Discovering the Top Japanese Craft Beers: A Guide to the Best Brews

If you are a regular at izakayas, you have probably heard the phrase nama biiru more than once—it means draft beer. The popular ones locals order on repeat are usually Asahi, Kirin, or Yebisu. Those who prefer craft beer to regular beer should look beyond their local izakaya. 

By now, you may have noticed that the craft beer industry in Japan is thriving. With microbreweries, craft beer festivals, and brewpubs popping up everywhere, the craft beer industry is only going from strength to strength. Before diving into the subject, let’s familiarize ourselves with Japan’s rich beer history and culture first.

Trip Down Memory Lane

During the Edo period, Dutch traders stationed in Nagasaki brought beer to Japan. At first, they only opened a beer hall for sailors who traveled between the Dutch Empire and Japan. As Japan opened up to foreign trade, classic craft beers like pale ales and stouts from brewers such as Bass became more popular. Asahi, Sapporo, Kirin, and Suntory are the four major Japanese beer brands dominating the global beer market today. There is more to beer than just being an alcoholic beverage, though. It has become a part of Japan’s social fabric. This leads us to our next point.

The Role Of Beer in Japanese Work and Social Culture

After living in Japan for a while now, I’m convinced that beer is one of the most popular alcoholic beverages here. During hanami, I’ve seen people crack open chilly cans of beer under a cherry blossom tree, colleagues nibble on edamame and rice crackers while taking sips of their beer, and people enjoy BBQ with a beer at the park. Beer seems to be the first choice of beverage for almost every occasion here. The Japanese beer culture also allows many working professionals to develop business relationships and advance their careers.

Treat Your Taste Buds To These 5 Delicious Japanese Craft Beers  

The Japanese craft beer market only began to be recognized in the early 1990s. What sets craft beers aside from regular beer is their flavor, locally sourced ingredients, texture, and aroma. Furthermore, independent breweries enjoy the freedom of experimenting with fruit extracts, spices, and herbs to create unique flavors. 

Generally, craft beers are more expensive than regular beers because they come in small batches, are produced on a smaller scale, and use high-quality ingredients. If you are currently in Japan, do try these best Japanese craft beers or buy them as gifts for your loved ones. 

P.S. If you’re wondering where to buy Japanese beer, we’ve provided links under each product description for your convenience.  

Yona Yona Ale

Yona Yona Ale is one of Japan’s most esteemed craft beers. Its balanced flavor profile offers a delightful combination of subtle bitterness and refreshing citrus notes. It’s the ideal drink for scorching summer days. Thankfully, this sought-after brew is readily available at numerous convenience stores and supermarkets, ensuring easy access for beer enthusiasts.

Buy it here

Hitachino Nest Japanese Classic Ale

Photo by Hitachino Nest

Kiuchi Brewery from Ibaraki Prefecture is famous for its sake and shochu production. Today, they also produce craft beers. One of their most popular flavors is the Japanese classic ale. Bright amber in color, this beer has an earthy flavor, and a subtle but deliciously bitter aftertaste. 

Buy it here

Shiga Kogen Farmhouse Lager Beer

Photo by Shiga Kogen

Did you know that Shiga Kogen beers are fertilizer and pesticide-free? Their Farmhouse Lager beer tastes best when served chilled and has a rich, lemony-bitter aftertaste with hints of spice.

Buy it here

Swan Lake Porter Beer 

Located in Niigata Prefecture, Swan Lake Beer has been brewing delicious products since 1997. The Swan Lake Porter is one of the most talked about beers from their main lineup craft beer range. Dark chocolate and coffee lovers would love this beer for its smokiness and bitterness. 

Buy it here

Minoh Beer Stout 

Photo by Minoh Beer Stout

Founded by Masaji Oshita in 1996, Minoh Beer is a famous craft beer brand in Osaka. This stout is known for its rich dark chocolate and coffee flavor. Customers enjoy it for its creamy texture and bitter aftertaste.

Buy it here

Quench Your Thirst At These Famous Japanese Microbreweries

Take a break from the beer museums and major breweries and spend some time at these local and niche Japanese microbreweries instead. Each of them promises to satisfy your taste buds and provide a memorable experience. 

Tochigi Micro Brewery in Tochigi 

Romantic Village in Tochigi is a good weekend getaway if you live near Tokyo. A two-hour drive from the city, this large resort area offers shops, restaurants, hotels, onsen, and a farmers market. You can cool off with a craft beer at Tochigi Micro Brewery in Utsunomiya when you need a break from all the walking and shopping. For just ¥500, this microbrewery sells delicious fruit beers. 

Note: Flavors change with every season. If you like a particular craft beer, you can stock up by buying a case at the brewery itself.  

Phone: 028-622-1314
Address: Higashihanawada 1-5-12, Utsunomiya, Tochigi
Website: Click here

Isana Brewing in Tokyo 

Photo by Isana Brewing

Isana Brewing caters to both coffee lovers and zythophiles (that’s a fancy way of saying beer lover). If you’re coming for beer, try their nitro beer, pumpkin porter, or classic English pale ale and pair it with chorizo sausages and fried gnocchi. Coffee drinkers should try their famous Sumatra and Ethiopian blend and team it with a deep-fried Oreo sweet treat. 

Phone: 042-519-7106
Address: Excellence Akishima 1F-B, Showacho 2-7-15, Akishima, Tokyo
Website: Click here

Minoh Beer Warehouse in Osaka 

Photo by Minho Beer Warehouse

The Minoh Beer Warehouse gets its name from Minoh City in northwestern Osaka Prefecture. Also, a fun fact—Mount Minoh is home to many monkeys, which is why the beer’s packaging depicts a sitting monkey. A friend from Osaka recommended their weizen and stout craft beers. Their stout craft beer has been getting positive reviews for its bitter-roasted malt flavor, and their weizen craft beer for its fruity aroma reminiscent of fresh cloves and bananas. 

Phone: 072-725-7234
Address: Makiochi 3-14-18, Minoh, Osaka
Website: Click here

Baeren Brewery in Iwate 

Photo by Baeren Brewery

Did you know Baeren Brewery uses vintage German brewing equipment and methods to make its craft beer? Located in Iwate Prefecture, this brewery sits in one of Japan’s coldest regions —an ideal climate for growing hops! There is a wide selection of craft beers here, including wild grape ladler, milk chocolate stout, Japanese citrus lager, and more. Booking a tour before visiting is recommended. 

Phone: 0120-934766
Address: Kitayama 1-3-31, Morioka, Iwate
Website: Click here

Bright Blue Brewing in Yamanashi 

Photo by Bright Blue Brewing

This microbrewery in Fujiyoshida is a dreamland for beer lovers! It opened in 2021, and its craft beers are made by collaborating with local farmhouses in the area. Apart from the regular menu of craft beers like pilsner, ale, and stout, you can also find traditional Japanese beers with flavors like green tea, jalapeno, yuzu, strawberry milk and more! 

Phone: 0555-25-7347
Address: Fujimi 1-1-5, Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi
Website: Click here


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