Beer products in Japan come mostly from the four major beer producers in the country. These include Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory, making pale-colored light lagers with an alcohol strength of around 5.0% ABV. Still, beer-like drinks made with lower levels of malts called happoshu or non-malt happōsei have gained a significant part of the market, as taxes on these items are substantially lower.
During the Edo Period, the Dutch began to brew beer for their own use in Nagasaki. A foreign businessman founded the first brewery to serve the Japanese market in 1869 in Yokohama’s international port city. It began producing Kirin-branded beer in 1888 following changes in ownership. The government, meanwhile, built a beer brewery in Sapporo and founded the Sapporo Beer brand in 1876 as part of its efforts to develop Hokkaido Island. Yokohama and Sapporo, therefore, compete for the title of Japanese beer’s birthplace.
When Japan reopened to foreign trade during the Meiji period, imported beers such as Bass Pale Ale and Bass Stout became available in the international settlements in limited quantities. Still, qualified brewers from Europe and elsewhere also arrived to contribute to the local industry’s growth. Here are some of the best beer products in Japan.
Asahi Super Dry
Asahi Super Dry is the most popular beer in Japan and is known throughout the world. A great tasting beer that perfectly matches Japanese food, this beer’s name says it all. It is a dry, light, crisp, bitter-taste beer with an extremely sharp aftertaste.
Asahi launched Asahi Super Dry in 1987, a product that changed Japan’s new beer industry. Without the stronger malt flavors of competitor products, Asahi Super Dry is described as a highly attenuated lager with a crisp, dry taste reminiscent of some Northern German beers.
Kirin Lager is one of Japan’s oldest and most common lager-style beers. Also, Kirin Ichiban beer’s commercial summary describes it as the finest malt barley, quality hops, smooth finish, and no bitter aftertaste. It is also remembered that in 1997, Anheuser-Busch, a US-based brewing company, started brewing Kirin Lager, Kirin Light, and Kirin Ichiban at its Los Angeles brewery.
Suntory The Premium Malt’s
Suntory’s The Premium Malt’s has a rich taste and pleasant aroma. This is renowned for its consistency. This pilsner-style beer is easy to drink and extremely popular in Japan, winner of two gold medals in European competitions for two consecutive years.
Happoshu is a relatively recent Japanese brewing company development. It has a beer-like flavor and alcohol content, but it’s made with less malt, giving it a distinct, lighter taste. Happoshu is taxed differently than beer because of the lower malt content and the fact that it costs less.
New Genre (Shin Janru)
The latest development in the Japanese beer industry is new genre beer. To overcome tax changes that reclassified the malt content of beer and consequently increased the happoshu price, this beer-like beverage does not contain malt, but uses pea, soy, or wheat spirits instead. This can, therefore, be priced even lower.
In the second half of the 20th century, beer’s popularity increased sharply, and beer has long overtaken sake as the nation’s favorite tipple. Some Japanese beers have also become popular overseas during recent decades. Check out our other food-related travel ideas!