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Since the mid 1990s, Japan has been a forerunner on the East Asian craft beer market; the country is now the seventh largest beer producer in the world. Indeed, craft brewing is an art that the Japanese have truly mastered. We explore the top ten artisanal craft breweries in the country which are revolutionising the perception of Japanese beer, that you must know about.
When Yoshiharu Hoshino returned from the USA where he was an exchange student, he could not find any local beer that compared to its American counterparts. He thus had the idea to start his own brewery focusing on ale production. Thus, in 1996, Yo-Ho was born. Unlike other local breweries who primarily target tourists, Yo-Ho decided to produce for the general beer drinker, and succeeded in doing so. Today you can enjoy their delicious beers both in Japan and in different parts of the world. Yo-Ho certainly makes the future of Japanese beer look bright!
Going wrong is impossible in Osaka; Japan’s food and drink obsessed city. It is there that Minoh Brewery started in 1997; a gift from a loving dad to his two daughters. The Ohshita sisters’ brewery is by far one of the most innovative, award-winning brewery in the country. One of their must try is their part-beer-part-wine called Minoh Cabernet. Unlike other many breweries who are playing safe by copying world styles, Minoh constantly experiments with new flavors. No wonder they have so many fans in Japan.
In 1998, the Abashiri Beer Brewery started as an initiative of the Tokyo University of Agriculture’s bio-industry faculty to do research and develop the production of wheat beer. What they are most famous for is their very unique Okhotsk Blue Ryuho Draft. This beer mixes the most unusual ingredients starting from water coming from melted icebergs from the sea of Okhotsk in the Pacific Ocean. Also, the vibrant blue color of the drink is obtained by adding natural gardenia pigment to the mix to represent the area’s ocean-scape. Originally colored beers are definitely Abashiri’s specialty!
Starting as a sake brewery in 1823, Kiuchi Brewery developed into a beer brewery in 1996. Today, it even produces shochou and wine. The brewery, however, owes its reputation to the incredibly tasty Hitachino Nest beer which is now distributed in 15 countries around the world. Coming to the birthplace of this very unique beer which has won so many awards over the years is a must-have experience while visiting Japan. Inside the brewery, there is also a small bar where visitors can indulge in their extensive range of drinks.
Braid Brewing Company started out very small. Indeed, in 2001, it was the smallest brewery in Japan to obtain a license. The first beers were then sold at its Fishmarket Taproom. Eventually, they managed to expand, open more breweries around the country, and even export abroad. Unlike those who believe that a beer is best enjoyed ice cold, they aim to prove that a beer only needs to be relatively cool to taste great. The way Braid Brewing processes their flavorful beers with character is also rather unusual: their beer is always unfiltered and gets fermented twice once packaged.
Founded in 1997 in the mountainous region of Niigata, Swan Lake Brewery only uses the highest quality ingredients including the pristine ‘Echigo-Meisui’; pure Niigata spring water. Over the years, Swan Lake has become one of the country’s best craft beer producers, winning many awards at both domestic and international levels. In fact, their craft beers have also won awards at the World Beer Cup. Without doubt, having a Swan Lake Ale is one of the most refreshing drinks to experience in Japan.
Located in Kitami in Hokkaido, Okhotsk Beer Factory is a popular Japanese microbrewery which makes use of the region’s ideal climate, local ingredients, and water to make the most delicious beers. Their Red Ale is a full-bodied beer which tastes amazing. In addition to their ale, they also have three other signature beers which include pilsner, mild stout and weizen styles. Year after year, to the delight of their regular customers, they release their highly anticipated seasonal brews together with two, sometimes three, new beers.
In the suburbs of Sapporo, the most up and coming Japanese beer, the ‘North Island Beer’ is brewed at the SOC Brewing factory. It has become one of the most popular beers to order at the trendy bars in Sapporo city. You can even go on a tour of the two beer-lover college friends’ factory in Ebetsu city, experience beer making, and taste their eight delicious craft beers coming straight from the barrel at the ‘Beer Bar North Island’. These include six classic ones and two exclusive limited edition beers.
Miyashita Sake Brewery might be more famous for sake within Japan but abroad, it is for its range of beers called Doppo. Brewed in the temperate climate of Okayama, this live-yeast-added craft beer is made using the brewery’s own skills, techniques and experience gained over the last 20 years. Omachi rice, for example, is the key ingredient in the success of their most popular lager beer. These pioneers in Japanese craft beer have seasonal products which include the mouth-watering chocolate beer produced for Valentine’s Day.
Located about 90 minutes West of Tokyo, Outsider Brewing is one of the newbies on the market, producing beers since 2012 only. But do not be fooled by their ‘youth’. Over a short period of time, Outsider Brewing has succeeded in acquiring a remarkable reputation in the local craft beer industry. They are now most famous for their use of wild rather than cultivated yeast flavors, giving a unique taste to their delicious beers!