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Craft Beer in Japan
From sake to beer to craft beer

 Craft beer in Japan has an interesting and fairly unique history, and is relatively newly popular compared to the west. Even though Japan’s number one alcoholic beverage today is beer, it was only as recent as 1967 when it overtook sake.


The main reason beer become number one though, is due to mass marketing campaigns and the ready availability of the lagers in convenience stores and izakayas like Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo. Craft beer only makes up around 2% of the total beer market.

Briefly, in 1994, a spate of laws shifted the alcohol production landscape and cleared the way for craft beer manufacturers. Just a few years later in 1997, a massive 117 craft breweries opened but unfortunately the market wasn’t quite ready to drink these hoppier, more refined beers. Year on year between 2000 and 2013, more craft breweries closed than opened. But thankfully, things have changed—tastes, the opening of dedicated craft beer bottle stores and bars, among others—and from 2013 to today, there has been a steady and delicious increase.

Here we introduce four great beers, each with a specifically local twist.

YOROKOBU PALE ALE, a collaboration between RISE&WIN Brewing Co. and SPICE

The Hakodate kelp added to this pale ale helps the hops and malt flavours to stand out and become more crisp, but without tasting like the sea. As Manabu, one of the developers explains, “we made several prototypes mixing different concentrations of kelp and beer styles, and tried each with seafood. The finished beer pairs deliciously all seafood, including those not usually considered compatible with beer.” RISE&WIN Brewing Co. is a zero waste brewery, and even the kelp they use is taken from unused kelp processing by-products.

Where to try: by the bottle at will o’ wisp, best matched with seafood or the fries cooked in beef tallow

‘Bread’, a collaboration between AJB Co. and bricolage bread & co.

For a long time, bricolage bread & co. have been focusing on ways to reduce food loss. Fast forward many meetings and tastings and we are fortunate to have been presented with ‘Bread’, a beer which uses the leftover crusts from their delicious rye campagne in the filtration process. Bread is toasty and malty, and has a characteristic rye flavor. AJB Co. is based in Nagano, and involves themselves as much as possible from hop to finished product, never using unnecessary ingredients.

Where to try: by the bottle at bricolage bread & co., best matched with a chunk of the campagne itself

NO.10 Anniversary IPA, Shiga Kogen (Tamamura Honten)

No.10 is brewed with sake yeast which makes for super crisp yet floral beer, but it’s still clearly an IPA as it’s very hoppy and robust. Although it doesn’t taste like sake, the yeast makes for a well-rounded and umami-rich drink. The Shiga Kogen brewery is in an ancient sake brewery in Nagano and their beers are made with super fresh local mountain water.

Where to try: from liquor stores like Kitazawa Konishi , pairs well with popcorn or any Japanese dish

Momo Weizen, Minoh

This momo (peach) beer has an almost cult like following. “I think the reason that people love Momo Weizen is because many Japanese people have tried the Fujiya Peach Nectar drink, and so it almost nostalgic,” Tomonori from Small World Records explains. The beer also has a thicker mouthfeel, he adds, which appeals to the texture-loving Japanese audience. Minoh is helmed by Kaori Oshita, one of very few women in the craft beer industry in Japan, and produce a great lineup of “daily beers”.

Where to try: often on tap at Small World Records, best matched with the vegan potato salad

Please note that due to seasonal limitations, some beers will not always be available. If you’re more of a wine person or like both beer and wine check out this story on the Papersky Stories blog all about organic wine.