From Kyoto to Hiroshima: Cheers to Going Local

Learn more about the craft beer movement in Western Japan

1 Jun · Nick Colaccino ·

From Kyoto to Hiroshima: Cheers to Beer!

With summer on the horizon, time to make your plan to try the best craft beer across western Japan!

The craft beer movement is alive and well in Japan. According to Kitasangyo, craft brewers in Japan are at an all-time high. It’s no longer difficult for foreign tourists to find themselves at home in a musky, wooden tavern with a nice dark porter, listening to English-language music. But you’re missing out if you wind up in that tavern!

Food and drink are fiercely regional in Japan and beer has played nicely into this. Home to the food and imperial capitals of Osaka and Kyoto, respectively, Kansai boasts a lively and enthusiastic craft scene. A little more to the west lies Hiroshima with its own unique take on beer. Any lover of suds would be remiss not to check out these three craft havens while on holiday in Japan.

Kyoto: Tradition Gets a Twist

Kyoto is most famous as the city where tradition and modernity gracefully meet, which sounds perfect for a craft beer movement that attempts to restore traditional brewing techniques for modern audiences. In terms of breweries, the big kid on the block is Kyoto Brewing Company. Noticing the tragic gap in good craft beer between Osaka and Tokyo, the company was founded with the goal of helping the Japanese craft movement grow as well as turning Kyoto into a craft beer “haven”. Tourists can get a taste of their beers at most craft beer bars in the city, including their tap room, but a great place to do it is Craft Stand in Sujin-Shinmachi (an outdoor smorgasbord food corner).

Speaking of craft beer bars, Kyoto has tons of them. The ready availability of Japanese craft beer is something that makes the Kyoto scene special. Instead of relying on foreign imports, the city strives to promote and improve domestic brews, giving visitors a chance to taste the unique craft beer palate of Japan. One stand-out bar is Bungalow, in Teramachi and Shijo Horikawa. If you don’t like a lot of walking, why not stay at Len Hostel? The ground floor is an excellent craft beer bar and cafe that serves domestic and imports and often features live music. Brewpubs are also springing up. A notable mention is Kyoto Beer Lab, located in a quiet neighborhood filled with hostels and cafes along a picturesque stream.

Kyoto has also had an excellent craft beer festival every spring. Unfortunately, at the time of writing, the festival is postponed indefinitely

Kyoto beers

Osaka: Where Food and Drink Reign Supreme

Since craft beer began in Japan, Osaka has cast a long shadow over Kyoto to the north. This makes sense for a place whose nickname is “the kitchen of Japan” (天下の台所 tenka no daidokoro). And it doesn’t take much imagination to change their unofficial slogan, “eat until you drop” (くいだおれ kuidaore), to something more booze-related (and alliteration-friendly). The city is filled with craft beer bars and several brewpubs.

The unquestionable behemoth of the Osaka scene is Minoh Beer. Founded in 1995 and named after its hometown, Minoh has grown into a standard symbol of excellence in Japanese brewing, gaining international fame with award-winning brews. Their beers are highly drinkable while not being afraid to try bold flavor profiles with high ABV. Their imperial stout is a real winner–but is usually only available around Valentine’s Day. Minoh beers can be found throughout Japan at liquor stores and craft beer bars.

W-IPA beer osaka

Like Kyoto, Osaka has a craft beer map to help you navigate the watering holes. Tons of bars are within walking distance of Osaka Station, with Craft Beer Base being a must.

Hiroshima: Rebirth and Revitalization

Continuing our westward booze bumble, Hiroshima is a great place to stop and wet the whistle. Most tourists will visit the Atomic Bomb Dome, Peace Park, and Miyajima Island. This is perfect because Miyajima Beer has its main brewery on the island and the shopping district adjacent to the Peace Park is filled with craft beer bars!

Miyajima Beer was founded by a retired salaryman who was distraught at the many closures of local businesses in his Hiroshima hometown. He wanted to create something that was full of local pride, but also in step with the modern age. He strove to make a Japanese craft beer, on par with Anchor’s Liberty Ale, that could help revitalize the local economy. It is a fitting origin story for a beer based in a town so historically tangled with the US and rebuilding after WWII.

While Hiroshima has the smallest craft scene of the three cities, it is very active and constantly growing. Two new brewpubs were licensed last year to start brewing and selling. Kemby’s, located right next to the Peace Memorial Park, has an excellent atmosphere, fresh beers, and a great building–they even have billiards! Unfortunately, the local microbrew festival has also been canceled this year due to a failure to book the venue. At the time of writing, they are currently looking for another location.

While Hiroshima has the smallest craft scene of the three cities, it is very active and constantly growing. Two new brewpubs were licensed last year to start brewing and selling. Kemby’s, located right next to the Peace Memorial Park, has an excellent atmosphere, fresh beers, and a great building–they even have billiards! Unfortunately, the local microbrew festival has also been canceled this year due to a failure to book the venue. At the time of writing, they are currently looking for another location.

miyajima beer

Special thanks to Miyajima Beer for providing such beautiful pictures of their work and Kyoto Brewing Company for granting us an interview and providing valuable insight into the Kyoto/Japan Craft Beer scene.

Traveling to the Kansai area soon? Why not join one of our 3-hour food tour in Kyoto, Osaka, and Hiroshima.

Nick Colaccino

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Nick is a Michigan-native, living in Kansai Japan. He is an avid outdoorsman who spends most of his free time exploring the mountains of Japan and writing inside his tent after a good hike. If you ever need a run-down on Japanese trail foods, he's your guy. You can read his personal prose and short stories at his blog, Rafiki's Nikki (www.rafikisnikki.wordpress.com).

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