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Biiru – All about Japanese Beers

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Logically, a rigorous presentation on beer, a super popular drink is not required worldwide, including Japan where it is called biiru [ビール]. In this article we will talk all about Japanese beers.

The top five beer producers in Japan are Asahi, Kirin, Orion, Sapporo and Suntory, the most consumed in Japan, however, there is a kind of beer called happoshu, which contains a percentage of malt in the drink.

Japan tries to make alcoholic beverages match popular Japanese dishes, so it’s normal to find strange flavors of beers, of course they are made for those who want something new, but it’s not something that disappoints even the palates anymore Exquisite.

Bars with common and craft beers have increased their popularity in japan’s major cities such as Tokyo and Osaka, which have a focus and interest in local craft drinks and drinks imported from the U.S.

Table of Content
- The History of Beers in Japan
- Happoshu - Japanese low-malt beer
- Curiosities about Japanese Beer
- Popular beers in Japan
- Seasonal beers from Japan
- Methods of distribution of Beer
- Ranking - Best Beers in Japan

The History of Beers in Japan

Beer in Japan began in the 17th century, when Dutch merchants parked in Japanese ports, and opened brewery halls for sailors working on trade routes between Japan and the Netherlands.

As Japan reopened foreign trade during the Meiji period, imported beers such as Bass Pale Ale and Bass Stout were available in limited quantities in foreign settlements, but other brewers from Europe and elsewhere as well contributed to the growth of japanese local industry.

Biiru - All about Japanese Beers - cervejas japonesas 1 1

Happoshu – Japanese low-malt beer

While in Brazil we have Pure Malt, Japan makes a reverse path. Happos[発泡酒]hu is a low malt beer, a Japanese category that most often refers to a drink with malt content below 67%.

The name Happoshu means something like bubbling spirits. Alcoholic beverages are popular with consumers for having a lower tax rate than the drinks japan’s law classifies as “beer.”

The Japanese alcohol tax system separates malt beverages into four categories based on the amount of malt: 67% or more, 50% to 67%, from 25% to 50% and less than 25%.

A malt-based alcoholic beverage is classified as beer if the amount of malt exceeds 67% of the fermentable ingredients.

Most happoshu have less than 25% malt, so taxes are lower, thus, producers invest more in hashoppu, with advertisements announcing healthier beverages.

Japanese regulations prohibit the use of the word biiru [ビール] to describe beers containing less than 67% malt (thus allowing up to 33% to be adjunct, including rice, corn, sorgo, potatoes, starch and sugar).

Curiosities about Japanese Beer

Happoshu beer and beers are the most popular alcoholic beverages in Japan, accounting for nearly two-thirds of the 9 billion liters of alcohol consumed in 2006. One of japan’s most consumed liquids is beer, lagging behind only water and tea.

The craft beers that are produced locally account for less than 1% of national beer consumption, but is constantly growing along with imported beers.

According to data from Japanese local markets, in the first eight months of 2012, shipments of household craft beers rose 7.7 percent, while sales of Japan’s largest breweries continued a year in decline.

As of January 2014, Asahi had a market share of 38%, the largest of the top five beer producers in Japan, followed by Kirin with 35%.

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Popular beers in Japan

Among the most popular beers in Japan we have the Asahi Super Dry (super dry) as it says in its name, it is super dry, made with a low fermentation. Its taste is bitter, the taste is extremely sharp and caused a major revolution in Japan when it was launched.

Kirin Ichiban is a Premium beer with pure malt. Its aroma reveals the greater presence of malt, which makes it more golden and slightly sweet. To counterbalance, more hops are used, which increases its bitterness. It has a striking and refreshing taste, perfect for accompanying Japanese food.

Another popular beer is orion that is brewed on the island of Okinawa. It has a fresh flavor that accompanies any type of food. The foam is velvety and increases the texture of the beer. There is also Yebisu which is considered the most traditional beer in the country. It has an intense and deep aroma.

Below is a list of the most popular beers launched by these 5 companies:

Asahi Breweries

  • Asahi Super Dry
  • Asahi BlanK
  • Asahi Premium Beer Jukusen
  • Asahi Hon-nama (happoshu)

Kirin Brewery Company

  • Kirin Ichiban Shibori
  • Kirin Lager Beer
  • Kirin Fukkoku Lager
  • Kirin Akiaji
  • Kirin Heartland Beer
  • Grand Kirin, New District
  • Kirin Tanrei (happoshu)

Sapporo Brewery

  • Sapporo Lager Beer
  • Sapporo Black Label
  • Yebisu – The Hop
  • Yebisu Black
  • Sapporo Classic
  • Nama-shibori Hokkaido (happoshu)

Suntory

  • Suntory Malts
  • Suntory – The Premium Malts
  • Super Magnum Dry (happoshu)

Orion

  • Orion Original
  • Orion Southern Star
  • Orion Draft Beer
  • Orion Special
  • Orion Cider
  • Orion Dry

Seasonal beers from Japan

Many breweries in Japan offer seasonal beers. In autumn, for example, beers are manufactured with a higher alcohol content. Some beer cans are typically decorated with images of autumn leaves, and just like crafts, beers with different flavors and ingredients are released.

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Beer Distribution Methods

The legal age for alcohol consumption in Japan is 20 years old. In addition to bars, beer can be purchased in a wide variety of shops, including supermarkets, convenience stores and service stations at train stations.

Beer can be consumed almost anywhere, however, Japan has very strict laws with drivers or cyclists who walk after or during drinking. The fine can exceed 20,000 reais and lead to jail.

In Japan, beer can also be sold on automatic machines, although, from 2012, it has become less common in large cities to prevent minors from consuming the drink.

To prevent minors from buying on automatic machines, some automatic machines have cameras or require a card to prove age. This does not prevent larger drinks from buying for minors.

Ranking – Best Beers in Japan

Japanese beer manufacturing has been constantly exported to most of Asia and also to other continents. The list below features the best Japanese beers according to an international survey.

It is very likely that many of the beers below are craft, seasonal, with flavors or limited time. So it’s not easy to find some of the Japanese beers in the ranking below, maybe they’re not even available anymore.

  1. Hidatakayama Karumina
  2. Baird Dark Sky Imperial Stout
  3. Hitachino Nest Ancient Nipponia (Bottom Fermented)
  4. Hitachino Nest XH
  5. Tamamura Honten (Shiga Kogen) House IPA
  6. Shonan Belgian Stout
  7. Minoh Imperial Stout
  8. Fujizakura Heights Rauch
  9. Baird Kurofune Porter
  10. Sankt Gallen Imperial Chocolate Stout
  11. Shiga Kogen Takashi Imperial Stout
  12. Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale
  13. Oze No Yukidoke Heavy Heavy
  14. Baird Suruga Bay Imperial IPA
  15. Hitachino Nest New Year Celebration Ale
  16. Shiga Kogen W-IBA Masaji the Great
  17. Tamamura-Honten Batch #500 Yamabushi Saison One
  18. Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout
  19. Fujizakura Heights Weizen
  20. Baird Temple Garden Yuzu Ale
  21. Baird Ganko Oyaji (Stubborn Old Man) Barley Wine
  22. Tamamura-Honten the Far East Barrel Aged Imperial House IPA
  23. Swan Lake Imperial Stout
  24. Sankt Gallen El Diablo
  25. Swan Lake Amber Swan Ale
  26. Shonan Imperial Stout
  27. Baird Morning Coffee Stout
  28. Shiga Kogen IPA
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