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About Japanese Beer- What You Need to Know

Beer is great. That’s what the thrust of this post is all about. To extol the virtues of beer and revel in the choice of libations available in Japan- not only in the bars and local taverns but also on the shelves of the all too accessible 24-hour convenience stores.

What a choice! -and this is just the soy sauce section!


A Beer Renaissance

It used to be all too easy- you followed a brand- Asahi, Sapporo, Kirin, Suntory and for those who visited Okinawa- Orion beer. That was at a time when anyone could drink beer- end of. Alas the cultured palette of the Japanese people has muddied the waters of what was a very fine, unrefined drink indeed.

Follow the North star- Sapporo points to truth!


But isn’t beer sacred like Kit-Kats?

Historically the Japanese have learned their beering ways from the Germans. In theory Japanese beer makers still adhere to the purity laws – the Reinheitsegebot (hiccup!)-adopted in Germany in the 1500’s. In practice Japan has deviated- sometimes wildly- from the simple drink concocted from water, barley, hops and yeast. As an aside they’ve done the same with Kit-Kats so we shouldn’t be surprised.

Beware of Pretty Beer Cans- !

Death, Beer & Taxes.

Nothing is certain in life except Death, Taxes & Beer. I added the last one as a way of reassuring myself for the future. In Japan a beer with a malt content of at least 67% can walk with head high but gets cut to size with a sizeable tax cut of 77 yen in the litre- this beer surprisingly goes by the appellation ビール or simply, beer.

An Old Classic- Kirin Beer!

Is Beer Dead?

Yes & No. Beer in Japan is experiencing a revival- of sorts. A new low-tax beer with a malt content less than 25% has entered the fray but avoid mentioning it as beer. It is but a tainted version of the once sacred, now over-taxed brew. In Japan they have cleverly disguised this imposter with a rather pleasant sounding title- Happo-shu or in English- cat’s pee.

Happo-shu: Even Better Than The Real Thing

Sadly not and sadly yes. The bubbly imposter that is Happo-shu looks the same as beer- but is lower priced & has a higher alcohol content. Oooh interesting I hear you say? Did I mention the taste? Did I? Alas!

Happo-shu: Cheaper, Available, Stronger in Alcohol.

Third Wave Beer

Just when you thought it was safe to get back into the water!Following the third-wave of coffee roasters, a movement that treats coffee as an artisan good and aspires to a culinary appreciation of coffee- Japan now has Third Wave Beers.

But if you have to wave at these beers three times make sure it’s to say good-bye.

Since 2004- a watershed moment in Japanese beer-drinkers lives- a bean-based, low-taxed, zero malt beer varietal has sobered us all up. No more we cry in unison as we flee to Munich to re-discover our roots. Classified as “miscellaneous alcohol” or “liqueur” these beers tend to be closer to non-alcohol beer than actual beer or not close at all.

Bean There, Drank the Beer

If you are a visual person you will really enjoy the world of Japanese beer. Cherry blossom cans in the spring, falling snow scene cans in the winter! Your sensual side will surely be assailed but forget about tantalising your taste buds!

Can we suggest you download a useful translation app that allows you scan the menu or product you are about to choose and simply enjoy the tipple of your choosing? Or to be safe don’t buy the bargain basement brand unless you like the taste of soybeans in your beer ehh…carbonated bean juice.

Need a break from reading? Let me pour you a beer!




Author: Declan Somers

Thanks to the people of Japan and the efforts of a UK-based telecoms company Mobell/Mobal am happy to assist in providing a hot school meal daily for kids in Malawi, Africa through a Japanese registered NGO- Seibo.

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