Firstly, Japanese people love beer as much as any other country around the world, and many people are familiar with the standard Japanese beers like Sapporo, Asahi, and Kirin. However, Yebisu is another brand you may not have heard of outside of Japan; it’s also one that is adored by the locals and is available on the shelves of most supermarkets and convenience stores and is definitely worth trying for all the traveling beer lovers journeying through Japan.
The main Japanese brands are delicious and quite light with many establishments all over Japan serving at least one of the major brands on draught, which in Japan, is called “nama-biiru” and literally translates to “fresh beer”. In most smaller establishments, there is generally only one kind of beer on tap, so simply requesting “nama-biiru” is enough, and saves you the trouble of having to decide.
However, for beer connoisseurs, the popular brews may leave you desiring a bit more variety, especially those visiting from Europe and North America, where craft beer has enjoyed a massive renaissance in recent years.
Recently, thanks to a boom in craft beer culture, some of these brands have begun to explore other varieties of beer, offering pale ales, browns, stouts, wheats, and even beer cocktails in a can, like shandies. Sapporo recently released an amazing Belgian white you can find in many convenience stores these days while Asahi has recently released a pale ale.
Small-scale local breweries have only begun to catch on in Japan, but they are springing up all over the place, and if you keep your eyes open, you can even find some canned local brews on the shelves of convenience stores. For the more dedicated explorer, many small towns and large cities will have a number of their own local breweries, featuring a seasonal selection similar to craft breweries of the West. While you may be hard-pressed to find these local beers outside of their place of origin, some cafes and restaurants will offer a small selection of local brews in bottles.
I’ve tried some delicious varieties from Nagano prefecture, Aichi prefecture, Mie prefecture and Kanagawa prefecture, but you’re liable to find local beers almost anywhere in Japan these days, thanks to the abundant fresh water available, providing a delicious base to work with. Most brews in Japan tend to be lighter in flavor and depth than, for example, American craft beers, but again, the variety available offers something for all palettes.