High in quality and taste, some of the best Japanese beer brands are popular throughout the world. Beer came into the Japanese market around the 19th century.
Before that, around the 17th century, some Dutch traders had started a beer hall for the sailors docking at Nagasaki. This is probably the first time beer entered Japan.
Then a Japanese scholar and doctor, Koumin Kawamoto, followed a Dutch recipe book to create beer. Soon after, Sapporo breweries, established in 1876, became the first commercially available Japanese beer brand.
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The beer market in Japan started to bloom soon after with several breweries entering the picture in Japan. Since then beer has become one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Japan.
In fact, you’ll see the Japanese grabbing beers first at any Nomikai (a Japanese drinking party) to warm up before they get to the heavy stuff.
Today, there are four major beer producers in Japan that have dominated the Japanese beer market: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory.
These are known as the best Japanese beer brands amongst the locals!
The chances of finding these best Japanese beer brands outside of Japan are pretty slim. But if you’re planning to take a trip to Japan then you should definitely try these best Japanese beer brands during your trip!
- Related: Japanese Whiskey Brands
Guide To Japanese Beer
Rise of Japanese craft beer
Japanese law allowed only the popular brands to produce beer until about 25 ago. When this ban was relaxed, small craft breweries seized this opportunity and established themselves throughout Japan.
Osaka and Tokyo emerged as the dominant markets for craft beer. Major brands like Sapporo and Kirin then leveraged this to start their craft beer line.
Sapporo bought ‘Anchor Brewing, a US based craft brand while Kirin relaunched the ‘Spring Valley Brewing’.
Japanese Beer Drinking Etiquette
Before we get into listing the best Japanese beer brands, let’s understand the cultural rules laid down by the Japanese when drinking beer.
If you’re sharing a larger beer bottle then use a small glass for yourself to have beer. The person you’re drinking with will top up your glass and you will top up theirs.
If you’re wondering why you can’t pour your own drink Japan – this is because it’s considered bad luck and bad manners!
And then raise your glass to toast and say kanpai (pronounced as ‘gahn-pie’). And once you see that everybody is ready to start drinking, only then take your sip!
Best Japanese Beer Brands: Quick Glance
|Best Japanese Beer Brands||Best For||Check Price|
|Asahi||Asahi Super Dry||Check Price on Amazon|
|Sapporo||Sapporo Premium||Check Price on Amazon|
|Kirin||Kirin Ichiban Shibori||Check Price on Amazon|
|Suntory||Suntory The Premium Malt||Check Price on Amazon|
|Orion||Orion The Draft||Check Price on Amazon|
|Yona Yona Ale||Yona Yona Ale||Check Price on Amazon|
|Hitachino||Hitachino Nest White Ale||Check Price on Amazon|
|Hideji||Hideji Sun Lager||Check Price on Amazon|
Which is the top Japanese Beer Brands to Try?
Here are the best Japanese beers you have to try:
- Sapporo Yebisu Premium Black
- Asahi Super Dry
- Minoh Brewery’s W-IPA.
- Suntory The Premium Malt’s
- Kirin Ichiban Shibori
- Kirin lager
Asahi Super Dry
The first of the best Japanese beer brands is Asahi. This is the go-to rice beer brand in Japan and most people prefer Asahi beer. Asahi brewers have been producing Japanese rice beer for decades now in Japan as it was established back in 1889.
Asahi Super Dry beer is a crowd favorite in Japan. It has a crispy, dry taste which is the beer’s characteristic flavor. This also makes it the best Japanese beer to have with sushi!
The first one on thi slist of best Japanese beer brands is ASAHI!
Asahi Super dry is probably the best selling beer in Japan and the nation’s pride when it comes to the beer industry. Asahi Super Dry is also the most exported beer from Japan in the global market.
Asahi super dry has a characteristic bitter flavor that most people love. This is because the excellent quality barley that is used and the brewing techniques using advanced machinery.
This process eliminates pretty much all the sugar in the barley that gives the beer its characteristic bitter flavor.
This Japanese rice beer is light and refreshing, you can have a couple and still stand your ground. Also the aftermath isn’t all that bad with Asahi Super Dry beer!
Sapporo Yebisu Premium Black
Sapporo Japanese beer brand is one of the oldest and Japanese rice beers. Sapporo’s logo of ‘pioneering spirit’ with a star symbol on the luxurious golden background is supposed to represent high quality. Which, by the way, it is!
Sapporo Beer uses all-natural ingredients and advanced technology to make its beer. With a unique and refreshing taste, you’ll love the smoothness of the beer as soon the beer touches your lips.
With every sip, you’ll feel more relaxed and calm. You can find Sapporo beer easily in Japan, just step into any Japanese convenience store and pick up Sapporo beer.
Other than Japan, Sapporo beers can also be found in other countries as well.
There’s always a debate between Sapporo and Asahi Super Dry – which is better? Honestly, both Japanese beer brands have their own loyal supporters that swear by either Asahi or Sapporo beer brands.
They both have their own characteristic tastes and it all ‘brews’ down to your preference.
There are two beers under this best Japanese beer brands’ Sapporo flagship:
- Sapporo Nama Beer Black Label
Hailing from the northern island of Hokkaido, Sapporo Nama Beer Black label is a great Japanese rice beer to have any time, any day.
It has a very distinctive mature beet taste so probably not the best option for budding beer drinkers. But if you’re a beer connoisseur you should definitely give this one a try!
- Sapporo Yebisu Beer
This is also a cult-favorite beer in Japan. The Sapporo Yebisu beer is slightly costlier compared to other Japanese rice beers but high in quality and worth it!
The Sapporo Yebisu beer is brewed using high quality ingredients that are imported from Germany. It has an appealing aroma, amazing flavor, and rich intensity.
You’ll definitely want to grab another can after you’re done. Sapporo Yebisu beer is especially popular amongst the gaijin (foreigners) in Japan.
Kirin Lager Beer
Kirin is another one of the best Japanese beer brands and has been around for more than 100 years now. You can recognize the Kirin beers flavor instantly as it has a light bittersweet flavor.
However, when compared to Sapporo, Kirin has that stronger beer flavor which is also why so many people love it!
Kirin is also famous for its non-alcoholic beverages, especially Kirin Perfect Free. This is also a very popular drink in Japan.
But let’s stay on track here and talk about delicious Kirin beers!
The Kirin Japanese beer brand, regarded as one of the best Japanese beer brands, has two famous beers under its label:
- Kirin Lager
Kirin Lager beer is a pale lager Japanese rice beer with a splendid grain aroma and crisp taste. It’s a Japanese laget-style beer and is one of the best Japanese beers. You should definitely give this one a try!
- Kirin Ichiban Shibori
Another one of Japanese best-selling beer, Kirin Ichiban Shibori, has a characteristic bittersweet taste. The beer is fermented using the first wort that gives it a mild and smooth flavor.
Yoho Brewing Tokyo Black
Yoho Brewing was found in 1996 in Nagano and is one of the oldest Japanese beer brands. If you love porter style beer then you’ll love the Yoho brewing Tokyo black. This Japanese rice beer is dry with a velvety texture and chocolate notes. It’s very easy to drink and you won’t even realize when 1 glass of beer becomes 5!
- ABV: 5%
- Tasting notes: bitter hops, smoky, chocolate
Kawaba Snow Weizen
Kawaba was established in 1998 as a micro brewery in the Kawaba region. Their best beer is the Kawaba snow weizen. This Japanese beer has the perfect balance of fruity, citrus-y and sweet flavours. This beer is unfiltered wheat beer and is subtler than other wheat beers.
- ABV: 5%
- Tasting Notes: lemon, banana, and wheat
Suntory The Premium Malt’s
The next one on this list of best Japanese beer brands is the Suntory The Premium Malt’s
Suntory is one of the biggest breweries in Japan. Other than beers, it’s quite popular for its whiskey production all over the world. Suntory The Premium Malt’s is produced using top quality hops and malt.
It’s brewed using the double-boiler method that gives it a nice floral aroma with a rich flavor.
It’s a pilsner beer of top-quality and is one of the best Japanese beer brands.
The beer is known for its high-quality. In fact, Suntory The Premium Malt’s has won two gold medals in European competitions. It’s easy to drink and is considered one of the best Japanese beers.
Orion Premium Draft Beer
The next one on this list of best Japanese beer brands is a local-favorite called Orion!
Orion beer is a Japanese craft beer that is quite famous. It originated in Okinawa and is a crowd-favorite today in Japan.
It has a characteristic sour and strong beer taste, which a lot of people love. It’s a bit maltier when compared to Sapporo or Asahi.
Orion beer is not easily found in convenience stores as it’s not as popular as Asahi or Sapporo but is still one of the best Japanese beer brands. So if you’re in Japan and you happen to see Orion beer, you should definitely give it a try!
Yona Yona Ale
Brewed by Yo-Ho Brewing Company is another of the best Japanese beer brands. Yona Yona Ale is brewed with premium quality Cascade hops and is very smooth and easy to drink.
If you don’t like the bitter taste of beer, you should definitely give this Japanese beer brand a try as it has almost no bitterness.
This is actually the best Japanese beer brand for a beginner.
It is one of Japan’s most popular craft beers.
Hitachino Nest Beer
The next of the best Japanese beer brands on this list is the Hitachino Nest. The Hitachino Nest beers are brewed by Kuchi Brewery and are quite liked by the Japanese.
I especially love the branding on the Hitachino Nest beer bottles with the adorable owl.
This best Japanese beer brands offers quite a few options for you to choose from:
- Hitachino Nest White Ale: Belgian-style beer brewed with wheat malt and flavored with orange peel, nutmeg, and coriander
- Hitachino Nest Lager: Lager style beer brewed with flavors of malt and hops.
- Hitachino Nest Saison Du Japon: Saison style beer brewed with local wheat and koji (malted rice). The rice koji lends a sweet flavor to the beer
- Hitachino Pale Ale: Brewed with malts and hops from England
- Hitachino Weizen: German style weizen cloudy beer brewed with wheat malt and fragrant yeast
- Hitachino Sweet Stout: Real black beer brewed with roasted malt
- Hitachino Red Rice Ale: Brewed using ancient red rice. With a rose pink color, this beer fruity flavor and aroma
- Hitachino Extra High: Brewed using a LOT of malt and hops. It has a long maturation period that gives it a rich taste
- Hitachino Japanese Classic Ale: Indian pale ale style brewed to recreate the first Japanese beer made in the Edo period; aged in old cedar barrels
- Hitachino Amber Ale: American amber ale style brewed in rich malt and bitter hops with reddish brown color.
- Hitachino Real Ginger Ale: Brewed using fresh fragrant ginger
- Hitachino Daidai Ale: Brewed with special hops and fukure mikan orange. Has a rich taste and fruits flavor!
- Hitachino Espresso Stout: Brewed with well-roasted espresso beans that gives it a rich coffee flavor
- Hitachino Non Ale: Brewed with high quality malts and hops with a unique fermentation method. Very low on alcohol content
- Hitachino Nipponia: This is a Belgian style golden ale. One of the strongest beers in the Hitachino series, it’s brewed with Kaneko Golden (ancient Japanese barley) and Sorachi Ace (Japanese bred hop)
Hideji beer is another one of the best Japanese beer brands. The brand brews craft beers and originated in Miyazaki, Kyushu.
Some of the beers that fall under this best Japanese beer brands label are:
- Hideji Sun Lager: Larger style beer brewed with malt and hops
- Hideji Morale’s Pale: American style Pale ale beer brewed with wheat and Cascade hops
- Hideji Stout: With a bittersweet flavor and aroma of espresso
- Hideji Miyazaki Mango Lager: Fruits style lager with the refreshing aroma of Miyazaki mangoes
- Hideji Kuri Kuro Dark Chestnut Ale: Flavored stout beer made with chestnuts from the Miyazaki prefecture. You can also taste the vanilla, marshmallow, cocoa, and hazelnuts. It has a high alcohol content with 9% ABV
Minoh Brewery’s W-IPA
The next one on this list of best Japanese beer brands is owned by a delightful father-daughter duo!
The story of Minoh Brewery always makes my heart smile! Owned by Masaji Oshita and his daughter Kaori, Minoh Brewery is an award-winning brewery that faced a lot of hardships. With 9%ABV, it is a full bodied, hoppy, American-style IPA.
Some even say it’s better than Asahi!
Types of Japanese Beer
Even though Japan houses several microbreweries, there are only a few styles or types of Japanese beer that’s popular in the country – especially the Japanese rice beer that’s crisp and dry found in brands like Asahi and Sapporo Premium.
Today, Japan has all sorts of beers, be it IPAs or stouts. And now that Japan taxes beer depending on its malt content, producers have found cheaper ways of making beer by using less malt.
Based on this, there are 3 styles of Japanese beer:
This is your regular Japanese beer that has standard malt content and is usually slightly more expensive than the other styles.
This style of beer has lesser malt content but tastes similar. Another difference is that Happoshu has a lighter taste than regular malt beer.
This is a recent addition to the Japanese beer scene. This type of Japanese beer doesn’t use malt at all and instead uses alternatives like soy, pea – which helps avoid beer tax.
What is Japanese beer made of?
Some of the most popular Japanese beers like Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo Premium are largely brewed using rice. Some other Japanese beers are also brewed using a blend of hops, malt, yeast and water.
Which Japanese beer brands are available in US?
Asahi and Sapporo Premium beers are very popular in the US and widely available in the US. Other than this, you can also find many of the Japanese beers on online retails shops.
Where to enjoy beer in Japan?
If you want to enjoy a beer in Japan, you can visit any of the Japanese izakayas there. As beer is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages in Japan, any Japanese izakaya (Japanese-style bar) will serve you beer. Other than that, you can also get beer cans at convenience stores in Japan.
What is the number one beer in Japan?
Asahi Super Dry is the number beer in Japan. It is one of the best Japanese beer brands and the Asahi Super Dry is one of the best selling Japanese beers.
Which beer is better Sapporo or Asahi?
Sapporo is the oldest Japanese brewery and is still popular in Japan. The beer brand has had a lot of time to experiment and correct its brew. While Asahi has a crist, dry taste that is especially loved by all in Japan, Sapporo has a slightly darker color and hoppier aroma. Asahi has a nice bitter taste while the Sapporo has a slightly sweeter taste. Which is better mainly depends on your taste preference.
Can you buy Japanese beer in other countries?
Popular Japanese beer brands like Asahi, Sapporo and Kirin can be found in other countries as it has gained a lot of popularity in recent years.
How much alcohol is there in Yo-ho Yona Yona Ale?
Yo-ho Yona Yona Ale has a 5% ABV. It’s a mild, fruity beer that has a refreshing taste!
How much alcohol is there in Asahi super dry?
Asahi Super Dry has 5% ABV and can be loosely compared to USA’s Bud Light, though Asahi super dry is much more superior Bud Light. One of the best Japanese beers, it has a dry, crisp taste and a delicious aroma.