Japanese beer: from leading lagers to speciality craft beers

05 Apr 2017 in Food Culture

You probably know Kirin, Sapporo and Asahi. But what about happoshu or Japan’s “third beer”? Learn all about the world of Japanese beer – and discover its vibrant microbrewery scene. Kanpai!

japanese-beers

Beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in Japan. But not all beers are alike – and, in fact, not all beverages that taste like beer are officially beer!

Japanese beers

So, what are the main types of beer produced in Japan – and which ones are worth sampling?

Lager beer dominates the market in Japan. You’re probably familiar with the biggest brands specializing in lager: Kirin, Sapporo and Asahi, which were all started back in the 19th century. The other major lager brewer is Suntory, a whisky maker now successfully producing Pilsner-style beer.

Happoshu is a beer-like beverage that is significantly cheaper than authentic beer. While it tastes similar to beer and has roughly the same alcohol content, it is made using less malt – allowing producers to pay less of Japan’s hefty malt tax and set lower prices.

Shin Janru is known as Japan’s “third beer”. Producers completely sidestep the malt tax by using peas, soy or wheat instead of malt. The lack of malt makes the taste lighter and the price lower.

Craft beer was first produced in 1994 following a relaxation of the law for microbreweries. Often known as ji-bīru or “local beer”, it’s become a vibrant market, produced by more than 200 small-scale breweries. You’ll find a wide range of craft beers to sample, including dark ale, bitter and IPA.

Harunire terrace karuizawa

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The region around Karuizawa in Nagano Prefecture is a hotbed for microbreweries. Back in 1996, Hoshino Resorts established the Yo-Ho Brewing Company in Karuizawa and, today, it is the leading producer of craft beer in Japan, with its prize-winning ale “Yona Yona” a firm favourite.

榆樹台 Harunire terrace

Good beers from Japan

If you’re staying at HOSHINOYA Karuizawa, you can organize a trip to the Saku brewery (1119-1 Otai, Saku city, Nagano) from June/July to October, just a 20-minute car ride from the resort.

So, let’s raise a glass to Japanese beer. Kanpai!

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