When you think of Japanese beer, your mind likely shoots immediately to either Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo or Suntory. Across the globe, these brands are known as the face of Japanese beer. They are mass-produced and easy to find almost anywhere from restaurants to corner stores. However, my dear readers, Japan has so much more to offer in the realm of beer and I urge you to explore its true depth. In my efforts to aid (and persuade) you on this topic, I have gathered some information about the Japanese Craft Beer industry below.
Currently, craft beer makes up only around 1-2% of the entire beer market in Japan; nevertheless, all signs point to a large potential for growth in this sector. While recent reports have shown a decline in the revenue of overall beer sales in Japan, the revenue for craft beer continues to persistently increase. Arguably, this is the reasoning for why Japan’s big-name beer companies have begun putting more effort towards craft beer-style products. For example, Spring Valley Brewery has become a popular destination for those visiting Tokyo’s trendy Daikanyama neighborhood as it tempts customers with not just beer tastings, but delicious, upscale dishes as well. It bolsters the intimate atmosphere associated with craft beer breweries despite having one (quite important) catch — it is owned by Kirin.
By definition, craft beer is beer that is made by a relatively small brewery that prioritizes quality and flavor over mass production. After its start in the early 1990s, Japanese craft beer took off. Today, there are roughly 500 domestic microbreweries and brewpubs in the country itself. Tokyo specifically has everything from the most micro of microbreweries to more established brands that can even be found internationally. It is important to note, however, that the COVID-19 pandemic has definitely brought challenges for those in the craft beer industry as well as those attempting to enter it since not only has tourism halted, but fewer people are going out to drink and restrictions on serving alcohol have been put in place. As restrictions ease and socializing increases, it is especially important that people seek out, discover and support these smaller companies so that the craft beer market can continue to grow!
As would be expected from craft beers in Japan, many microbreweries have experimented with traditional Japanese flavors like matcha and yuzu. While it may not be a taste that you would typically expect to get when opting for a beer, it would be a shame not to try a glass of something that could only be appropriately classified as a uniquely Japanese craft beer. However, if you were hoping for a more familiar taste, do not worry — IPAs and fruitier flavors are big sellers for a reason!
Shigakogen Beer and Hitachino Nest Beer are two well-established craft beers that both serve as great introductions to the Japanese craft beer market. They are widely distributed and, as a result, should not cause too much trouble for those seeking to try them. However, if you have the time to explore, I would recommend visiting places such as Y.Y.G. Brewery & Beer Kitchen in Yoyogi or CRAFT BEER BAR IBREW GINZA. There, carefully crafted beers served in a small, intimate location offer not just a satisfying refreshment but a fun experience that stands in contrast with what is typically expected from “mainstream” beer culture but is very much common in Japanese drinking culture.
Personally, as I’m writing this from my desk at work, I can’t help that my mouth is watering slightly from the thought of trading this computer in front of me for a nice, rich, flavorful craft beer. Hopefully, this article is convincing you to go out and explore just as much as it is for me!
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Featuring photo from Josh Olalde on Unsplash