You may be forgiven for assuming that sake might be the most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan. But, you would be wrong! In 2006, Beer accounted for nearly two-thirds of the nine billion litres of alcohol consumed in the country that year. However, not many people outside of Japan know about the different kinds of Japanese Beer.
In Japan, there are two main classifications for beer; biiru (ビール) and happoshu (発泡酒). The latter of these contains fewer malts than regular beer, which makes it cheaper to produce, and the alcohol content weaker. The Japanese government forbids labelling these happoshu bevarages as ‘beer’, but the taste is still similar. All of the large brands of beer in Japan also create these happoshu drinks alongside their regular beers.
Asahi is currently the largest beer provider in Japan, with a 38% market share. You may also have noticed their name on a number of soft drinks in Japan as well. Asahi is most popular for its ‘Super Dry’ beer and you will be able to find this being sold in most convenience stores. This beer is described as having a crisp, dry taste, without the heavier malt taste that many Japanese beers once had; this makes the taste very similar to German style beers. When this beer launched in 1987, it heralded a new era for Japanese beer, with many other breweries following suit on the back of ‘Super Dry’s popularity.
Other Asahi Beers:
Asahi Draft – Lager (first produced in 1892)
Asahi Gold – Lager (former flagship product; first produced in 1957)
Asahi Z – Dry lager
Asahi Black – a 5% abv dark larger
Asahi Prime Time – German Pilsener-style lager (only available in Japan)
Kirin produces one of Japan’s oldest beers, Kirin Lager, which began production in 1888. This Japanese brewery focused on traditional brewing methods used in Japan, utilising malted grains and hops imported from Germany. The company takes their name from the mythical creature (of the same name) that you can see printed on every bottle and can. It also produces a very popular happoshu beverage, Kirin Tanrei, one of the top sellers in this category.
Suntory is one of the oldest brewing companies in Japan but is probably more famous for its Japanese whisky than its beers. Despite this, the brand is still very popular in Japan, and you can find their fresh tasting happoshu, ‘Kinmugi’ sold on draught in Torikizoku, an incredibly popular izakaya (drinking establishment) with branches all over Japan. Their popularity is most probably down to their astute advertising teams, as they have been well known, as a company, as producing interesting and unique ads.
The popularity of Craft Beer is rising rapidly in Japan. This is due to a relaxation in the laws regarding Microbreweries and their production levels in 1994. Many of these smaller breweries’ creations can also be found in convenience stores around Japan nowadays as well.