to offer for everyone. By trying out different brands and styles, you can discover the unique and delicious world of Japanese beer and find your new favorite brew.
Japan’s crafts beer scene is also a vibrant and exciting industry that reflects the country’s dedication to quality and craftsmanship. From the pioneering breweries of the early 1990s to the innovative styles and flavors of today, Japanese craft beer has a rich and fascinating history.
So next time you’re in the mood for a cold one, why not reach for a Japanese beer and experience the taste of Japan?