Japan’s love of the amber liquid coupled with the zen-like approach here to craft brewing means that beer lovers are spoiled for choice and quality. But which one to choose?
In addition to the ever-dominant big four brewers (Asahi, Sapporo, Suntory, Kirin), a smorgasbord of smaller craft breweries have popped up in recent years, saturating the market with a whole host of mighty drops. Add to this the fact that it’s perfectly acceptable in Japan to take a beer into the parks or onto the beaches, and you’ve got a kind of ‘hoppy heaven’. We’ve made a shortlist of four of our favorites and tried to stick to ones that are easier to find in liquor stores and supermarkets.
Minoh has perhaps the most interesting origin story of any brewery in Japan. The short version is that in 1997, the proprietor of a liquor store in Osaka decided to start a brewery and put his daughters in charge of it. Today the brewery is often referred to as the most innovative in Japan, with a fine selection of global award-winning brews and a willingness to experiment with new ideas and flavors, including their unusual beer-meets-wine, Minoh Cabernet. Their products are very popular both in the Kansai area and across Japan, and the daughters have also branched out into their own bars, Beer Belly, definitely worth checking out if you are visiting the region.
Minoh Brewery Website (Japanese)
COEDO craft beer grew out of what was originally a vegetable distribution business that started to make a beer from sweet potatoes. Today the company, based in Saitama, produces a range of multi-award winning beers that can actually be found in many overseas markets including the US, China, Australia and Singapore. There are five main brews in their range, all named after classic Japanese hues. Kyara (brown) is the IPA, Ruri (blue) is a pilsner, Shiro (white) a wheat beer, Shikkoku (black) their dark beer, and Beniaka (crimson), the descendant of their original sweet potato beer. They are all worth trying and their popularity means that they are found coming out of increasingly more taps and on more shelves across Japan.
Coedo Brewery Website (English)
Shiga Kogen Beer
This delicious craft beer comes from a Nagano-based brewery not far from some of the best skiing in Japan. Shiga Kogen Beer is now just over ten years old, but was a spinoff from a 213-year-old local sake brewery. Using local ingredients and brewing skills built up over two centuries,, Shiga Kogen Beer has quickly found a following and apart from being available all over Nagano, it’s popularity means it’s now appearing more up and down the country. The brewery also hosts a 2-day craft beer and music festival in March each year called Snow Monkey Beer Live that features live music, DJs and of a selection of the best craft beers from across Japan. With music, food, skiing and of course beer, its no wonder this music festival is rapidly growing in popularity.
Shiga Kogen Beer Website (Japanese)
This brewer also started out as a sake brewery in 1823, developing the beer business in 1996. Located two hours north of Tokyo in Ibaraki prefecture, it is the home of the delicious and multi award-winning Hitachino Nest beer, with the distinctive owl logo. It was the first Japanese craft beer to be exported overseas, and can now be found in more than 20 countries. If you’re a craft beer lover, a visit to the brewery should be on your list of things to do while you’re here. In addition to being able to tour the facilities, and of course sample the product range, you can learn the brewing process and actually create your own brew!
Kiuchi Brewery Website (English)
- Sake Storehouse Art Museum Gallery Tamamura Honten
- Nagano Pref. Shimotakaigunyamanouchimachi Hirao 1163
Japanese Craft Beer
NAVITIME TRAVEL EDITOR