Craft beer has been enjoying a significant boom in popularity across the world and although Japan is no exception, it’s not always easy to spot the IPAs, APAs and stouts concealed amid the sea of standard beers at your favorite bottle shop, beer garden or convenience store. So if you’re looking for something with a bit more flavor than a run-of-the-mill Asahi or Kirin, we’ve put together some recommendations to help you tap into that hoppy goodness!
Craft beer you can find in stores
Naturally, liquor stores usually have a good range of craft beer on offer, however even supermarkets and convenience stores across the country (particularly Lawson) are getting in on the action now. While the selection will vary somewhat between shops and locations, you should never find yourself too far from at least some of these:
- From Yoho Brewing Company: Yona Yona Ale (a hoppy American pale ale), Suiyoubi no Neko (a spicy white ale), Aooni (a strong India pale ale), Tokyo Black (a rich porter)
- From Kizakura Kyoto: a pale ale, a golden ale and a brown ale, plus the adorably-named Lucky Cat (a white ale made with yuzu, or citrus fruit, and sansho, a Japanese pepper) and Lucky Dog (an unfiltered pale ale made with rice)
- From Hitachino Nest (Kiuchi Brewery): an aromatic range of different beer styles, including a weizen, amber ale, lager and white ale
- From Coedo Brewery: a stylish selection of brews including an easy-drinking session IPA, a crisp pilsner and a hoppy India pale lager
- From Echigo Beer: the dragon-emblazoned Flying IPA and tiger-adorned Rise Up IPA
- From Oh! La! Ho Beer: the hoptastic Captain Crow Extra Pale Ale
Some of the big breweries are now also producing craft beer-style beverages, which tend to be more readily available than some of the offerings from smaller independent ones. Here are two brands to keep an eye out for:
- From Tokyo Craft (Suntory): a pale ale and a saison, plus a new IPA for 2018
- From Grand Kirin: an IPA, a Japanese pale lager and a white ale
Japanese breweries to look out for
If you’re lucky enough to have a decent liquor store or craft beer bar near you, you should find yourself with a much broader selection to choose from. But how do you know which to go for? Of course, a lot of it comes down to personal preference and if you’re a craft beer fan you probably already know whether you’re an IPA, stout or pilsner kind of person. Whichever style you’re after, however, Japan has you covered!
Here are a few popular breweries to put on your must-try list:
- Baird Brewing Company
Founded by a husband-and-wife team who studied the art of brewing in California, Baird Brewing Company was once the smallest licensed brewery in Japan. These days they have taprooms in Shizuoka, Tokyo and Yokohama, and export their beers internationally.Baird has 12 beers in its year-round line up, plus a number of other seasonal and limited edition brews. Try the Rising Sun Pale Ale (5.5 percent) for a fresh, citrusy libation or if you prefer a stronger, hoppier taste go for the Suruga Bay Imperial IPA (8.5 percent).And if you’re in the area, make a reservation for a free tour of Baird’s Shuzenij brewery in Izu, Shizuoka (weekends and holidays only) to find out more about them.
- Shiga Kogen (Tamamura Honten)
Shiga Kogen Beer is an offshoot of Nagano-based sake brewery Tamamura Honten. The company produces about 20 percent of the hops it uses itself, as well as some other ingredients, in order to ensure that their beer retains a local flavor. They have a six-beer line up ranging from an 8 percent House IPA through to a porter that’s designed to appeal even to drinkers who don’t like dark beers, plus a wide range of seasonal beverages.Every year, the brewery runs a craft-beer-and-music festival in Nagano called Snow Monkey Beer Live (Japanese). This popular event fuses live music with local food and craft beer from across the country, plus the opportunity to enjoy the region’s ski slopes and onsen — including those with primate patrons.
- Kyoto Brewing Company
This international brewery takes inspiration from American and Belgian brewing traditions to create beers that combine the best of both. They also strive to keep their beer production as ethical as possible by using local ingredients and sustainable resources, while also reducing water and energy usage.Kyoto Brewing Company’s regular drink line-up includes a fruity IPA and a rich stout, which are joined by a rotating set of seasonal beers and a range of limited edition brews. If you’re based in (or visiting) the Kansai area, be sure to drop by their taproom in Kyoto (open on weekends only) to sample their beer at its freshest.
- Yokohama Brewery
The Yokohama Brewery (Japanese) has been around since 1995 and is the largest producer of craft beer in Yokohama. They have seven beers in their regular line-up, including an award-winning Czech-style pilsner, a pale ale and a German-style altbier. The brewery also produces a fantastic range of seasonal drinks, including a strawberry wheat beer for spring, an orange pale ale for summer, an autumn ale made using dragon fruit from a local farm and a winter weizen flavored with locally-sourced yuzu — perfect for fans of fruit beer.
Other key breweries to look out for – as well as those mentioned on the in-store list – include: Far Yeast (Tokyo), Helios (Okinawa), Minoh Beer (Osaka), Sankt Gallen (Kanagawa), Swan Lake Beer (Niigata) and Yokohama Bay Brewing Company (Kanagawa).
Craft beer festivals
Every year an ever-increasing number of beer festivals are held across Japan. These are a great way to discover new breweries, sample limited edition drinks and meet other craft beer enthusiasts and hop heads.
Here are some event suggestions to get you started:
The Great Japan Beer Festival – aka BeerFes – began in Tokyo in 1998 and now holds annual events in cities such as Osaka, Okinawa, Nagoya and Yokohama in addition to the capital. Each offers patrons the chance to try a wide range of craft beer from across Japan, as well as a select few international ones. Your entry ticket also includes your own tasting glass, which you can take home as a souvenir!
- Craft Beer Festa Kyoto
Spanning the entire length of a shopping arcade, this friendly craft beer fair is free to enter and showcases a fantastic variety of local breweries. Beer tickets are available for ¥400 each, and can be exchanged for any beer from any brewery. With a mixture of staple classics and more experimental brews on offer, you’re sure to find a new favorite!
- Kyushu Beer Festival
Billed as Kyushu’s largest craft beer festival, it’s actually a series of events held throughout the year in several different cities including Fukuoka and Kumamoto. For most, buying your beer tickets in advance is slightly cheaper than purchasing them on the day. Expect plenty of local food stalls as well as beer stands!
Search online to find an event near you and keep an eye on their websites for 2019 dates!
This is just a brief overview on Japan’s ever burgeoning craft beer scene, but hopefully it has given you some helpful tips for navigating its landscape, enjoying more of the delicious amber nectar and maybe some some beery inspiration for the weekend!
Now… who’s thirsty?
Which are your favorite Japanese craft beer breweries? Any beer-related events you’d recommend? Let us know in the comments!