Are you more interested in trying some of the best Japanese beers? Or maybe you’re curious about what beers are popular in Japan.
We’ll tell you everything you need to know in this article!
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For starters, when it comes to Japanese alcoholic beverages, Sake Rice Wine is what most people think of. In fact, it is the national drink of Japan, but it is not the most consumed alcoholic beverage in the country.
The Japanese name for beer is “Biru” (or, as it’s pronounced, “beer-ru”) and is actually more popular than the traditional Sake that Japan is known for.
- 1 Best Beers From Japan Worth Drinking
- 1.1 Orion Premium Draft – 4.7% ABV
- 1.2 Suntory The Premium Malt’s Kaoru Ale – 6% ABV
- 1.3 Yo-Ho Yona Yona Ale – 5.5% ABV
- 1.4 Asahi Super Dry – 5.2% ABV
- 1.5 Koshihikari Echigo – 5.0% ABV
- 1.6 Kirin Ichiban – 5.0% ABV
- 1.7 Sapporo Premium Lager – 4.9% ABV
- 1.8 Kuri Kuro Dark Chestnut – 9.0% ABV
- 1.9 Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout – 7.0% ABV
- 1.10 Hitachino Nest White Ale – 5.5% ABV
- 2 The History Of Japanese Beer
- 3 Categorizing Japanese Beer
- 4 Cultural Drinking In Japan
- 5 Where To Find These Japanese Beer Brands
- 6 Final Say On Japanese Beer
Best Beers From Japan Worth Drinking
A lot of beers were sampled to come up with a list of favorites, some well-known outside of Japan and some enjoyed mainly by locals. This list contains a wide variety of Japanese beer brands, from large breweries to smaller micro-brews.
We have listed our top 10 favorite Japanese beers below.
Orion Premium Draft – 4.7% ABV
Orion is one of the five big breweries in Japan and extremely popular in its home region of Okinawa, controlling over half the beer-drinking market in that prefecture.
Created in 2015, this rice lager is one of the newer craft beers from Japan. The aroma and flavor are nutty, buttery, and crackers or biscuits, yet remain delicate and subtle.
Suntory The Premium Malt’s Kaoru Ale – 6% ABV
This is an award-winning American blond ale from Suntory, one of the oldest brewers in Japan. This may not taste like a traditional American Blonde, but it’s pretty close.
Easy to drink, pleasant, and has enough malt bite to keep it interesting while remaining smooth.
Yo-Ho Yona Yona Ale – 5.5% ABV
Yo-Ho is a craft brewery founded in 1996 in Nagano, and “Yona Yona” means “every night,” which is ambitious but not inaccurate. This one would be under consideration if I had to drink the same beer every night, and it had to be a pale ale.
This American-style pale ale is a golden amber color with a pleasant citrus taste. This ale is a flavorful, crisp drink that has won multiple gold medals in beer-tasting competitions.
Asahi Super Dry – 5.2% ABV
One advantage of a large-scale beer brewer like Asahi is they can do market testing, and their research led to this higher alcohol content Japanese beer with less malty taste or aftertaste.
Created in 1987, Asahi Super Dry beer quickly became a popular choice in Japan. Asahi describes the taste of their beer as “Karakuchi,” which doesn’t have a direct translation, but I’m guessing it means something like “crisp and dry” without any bad aftertaste.
Koshihikari Echigo – 5.0% ABV
This Koshihikari Echigo lager is made with a combination of German malt and hops, along with what many consider to be the best rice in Japan, which is grown in the ideal rice-growing region known as Niigata Prefecture.
It is bright and refreshing and has a nice depth of flavor, tasting rice malt with a hint of citrus.
Kirin Ichiban – 5.0% ABV
One of the big original breweries made a splash when Kirin Ichiban debuted this American lager in 1990, quickly becoming one of the nation’s most popular beers, domestically and abroad.
It has a light flavor with a hint of malt to it without being overwhelming. Ichiban means “first” and “best” in Japanese; while Kirin Ichiban might not be the best, it is definitely worth a seat on your table.
Sapporo Premium Lager – 4.9% ABV
Sapporo Premium Lager is a classic beer from an established Japanese beer brand. A golden color and a traditional lager flavor but an unexpectedly intense, almost minty hop flavor. This balances nicely with the citrus.
Sapporo Premium Lager is light, dry, and compliments many Japanese meals.
Kuri Kuro Dark Chestnut – 9.0% ABV
This American imperial stout is brewed in Miyazaki and features local chestnuts, which is the secret behind the punch of taste in this beer. In addition to the chestnuts, the taste of coffee and a hint of chocolate.
This Kuri Kuri Dark Chestnut delight placed in the “Stout and Porter” category at the World Beer Awards.
Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout – 7.0% ABV
This Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout delight is brewed by Kiuchi Brewery, which has been around since 1823, although primarily making Sake Rice Wine. Naturally, espresso beans are what make the distinct flavor in this beer.
Many espresso or stout fans might even say it ranks at the top of all beers from Japan.
Hitachino Nest White Ale – 5.5% ABV
In my opinion, Hitachino Nest White Ale is one of Japan’s best beers.
It pours cloudy with a nice yellow color, and instantly, the aroma of pepper and orange announces themselves. It is a fruity and respectful take on a Belgian classic, with hints of orange, nutmeg, and coriander.
Available in the U.S. since 2000, there’s a reason this beer has developed a cult following among American beer lovers. It’s definitely similar to a Belgian witbier but has its distinct taste.
The History Of Japanese Beer
Beer first arrived in Japan in the 17th Century when Dutch traders opened a beer hall for visiting sailors in a trading post in Nagasaki. In the 18th and early 19th centuries, Japan severely restricted trade with other nations, and beer dropped off in popularity, but with the return of the Europeans came the return of beer.
In 1869, Japanese beer emerged when the Spring Valley Brewery was created by a Dutch-American brewer. That company would later become The Japan Brewing Company and, soon thereafter, the Kirin Brewery Company.
In 1876, the Sapporo Brewing Company was formed. Both Kirin and Sapporo and their various offshoots are popular today. In addition to those two, the other major Japanese breweries operating are Asahi, Suntory, and Orion.
Beer was primarily a big brewing activity because the laws only granted licenses to large-scale brewers. This changed in 1994 when the laws were relaxed, and then craft beer (or ji-biru, which means “local beer”) emerged. In the 25 years following that law change, there are now hundreds of microbreweries selling domestically and around the world.
The craft beer scene in Japan is big in cities like Tokyo and Osaka, where some bars focus solely on a selection of microbreweries or even have a relationship with only one particular brewery.
There has also been an increase in brewpubs that sell beer they brew on premises. While Japanese microbrews are relatively new, it is making a splash all around the world. (Spoiler: craft beer features heavily in the Best Japanese Beer rankings.)
Categorizing Japanese Beer
In Japan, alcohol is taxed according to the malt content. Because of that, there are three different categories of beer:
- Happoshu (a.k.a. Sparkling Alcohol)
- New Genre (Shin Janru)
This is beer, as you know it, with regular malt content. This type of beverage is taxed higher than the other two and costs more.
Happoshu (a.k.a. Sparkling Alcohol)
This relatively recent product has a similar flavor and similar alcohol content as beer. However, it has a lighter taste due to less malt in the brewing process and costs less than regular beer.
New Genre (Shin Janru)
This is also known as paisan no biru (or “third beer”) and contains no malt. Instead, it is brewed with soy, pea, or wheat spirits.
Cultural Drinking In Japan
The Japanese drink a little differently than in other parts of the world. First, it is customary to take care of your guests first and make sure everyone has a glass poured before you pour for yourself. Similarly, if you are a guest, you should never pour for yourself; your host will take care of that for you.
Also, the Japanese rarely go out for a drink just to drink. Most often, beer accompanies a meal, a snack, or to keep the pipes loose while singing karaoke.
The drinking age in Japan is 20.
Where To Find These Japanese Beer Brands
Are you interested in trying one or more of these beers from Japan but don’t plan on going to Japan?
You’re in luck. If you don’t plan on traveling to Japan anytime in the near future, you can still get your hands on most. if not all of these Japanese beer brands.
Beer Of The Month Club
For craft beer fans who like to try new styles of beer, especially craft beers from international breweries, take a look at the International Beer Club from MonthlyBeerClub or any of their 5 beer club subscriptions.
If interested and want more detail on what these beer clubs have to offer, please check out our post on how to pick the right craft beer club, then check out our review of the Top 6 monthly beer clubs.
Final Say On Japanese Beer
While Japanese Craft Beer is relatively new in the worldwide beer scene, there is no doubt as to whether beer brewed in Japan is good or not.
It is, but you have to try it for yourself.
Besides these 10 Japanese beers listed above, there are plenty of good Japanese beers that are available in just about every Japanese restaurant in America and most supermarkets and liquor stores.