Japan Beer

Japanese Craft Beer Guide

Japanese craft beer has been steadily gaining popularity in recent years, both domestically and internationally. While Japan is often associated with its traditional rice-based alcoholic beverage, sake, the country has a growing craft beer scene that is making a name for itself.

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One of the reasons for the rise of Japanese craft beer is the country’s unique brewing culture. Japanese brewers often incorporate local ingredients and traditional brewing techniques into their beers, resulting in a distinct flavor profile that sets them apart from other craft beers around the world.

Despite the challenges posed by strict alcohol regulations and a relatively small market, Japanese craft beer has managed to carve out a niche for itself. With a growing number of microbreweries and a dedicated fan base, it seems that Japanese craft beer is here to stay.

History of Japanese Craft Beer

Sapporo Beer Museum and Garden

Beer brewing in Japan dates back to the mid-19th century when it was first introduced by foreigners. However, it wasn’t until the late 20th century that the craft beer movement started gaining momentum in Japan. The first microbrewery, Toshiro’s Brewery, was established in Yokohama in 1994, and since then, the industry has grown significantly.

One of the key factors that contributed to the growth of the craft beer industry in Japan was the deregulation of the brewing industry in 1994. This allowed small breweries to obtain licenses and sell their beer directly to consumers, which was previously not possible. As a result, a number of small breweries started popping up all over the country.

Another factor that helped the industry grow was the increasing popularity of beer festivals. These events provided an opportunity for small breweries to showcase their products and gain exposure. The Great Japan Beer Festival, which started in 1998, is one of the most popular beer festivals in the country and attracts thousands of visitors every year.

Today, there are over 400 craft breweries in Japan, producing a wide variety of styles ranging from traditional German-style lagers to unique Japanese-inspired brews. Some of the most popular breweries include Kiuchi Brewery, which produces the well-known Hitachino Nest Beer, and Yo-Ho Brewing Company, which is known for its award-winning Yona Yona Ale.

Popular Japanese Craft Beer Styles

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Japanese craft beer has been gaining popularity in recent years, both domestically and internationally. With a focus on quality ingredients and unique brewing techniques, Japanese brewers have created a variety of beer styles that stand out from the crowd. Here are some of the most popular Japanese craft beer styles:

1. Japanese Pale Ale

Japanese Pale Ale (JPA) is a hop-forward beer that combines the citrusy and floral flavors of American hops with the light maltiness of Japanese beer. This style is known for its balance between bitterness and sweetness, with a crisp and refreshing finish. Some popular JPAs include Baird Beer’s Suruga Bay and Yo-Ho Brewing’s Aooni.

2. Yuzu Beer

Yuzu is a Japanese citrus fruit that has a tart and slightly sweet flavor. Yuzu beer is made by adding yuzu juice or zest to the brewing process, resulting in a refreshing and citrusy beer. This style is perfect for hot summer days and pairs well with seafood and other light dishes. Some popular yuzu beers include Hitachino Nest’s Yuzu Lager and Coedo Brewery’s Shikkoku.

3. Japanese Brown Ale

Japanese Brown Ale is a rich and malty beer that has a nutty and slightly sweet flavor. This style is often brewed with roasted barley, giving it a dark brown color and a toasty aroma. Some popular Japanese Brown Ales include Sankt Gallen’s Yokohama XPA and Kiuchi Brewery’s Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale.

4. Saison

Saison is a Belgian-style beer that has become popular in Japan in recent years. This style is known for its fruity and spicy flavors, with a dry and effervescent finish. Japanese brewers have put their own spin on this classic style, often using local ingredients like yuzu and green tea. Some popular Japanese saisons include Shiga Kogen’s Saison du Japon and Ise Kadoya’s Saison Sayuri.

Breweries Leading the Japanese Craft Beer Scene

Craft Beer after a public bath at Dogo

Japan’s craft beer scene has grown rapidly in the past decade, and a number of breweries have emerged as leaders in the industry. These breweries have gained a reputation for producing high-quality, innovative craft beers that have won over both domestic and international audiences.

One of the most well-known breweries in Japan is Kyoto Brewing Company. Founded in 2014, the brewery has gained a reputation for producing complex, flavorful beers that draw inspiration from both traditional Belgian and modern American styles. Some of their most popular beers include the Kuroshio Stout, a rich, roasty stout with notes of chocolate and coffee, and the Wabi-Sabi Pale Ale, which incorporates Japanese ingredients like green tea and yuzu for a unique flavor profile.

Baird Brewing Company is another brewery that has made a name for itself in the Japanese craft beer scene. Founded in 2000 by American expat Bryan Baird, the brewery has a strong focus on using local ingredients and drawing inspiration from Japanese culture. Some of their standout beers include the Shimaguni Stout, which incorporates locally-grown roasted barley, and the Suruga Bay Imperial IPA, which features Japanese-grown hops and a bold, hoppy flavor.

Hitachino Nest Beer is a brewery that has gained a following both in Japan and abroad. Founded in 1996, the brewery is known for its unique, quirky branding and a range of experimental beers that incorporate unusual ingredients like wasabi and red rice. Some of their most popular beers include the White Ale, a refreshing wheat beer with hints of coriander and orange peel, and the Espresso Stout, a rich, coffee-infused stout with a smooth, creamy mouthfeel.

Other breweries that are making waves in the Japanese craft beer scene include Ise Kadoya Brewery, which produces a range of traditional Japanese-style beers, and Minoh Beer, which is known for its hop-forward IPAs and pale ales. With so many talented breweries pushing the boundaries of what’s possible in craft beer, it’s an exciting time to be a beer lover in Japan.

Japanese Craft Beer and Food Pairings

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Japanese craft beer has gained popularity in recent years, and for good reason. With unique flavors and high-quality ingredients, Japanese craft beer is a great addition to any meal. Here are some food pairings that are sure to enhance your Japanese craft beer experience.

Sushi and Sashimi

One of the most obvious pairings for Japanese craft beer is sushi and sashimi. The light and refreshing taste of Japanese craft beer complements the delicate flavors of raw fish. A crisp pilsner or a refreshing wheat beer is a great choice to pair with sushi and sashimi.


Ramen is a popular Japanese dish that is perfect for pairing with Japanese craft beer. The rich and savory flavors of ramen are complemented by the bold flavors of a dark ale or porter. The bitterness of the beer cuts through the richness of the broth, creating a perfect balance of flavors.


Tempura is a popular Japanese dish that consists of battered and fried seafood or vegetables. The light and crispy texture of tempura is a great match for a refreshing lager or pilsner. The carbonation in the beer helps to cut through the oiliness of the tempura, making for a delicious pairing.


Yakitori is a Japanese dish that consists of skewered and grilled chicken. The smoky and savory flavors of yakitori are a great match for a malty amber ale or brown ale. The sweetness of the beer complements the smoky flavors of the grilled chicken, creating a delicious pairing.

Green Tea Desserts

Green tea desserts are a popular Japanese treat that are perfect for pairing with Japanese craft beer. The bitterness of the green tea is complemented by the sweetness of a fruity IPA or a Belgian-style witbier. The combination of flavors creates a unique and delicious pairing.

Overall, Japanese craft beer is a great addition to any meal. With its unique flavors and high-quality ingredients, it’s no wonder that it has become so popular in recent years. By pairing Japanese craft beer with the right foods, you can create a delicious and memorable dining experience.

Future of Japanese Craft Beer

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As the popularity of Japanese craft beer continues to grow both domestically and internationally, it seems that the future of this industry is bright. There are several factors that suggest that Japanese craft beer will continue to thrive in the coming years.

One of the main reasons for this is the increasing demand for unique and high-quality craft beer. Consumers are becoming more discerning in their tastes and are looking for something different from the mass-produced beers that dominate the market. Japanese craft beer offers a wide range of flavors and styles that appeal to these consumers.

Another factor is the growing number of craft breweries in Japan. Over the past decade, there has been a significant increase in the number of small, independent breweries across the country. This trend shows no signs of slowing down, with new breweries opening all the time.

Furthermore, the Japanese government has taken steps to support the growth of the craft beer industry. In recent years, regulations have been relaxed to make it easier for small breweries to operate and distribute their products. This has led to a more diverse and competitive market, which is good news for consumers.

Overall, the future of Japanese craft beer looks bright. With a growing demand for unique and high-quality beer, an increasing number of breweries, and government support, this industry is poised for continued success in the years to come.