Japanese Beer: The Most Popular Alcoholic Beverage in Japan
Contrary to most people’s expectations, the most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan is beer rather than Sake. According to a survey, beer accounts for 2/3 of all alcohol consumed in Japan, and hence Japan ranked No.7 on the global beer consumption list. In Japan, beer is often the first drink choice for dinner parties. Since the 19th century when Japan began to brew beer, the product has evolved with characteristics unique to Japan. Nowadays, beer is accessible nationwide and can be bought even at local convenience stores.
The History of Japanese Beer
Beer was first introduced to Japan by Dutch merchants in the 17th century, which didn't win the heart of the Japanese in the first place. However, the taste of beer became familiar and welcomed by the Japanese as the beer halls were established. In 1853, the first recorded Japanese brewer, Koumin Kawamoto, tried to brew beer by following a Dutch book.
Japanese first beer brewery, Spring Valley Brewery, was founded in 1870 in Yokohama by Norwegian-American William Copeland, which was later purchased by Kirin Brewery Company in 1885. Other brands that dominate the Japanese beer market, such as Asahi and Sapporo, also had their origins in the 19th century, which couldn't do without Seibei Nagakawa. After hops were discovered growing on the island of Hokkaido, the Japanese beer revolution began and Seibei Nakagawa was dispatched to Germany to learn European brewing techniques and styles. He started Pioneers Brewery in 1875 after returning to Japan, which was the company that introduced the famous Sapporo Cold Beer to Japan.
By 1886, with the gradual establishment of Japanese local breweries, the local production quantity of beer surpassed import quantity, and the majority of national beer demand was met by local production. In the late 20th century, beer overtook sake as the nation's favorite alcoholic beverage.
The Styles of Japanese Beer
In Japan, there are four main beer producers: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory. They produce almost every style of beer, such as IPAs, wheat ales, and stouts. However, since Japan’s alcohol laws tax beer according to its malt content, beer producers began to launch new products. Therefore, Japanese beer can be divided into three styles according to its malt content.
Beer: This is the regular beer that is produced by the brewing and fermentation of cereal grains with a malt content over 50%. Therefore, it is charged more tax because of the higher malt content.
Happoshu: It is a low-malt beer, also known as the sparkling alcoholic beverage. Happoshu has a similar flavor and ABV as regular beer but normally contains less than 50% malt, which leads to a lower alcoholic tax.
Daisan-no Beer: Daisan-no Beer (the third beer) is also known as Shin-janru (new style or new genre). It is the newest innovation in the Japanese beer industry. Beer producers replace malt with pea and soy to lower the malt content and avoid the high tax.
The New Trend of Japanese Beer
In the last decades, microbrew began to sweep Japan. Nowadays, there are hundreds of microbreweries in Japan providing quality craft beer of various styles. In Japanese, the term for microbrew is ji-biru, which means “local beer”. Therefore, craft beer produced in different areas has unique regional features.
To enjoy Japanese craft beer, here are some options for you. The first choice is craft beer bars, which locate nationwide. In Japanese craft beer bars, you can enjoy various craft beers produced all over Japan. And, there is no need to worry about the language issue, most craft beer bars offer bilingual menus, and the staff can also speak English. The second choice is craft beer festivals. Brewers from all over the nation will come to the festival and bring their most proud products. At the festival, you can taste the beer while enjoying the beautiful scenery and listening to music. What’s more, brewers will design a special package for the festival which is a limited edition and worth collecting. Except for that, craft beer is also available at specialty liquor stores, Izakaya, and some spa hotels.