Discovering Japanese craft beer
Blog by Geerard Siereveld
Japan has a lively craft beer movement with many micro breweries offering their own local specialty beers. When we travelled to Japan, I sent myself on the quest to drink at least one local craft beer per city/region we were about to visit. During our stay I got more and more enthusiastic about the taste and quality of Japanese beers. That’s when I decided to share my experience with you!
JAPANESE CRAFT BEER – TYPES
When visiting a Japanese bar you can often choose between a couple of international beers and regional beers. The best known (and biggest) beer brands in Japan are Sapporo, Asahi, Kirin and Suntory, mainly known for their lager beers. Besides lager beers, Japan offers a great variety of craft beers which you can get at (beer) cafes and some restaurants with a beer menu.
Japanese craft beers seem to be inspired by mainly US type beers, however also by German and Belgian beer. Most common in Japan are Pale Ale and IPA (the most popular beers), stout, weissbier, blonde, amber, fruit beers and Belgian style are available.
I had a good excuse to drink different beers on a regular basis during our month in Japan (I had to ‘research’ for this blog). Also, I did encounter some very tasteful and interesting craft beers. Everybody has it’s own taste and favorite types or beer, as do I. These are my personal favorites in a top 5:
1. W-IPA Minoh from Minoh Brewery, Osaka. A double, bitter and hoppy Japanese style IPA. For a beer with this taste you need to take your time.
2. Yona Yona Ale from Yo-Ho brewing company. A Pale Ale beer, smooth caramel taste with a slight bitter undertone. Delicious!
3. Shimanowa Beer – A lager with citrus aroma from Kure beer, a brewery from Kure, Hiroshima.
4. Red Rose Amber Ale, by Baird Brewing, Shizuoka. A fruity, dry Amber Ale, Natalie’s favorite!
5. Marzen from Moijko Retro Beer, Fukuoka – they call Marzen the Japanese answer to German Oktoberfest beer. An amber light and tasty beer.
Though it didn’t make it in my list of favorite beers, I would like to mention the Miyajima Pale Ale from Miyajima Brewery. When you happen to visit this small island in the coast of Hiroshima, you should not forget to try their own fresh Pale Ale, which is quite tasty. Just because it’s so cool that a little Island like this has it’s own craft beer!
Japan has hundreds of small and bigger microbreweries. Many are really low key and only sell to wholesalers or specialist stores. Some of them you can visit or contact, like the ones described below. In my opinion these are breweries who you should keep an eye on:
Yo-Ho brewing company, Nagano
Producer of one my favorite beers (Yona Yona Ale) and one of Japan’s largest craft breweries. Apart from Yona Yona, Yo-Ho also has a dark Porter (Tokyo Black), an organic pilsener (SunSun) and the bright Aaoni IPA in its assortment.
Konishi Brewing company, Itami
Produces 8 beers: golden star winner Snow Blanche (white beer), Blond (Blonde beer), Citras (citrus flavored) and a dark beer. They also experiment which has resulted in several exotic beers, such as: Koumi Bakushu (a recipe based on a a chemistry by the Dutch scholar Koumi Kawamoto), Howaka (beer based on brewers rice), Chocola Premium (beer with Belgium chocolate as an ingredient) and Garnet Rouge (Pale Ale brewed with black rice).
Fun fact: their head office is in Itami City, which is a sister city of the Belgian city Hasselt.
Baird Beer, Shizuoka
Baird has a fully English website on which they explain their formula: Balance + complexity = character. They have an extensive assortment of beers. Baird also owns 5 taprooms in different cities in Japan. Check their website for the locations:
Minoh Beer (Osaka)
Brewery run by two sisters and home of my personal favorite W-IPA. There is no official bar at the brewery itself, however you can buy beer directly at the Brewery. There are also two Minoh Bars in downtown Osaka.
Rokko Craft Brewery (Kobe)
A family run brewery. They draw their water from the Rokko Mountain, hence the name Rokko Beer. Rock has a Pilsner, IPA, Porter and an Amber IPA beer.
Check the website of Ratebeer for more Japanese breweries: http://www.ratebeer.com/breweries/japan/0/105/
TOP BEER BARS IN JAPAN
Osaka, Yokohama and Tokyo are the main beer cities in Japan. They boast over hundreds of bars and pubs. Below you’ll find a small selection per city that I checked out and liked!
Belgian Beer Cafe Barrel (http://www.belgianbeercafe.jp/shop/)
Craft Beer Base (http://www.craftbeerbase.com/)
Yellow Ape Craft (http://ameblo.jp/yellow-ape-craft/)
Beer Belly (http://www.minoh-beer.jp/spot/beerbelly/)
Beercafe Archa Archa in Osaka (https://www.facebook.com/ArcaArcha)
Beercafe Brugse Zot (http://www.world-liquor-importers.co.jp/zot/)
Cafe and Craft Beer Asaya (http://banba-asaya.com/)
Brewpub Miyata Beer (http://miyatabeer.com/)
YonaYona beerkitchen (http://www.yonayonabeerkitchen.com/en/akasaka/)
In de Bourgondische Hemel (http://www.facebook.com/hemelshibuya)
Biere Cave Jan Bar (http://jan-bar.com/)
World Beer Museum (http://www.world-liquor-importers.co.jp/yokohama)
Yokohama Brewery (http://www.yokohamabeer.com/drink/#shop01)
Beer Republic (http://beer-republic.jp/)
Craft Beer bar (http://craftbeerbar.seesaa.net/)
My personal favorite bar is in Hiroshima: Raku Beer. Really cool Bar with ONLY Japanese craft beers. They also offer a beer tasting. www.facebook.com/rakubeer
While doing some research I found out that various Japanese cities have their own craft beer events. This is a selection of events that come highly recommended by the craft beer breweries we spoke:
Great Japan Beer festival
Traveling beer festival organized by the Japan Craft Beer organization
Where: Yokohama, Nagoya, Tokyo and Hokkaido
Craft Beer Picnic
We were lucky to visit this lovely festival, here are some pictures of the event:
Le Beau Mariage
An upscale beer & food pairing event
Craft Beer Festival AKITA
50+ Japanse breweries attending
World Craft Beer Tasting
Over 120 beers available, 60 Japanese types
Where: various locations
Hopefully I awoke your interest in Japanese craft beer after reading this blog? If you want to know more, then definitely check out ‘Japan Beer Times’ and ‘Beer in Japan’, two great online magazines covering everything there’s to know about Japanese beer.
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