Japanese Beer Guide

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  • Traveled to Japan and overwhelmed by the number of beer choices?  Read this Japanese beer guide to get to know different beer types and flavors.

    Japanese beer collection - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com

    When you enter any Japanese supermarket or convenient stores like Seven Eleven, Lawson’s or Family Mart, you are presented with a wide selection of Japanese beer.  Everyone has their favorites but if it’s your first time in Japan, you might not know what to pick.  We hope this Japanese beer guide will help you narrow your selection and find one you enjoy.

    This past summer (2018), it was extremely hot in Japan and almost unbearable.  The positive part about the hot weather?  It was perfect for trying all types of cold beer to cool down from the heat.  I went around the local markets to find an assortment of beer by different brands, and tasted them with my drinking buddy, aka Nami’s mom.

    Japanese beer collection - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com

    Nami only likes a small sip of wine or beer to taste the flavor so I had to recruit her mom to taste the beers with me.  I think you would all agree it’s just not as fun drinking by yourself.  Besides trying different beers, one of the answers I wanted to find out was if the “premium” beers really tasted better than the non-premium.

    Before continuing, here’s the general disclaimer: I am by no means a beer expert.  I simply enjoy drinking beer so take the information below as feedback from someone who simply likes drinking beer.

    Japanese Beer Guide – Type of Beer

    Japanese beer cans are very colorful and packaged to really attract your attention.  However, what’s really inside?

    Japanese beer collection - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com

    In Japan, beer can be classified into 3 categories:

    1. Malt Beer – Good old beer
    2. Happoshu 発泡酒 – low-malt beer with less than 50% malt content
    3. Liqueurリキュール – carbonated beer like drinks containing very little to zero malt content

    Why the different categories?  In Japan, beer beverages with 67%+ malt content were taxed higher than those below 67%.  Manufactures started introducing drinks with lower than 67% malt content in the 90’s to create a lower price product than beer called happoshu.

    As happoshu became more popular and tax revenue fell, the Japanese government lowered the malt requirement to 50% to generate more revenue from beer sales.  To avoid the tax, the brands continue to make lower-malt content beverages and these days happoshu are typically less than 25% malt content.  There are also popular beverages marketed with no malt at all.  Should these drinks be called beer?  It’s really your call.

    The Malt's Suntory with Okinawa Style Takoyaki - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com

    Japanese Beer Guide – Ratings

    As Nami’s mom and I enjoyed the many types of beer and beer-like beverages, here are our thoughts on each drink below.  We also gave them a rating out of 5, 1 being our least favorite.  For reference, the generic Asahi Super Dry, Sapporo, and Kirin would be a 2/5.

    Asahi Shunrei Karakuchi - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Asahi Super Dry Shunrei Karakuchi: Taste like regular Asahi Super Dry, not much head, sharp finish. 2/5
    Asahi Limited Edition Draft Beer - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Asahi Hyakunen no Kodawari Seasonal Special: Smooth, creamy, caramel finish. Decent beer. 3/5
    Kirin Beer Classic - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kirin Classic Lager – Smooth, soft, typical Japanese beer taste. 2/5
    Suiyoubi No Neko Belgian Style White Ale - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Yo-Ho Suiyoubi No Neko – Tastes like Belgium wheat beer with herbs and citrus flavors. Fruity. 4/5
    Grand Kirin White - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kirin Grand Kirin White Ale – Tastes like chardonnay and white wine and not much beer taste, refreshing fruity drink for the summer. 3/5
    Grand Kirin IPA - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kirin Grand Kirin IPA – Light IPA taste, foamy, easy to drink. 3/5
    Kirin Nodogoshi Nama - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kirin Nodogoshi – zero malt content, watery, sweet, bubbly and not much flavor. 1/5
    Grand Kirin Galaxy Hop - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Grand Kirin Galaxy Hop Session IPA – Hoppy, light, a bit more flavorful than regular Japanese beer. 3/5
    Sapporo White Belg - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Sapporo White Belg – This is not a beer even though it uses Belgium malt. Its classified as a “3rd beer” and translates to liqueur (リキュール). Tries to be fruity white beer, lack depth, a bit bitter. Supposedly used orange peel. Not good. 1/5
    The Premium Malt's Master's Dream - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Suntory The Premium Malt’s Master’s Dream – A bit disappointed by this one because of the fancy packaging. The beer is smooth, slight malt flavor, but almost like drinking water. Not bad but nothing special either. 3/5
    Tokyo Black Porter - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Yo-Ho Tokyo Black Porter – Decent porter flavor with hints of roasted malt and chocolate, smooth body. 5/5
    Kirin Beer Black Draft Kuronama - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kirin Ichiban Kuronama – Much stronger smell compared to Tokyo black, decent taste with roasted malt flavor and aroma but no depth. Easy to drink. 3/5
    Sapporo Black Label - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Sapporo Draft Beer Kuro (Black) Label – Standard Japanese pale ale with a sweet finish. 3/5
    Tokyo Craft Pale Ale - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Suntory Tokyo Craft Pale Ale – Smells floral, light, fragrant, balanced, sweet, light pale ale. Not bad. 3/5
    Yebisu White Beer - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Sapporo Yebisu Hana Miyabi – Light white beer but looks like a larger. Fruity and banana flavors. 3/5
    Yebusi Meister - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Sapporo Yebisu Meister – A bit more flavorful than standard Japanese beer. Decent hop and malt flavor with a smooth and bitter finish. 5/5
    Hon Kirin Beer - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kirin Hon Kirin – This is annoying, it’s called “real” Kirin but it’s happoshu. Sweet with very little flavor. 1/5
    Grand Kirin Belgiam White - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Kirin Grand Kirin Ame nochi Taiyo, Belgian no Shiro – Refreshing but not tasty, not much flavor, tastes like a pale ale. 3/5
    Karuizawa Weiss Beer - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Karuizawa Weiss – Strong citrus taste, smooth, good quality, white beer similar to Hoegaarden. 4/5
    Yebisu Premium Black - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Sapporo Yebisu Premium Black – Sweet with chocolate and caramel flavor. The body is light and watery. 4/5
    The Premium Malts Sparkling Gold - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Suntory The Premium Malt’s Sparkling Gold – Limited edition at 7-Eleven stores, tastes like regular Japanese beer but a bit smoother. 2/5
    The Premium Malts - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Suntory The Premium Malt’s Kaoru Ale – A perfumey ale, fruity with a hint of peach. Great for the summer. 4/5
    Asahi Clear 7 - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Asahi Clear Seven – Happoshu. Taste like a light beer with a strange aftertaste and not pleasant, a bit like 7 up. 1/5
    Aooni IPA - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Yo-Ho Aooni – One of the best IPA I’ve had on Japan, great flavor, hoppy, fragrant, smooth. 4/5
    Asahi Super Dry Yokohama Olympic bottle - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Asahi Super Dry glass bottle with Yokohama City and Tokyo Olympic designs – tastes like regular Asahi. 2/5

    Japanese Beer Guide – Our Recommendations

    Despite my best efforts, there are many Japanese beers we didn’t get try.  However, there is always the next trip and this beer list will get longer.  A couple personal recommendations:

    1. If you love beer and taste of malt, avoid happoshu or none-malt beers.  They’ll usually have “発泡酒” (happoshu) or “リキュール” (liqueur) on the can.  How would you know if they are real beer vs. happoshu or non-malt beers?  The price will be much cheaper.
    2. Does premium always mean better tasting?  Not always.  The smaller macro-brewery’s beer almost always tasted better than Kirin, Asahi, and Sapporo.  The exception to this was the Ebisu beers.  They are generally pretty good and in case you didn’t know, Ebisu is owned by Sapporo.
    Japanese beer in Japanese Supermarket - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com
    Japanese canned craft beers.

    Japanese beer in Japanese Supermarket - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com

    Another characteristic about the beers we tried that bothered me was the color of the beers.  Regardless of the beer type, unless it was a black beer the color of the beer is almost always the same.  Different beer type should have different colors.

    The Premium Malts with beer foamer - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com

    The last piece I wanted to share was the awesome foamer that came with Suntory The Premium Malt’s Kaoru Ale, I just couldn’t resist.  It worked a tiny bit but it was sure fun.

    The Premium Malts with beer foamer - Guide for Japanese Beer | www.justonecookbook.com

    We hope this Japanese beer guide was helpful for you when you browse through the beer section the next time you’re in Japan.  If you are looking for unique beers, skip the convenience stores and head for a large supermarket or depachika below a department store.  They usually have a much larger selection of beer and craft beer.  Thank you for reading our Japanese beer guide and click here if you want to read about our travel journey in Japan.

    Otsumami (おつまみ) – a snack for alcoholic drinks

    Edamame served in bamboo basket and beer glass in the back.

    What is Edamame and How Do You Cook It?

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