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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.
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.
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?
In Japan, beer can be classified into 3 categories:
- Malt Beer – Good old beer
- Happoshu 発泡酒 – low-malt beer with less than 50% malt content
- 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.
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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
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 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.
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