Want to know more about Japanese Beer? Here’s my guide to the most popular beers in Japan with a brief introduction to each beer as well as more info about the Japanese beer brands.
Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory are the main producers of beer in Japan. But in recent years, some craft beer bars and microbreweries have also gained popularity, especially in Tokyo and Osaka.
Asahi Super Dry
Asahi Super dry is one of the most popular beers in Japan, and it has even gained fame and popularity around the world. It’s light with a crisp taste and sharp aftertaste, and it’s perfect to have along with Japanese food.
Name in Japanese: アサヒスーパードライ
Kirin Ichiban Shibori
Kirin Ichiban Shibori is another best-selling premium beer in Japan, from the Kirin brewery. It has a bittersweet taste and has 100% malt content.
The literal meaning of the name is “first press” simply because it’s made with the first press method, brewed from only malt, hops and water.
This gives the Kirin Ichiban Shibori a unique taste with a crisp first taste and rich flavor following afterward.
Name in Japanese: キリン一番搾り
The Yebisu Beer from Sapporo is a bit more expensive, but you also get premium quality with a nice aroma and flavor. Yebisu is popular among beer enthusiasts as well as foreigners and locals alike.
The brewing process follows strict rules from Germany with 100% imported ingredients from Germany. However, it’s brewed to perfection in Sapporo.
Name in Japanese: ヱビスビール
Kirin is one of the oldest and most consumed beers in Japan. It’s the flagship of the Kirin brewery, and it’s made in lager-style. The aroma is nice with notes of malt, grass, white bread and a light touch of honey.
It goes well with local foods, and the Kirin lager has a smooth and soft taste.
Hitachino nest white ale
If you want to try a Japanese craft beer, I recommend the Hitachino nest white ale. It’s brewed in the traditional Belgian white beer style and is one of the most popular craft beers in Japan.
Sapporo Premium Beer
The Sapporo Premium Beer is one of my favorite beers in Japan, and it comes with a balanced taste and smoothness. It goes well with local foods.
If you’re looking for a darker beer, you could try the Sapporo Premium Black Beer, which is a bold dark lager from the same brewing company.
Yona Yona Ale
Yona Yona Ale is a pale ale that you can enjoy by itself. It has a somewhat bitter taste with a fruity aroma. The aftertaste is pleasant, and all in all, the Yona Yona Ale is easy and smooth to drink.
Premium Malts from Suntory
The Premium Malts from Suntory has a flowery aroma and creamy foam with a rich flavor and depth. It’s one of the Premium beers from the Suntory brewery company, and one of the most popular Japanese beers that I can recommend you to try.
Name in Japanese: プレミアムモルツ
Yo-Ho Tokyo Black Porter
I really like this one from the Yo-Ho brewing company. It’s a well-balanced porter with a similar appearance to Guinness.
The Tokyo Black Porter has hints of coffee, chocolate, and a light roast flavor. It’s very enjoyable and not too powerful.
Kin-Mugi by Suntory
Last but not least, the Rich malt beer known as Kin-Mugi, sold and produced by Suntory. It pours a clear golden color and has a light bitterness.
Name in Japanese: 金麦
Where to enjoy Beer in Japan
If you’re traveling to Tokyo or Osaka, you can find several craft beer bars where you can enjoy Japanese beer. But any Izakaya (Japanese bar) will serve local beers from Japan, and they are generally the nicest place to go as well.
The Izakaya is also a fun place where you get to meet locals. Below is a photo of Christine in one of the Izakayas in Omoide Yokocho in Tokyo.
More about Japanese Beer
Beer is the most popular choice of alcohol in Japan, along with other beer-like beverages as well as Chuhai, which is a fruity alcoholic beverage with 3-8% alcohol. You can find Japanese beer in any convenience store and other supermarkets, and many have a wide selection.
The tradition of drinking beer in Japan dates back to the Edo Period where the Dutch brewed beer for their own consumption in Nagasaki.
Sapporo is the oldest brewery in Japan, founded in 1876 by Seibei Nakagawa. By the end of the 20th century, beer consumption continued to increase and it quickly became the number one choice of alcohol.
Sapporo and Kirin are the two first beer brands in Japan, and they’re still brewing some of the most popular beers in Japan.
In recent years, the breweries in Japan have also started to export beers and has gained popularity abroad as well due to high-quality and craftsmanship.
Different types of beer in Japan
- Malt Beer – Traditional Japanese beer
- Happoshu – Low-malt beer with less than 50% malt content
- Liqueur – Carbonated beer-like drinks containing very little or zero malt
The reason for various types of beer is not really about preference or demand, it was simply a way to avoiding higher taxes of beer beverages that have more than 67% malt content.
This led to increased production and popularity of Happoshu, which has 50% or less malt content. The Japanese government made a counter-response and lowered the limit from 67% to 50% when they noticed that tax revenue from beer fell.
The breweries are still trying to avoid these taxes in order to get more profit, and that’s the reason why you’ll find many beer-like beverages which have very little or no malt at all. They will taste similar to beer, but it’s not really a real Japanese beer unless it has a certain amount of malt content.
If you’re a beer lover and enjoy the taste of malt, you might want to stay away from the Happoshu. Of course, it’s fun to try some of them if you’re an enthusiast. But you’re more likely to enjoy the Japanese beers with a higher malt content if you want that rich aroma and flavor.
The text might only be in Japanese, so then you should look for “発泡酒” which means Happoshu, and “リキュール” for beer-like beverages without malt content.
If you’re a light beer drinker, you’ll probably find the Happoshu beers very pleasant and smooth to drink. The Japanese lagers also go well to local foods and by its own on a night out drinking with friends and strangers.
From my experience, I would say that the craft beers in Japan usually wins over the most popular brands. But some of the Premium beers from the major breweries are also fantastic and well worth the extra price tag.
Japanese Beer brands
- Kiuchi brewery (microbrewery)
- Yo-Ho Brewing (microbrewery)
Frequently Asked Questions about Beer from Japan
Asahi Super Dry is the most popular beer in Japan, ranked by consumption. But the competition is fierce between the four major breweries.
Beer in Japan is widely available in supermarkets and convenience stores. The price is usually somewhere between 100-200 yen per can.
Japanese beer has gained popularity overseas in recent years, and you can find various kinds of beer from Japan abroad, such as Asahi and Sapporo and Kirin beers.
Beer is by far the most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan. In fact, Japan ranks at 54th place when it comes to beer consumption per capita in the world.
Japanese Beer Festivals
- Snow Monkey Beer Live
- Kyushu Beer Festival
- Yokohama Fruhlingsfest
- Keiyaki Beer Festival
- Great Japan Beer Festival Okinawa
Do you have more questions about Japanese Beer? Leave a comment below!