Plan a Japanese Beer Tour

10/20/2022

Few things translate as well as gathering with friends and loved ones with a drink and a toast. This holds true when you visit Japan, where beer is a popular drink and kampai offers a cheer of celebration. Discover what makes Japanese-style beer unique and make travel plans to taste the finest Japanese beer as well as local favorites. 

 

Rich History, Unique Flavors

Beer is made all over the world, but no matter the brewery or country of origin, it’s all the result of fermented water, yeast and grain. So what makes Japanese beer different? Typically light in flavor, Japanese-style beer stands apart thanks to two things that sometimes make an appearance and one that often doesn’t.

It is not uncommon for Japanese beers to contain rice and spices like coriander. These two additions help it stand apart and give a distinct flavor profile. Japanese beers tend to have a lower malt content, which creates a light taste that is highly regarded for being easy to drink and pairing well with local cuisine. 

The types of Japanese beer can be broken down into three main categories. Aside from traditional beer there is happoshu, or “sparkling alcohol.” A beer is considered to be happoshu when it has less than 50% malt content or has more secondary ingredients (like spices) than can be used in beer. New genre, or “third beer” is made without malt and instead with pea protein, soy protein, or soy peptide. Of course, Japan also has a rich culture of craft beer. Their flavor profiles vary by city and draw ample local travel as folks explore the breweries. 

 

Japan’s Most Popular Beers

Asahi Super Dry, Kirin Ichiban Shibori and Sapporo Yebisu are recognized as some of the country’s most popular beers. Almost every list of popular Japanese beers includes this trio, and their appeal isn’t limited to locals. Their popularity is worldwide — so much so that you can likely get a bottle at your local sushi bar or Japanese restaurant. 

Karakuchi, a word without direct translation, describes Asahi Super Dry’s unique taste. This beer is known for offering a dry, crisp taste with a quick, clean finish. This profile makes it easy to pair with food, especially those with strong flavors. This includes most izakaya (simple bar food), fried Japanese fare like tempura, as well as ramen, udon or soba.

Kirin stands apart because it’s a first-press beer. In the first-press process, grains are mashed and create a liquid called wort. This is then sent to the filtration process. Most beers filter the wort twice, but Kirin follows the ichiban shibori (first press) process, and only filters once. This brings out a more flavorful and clear profile. 

SapporoYebisu is seen as a premium beer. While made in Japan, it is a true German-style beer — strictly following the Reinheitsgebot, also known as the Bavarian Purity Law, which was established in 1516 to ensure quality beer production. Sapporo holds the entirety of its Yebisu beer-making process in such high regard, it has its own farm collective and signature yeasts. Informed by the German process, Yebisu ages longer than Japanese-style beer which results in a rich, deep flavor.

 

The Distinction of Craft Beer

Craft beer has gone from a little-known concept to a massive trend — and perhaps now an essential staple for most beer enthusiasts. Despite its popularity, it can be hard to know what defines a brew as being a craft beer. Craft beer has the same basic ingredients and follows the same general production process as a typical beer, it is just made by a small, independent brewer. 

For years Japan would only give beer manufacturing licenses to breweries that could produce at least 2,000 kiloliters. This changed in 1994 when the minimum quantity of beer was reduced to 60 kiloliters. This drastic reduction in production requirement meant that smaller breweries could open — and open they did. Small breweries popped up throughout the country and so began Japan’s craft beer culture.

 

Plan Your Own Brewery Tour 

Museum of Yebisu Beer

Learn about the Japanese company’s adherence to German-style beer-making. Yebisu beer was first produced in 1890 and has been winning awards ever since. The museum offers tours and tastings of several Yebisu Beer varieties as well as beer cocktails featuring Yebisu beer.

Yebisu Garden Place, 4-20-1 Ebisu, Shibuya-ku, 

Tokyo,150-8522 

 

Yoho Brewing

Opened in 1996, Yoho is one of Japan’s most popular craft breweries and offers an extensive menu of brews. A must-try is their “I’m Sorry! I Didn’t Ask You What You Like.” This bold IPA features umami extracted from Katsuobushi (bonito flakes) resulting in a fruity and tropical flavor.  

Yoho Brewing has eight Yona Yona Beerworks taprooms throughout Tokyo. 

 

Minoh Brewery

Named after their town in northern Osaka, Minoh is run by three sisters. Its reputation is one of innovation, as it is not afraid to experiment with new flavors — which has earned the brewery numerous awards and a loyal following. Don’t miss Minoh’s stout, which has been named the world’s best.

3-14-18 Makiochi, Minoh-shi, Osaka, 562-0004 

 

Kyoto Brewing Co.

Focusing on American and Belgium-style beers, Kyoto Brewing’s goal is to “brew the beers you want to drink.” A Welshman, a Canadian, and an American living in Japan built a friendship around Japanese beer. That bond has resulted in a desire to brew their own beers that would be well-crafted, nuanced and complex; as well as a balanced fusion of their different cultures’ ingredients and techniques.

25-1 Nishikujo Takahata-cho, Minami-ku, Kyoto-shi, Kyoto, 601-8446 

 

Y Market Brewing

Opened in 2014, Y Market was the first craft brewery in Nagoya. Their brews have quickly risen to the top, receiving gold medals for both their Lupulin Nectar and Yellow Sky Pale Ale at the 2021 Frankfurt International Trophy. Y Market’s Yellow Sky Pale Ale is popular with locals and tourists alike for its unexpected yuzu flavor. 

4–17-6 Meieki, Nakamura-ku, Nagoya-shi, Aichi 450-0002

 

Swan Lake Brewery

With an artisanal approach to brewing, Swan Lake was the first Japanese beermaker to bring home the coveted title of “World’s No. 1 Beer” from the World Beer Cup, a title that they have now claimed twice. Swan Lake credits its use of water from the Agano River for the beer’s uniquely rich flavor profile.

345-1, Kanaya, Agano-shi, Niigata 959-1944

Kampai !