Contrary to what most people may perceive, beer is actually the most consumed alcoholic beverage across Japan! Given its wide selection, amazing affordability, easy accessibility, and 100% guarantee of a good time, it’s no wonder why.
Much like sake, another popular Japanese alcoholic drink, beer has a long history, dating back all the way to the 17th century. This was when it was introduced onto Japanese soils for the very first time; however, it wasn’t until the 19th century that production really took off in Japan.
The formative period of Japanese beer was heavily influenced by the likes of European beer, particularly those from Germany. However, as beer popularity continued to grow to new heights in Japan, the production process also grew with it.
Taking on a more well-rounded internationally-influenced approach to making beer has made the Japanese beer industry flourish to what it is today.
Nowadays, there are certain Japanese beer brands that everyone, even non-drinkers, would have heard of. These include the likes of Sapporo and Kirin. However, since the mid-90s, microbreweries have popped up all around the country, catering to the tastes of Japanese beer drinkers as they continually demand more variety and unique experiences.
There’s even a wide variety of non-alcoholic beer options, proving that it’s the taste of Japanese beer that makes it so great!
Top 9 Japanese Beer Brands in Japan
We’ve listed below the 9 most popular beers in Japan that you should give a go when you are in Japan.
- Nama Beer Black Label by Sapporo
- Kirin Lager Beer
- Asahi Super Dry
- The Premium Malts by Suntory
- Yebisu Premium Japanese Pale Lager
- Premium Draft Biru by Orion Draft
- Koshihikari Rice Lager by Echigo Beer
- Yona Yona Ale
- White Ale by Hitachino Nest Beer
1. Nama Beer Black Label by Sapporo
To be honest, we think the distinct Sapporo Nama Beer Black Label is pretty much synonymous with and is the symbol of the drinking culture of Japan. You can hardly walk into a bar or izakaya without seeing this beer being consumed by salarymen clinking glasses with their colleagues after a long day at work.
As the flagship product of the Sapporo beer brewery, you’d expect this beer to taste out of this world, and for those who still haven’t tried it, rest assured, you won’t be disappointed.
Sapporo Nama Beer Black Label boasts a premium ‘traditional’ true taste of beer. Japanese people tend to describe this beer as having a strong umami flavour about it, and tastes must more refined and mature than most beers in the market.
It is best paired with foods such as sushi, as it provides a light, refreshing break during the meal.
2. Kirin Lager Beer
The Kirin brand is the most traditional brand of beer currently in the market. With a history of over 130 years, it established itself as one of the leading Japanese beer breweries with a multitude of different beers catering to almost everyone in the market.
The Kirin Lager Beer is one of the most popular today. The process of it becoming a lager beer involves aging at a low temperature, producing a relatively more bitter and stronger taste than normal beer. It is not, however, a hard-hitting beer by any standards, meaning it can still be enjoyed by those who don’t like bitter beer flavours.
3. Asahi Super Dry (Personal Favourite Japanese Beer Brand)
Asahi Super Dry is one of the most popular beers in Japan, and a favourite amongst Japanese beer aficionados around the world. It is, after all, the golden child of the Asahi brewery.
Asahi Super Dry appeals to a wide range of people due to its premium quality yet light refreshing sensation when drinking. Its rich wheat flavour is slightly bitter with minimal sweetness, rounding off the taste with a smooth, dry and crisp finish.
As such, it is a delicious and almost addictive beer for those who enjoy drinking, and a flavoursome but not over-the-top option for those who don’t thoroughly enjoy the taste of hard alcohol.
4. The Premium Malts by Suntory
The Premium Malts by Suntory is exactly as its name suggests: it’s a relatively more elegant choice of beer. As such, it’s often the beer of choice when people want to gift alcoholic beer or purchase drinks for celebrations.
In saying that, it is still a standard and great option for eating out and drinking with friends!
The Premium Malts beer boasts a rich and bursting flavour that is characterized by bitterness and a distinct smell of hops, which are additional flavours and spices added to the beer during the production process.
One of the unique characteristics of this beer is the accompanying foam that comes with it. The brewery has paid attention to producing a layer of foam which condenses the taste and smell of the beer which adds depth to its consumption – something that is thoroughly enjoyed by The Premium Malts beer enthusiasts.
5. Yebisu Premium Japanese Pale Lager
Yebisu is another beer brand that has a history pre-dating the 1900s. Previously brewed under the Japan Beer Brewery, it has since merged with Sapporo Brewery and is now their best-selling premium beer line.
The Yebisu Premium Japanese Pale Lager is not one for the masses. Unlike the majority of the beers listed here, it’s strictly brewed according to the Reinheitsgebot (Bavarian Purity Law). This means that it only contains barley, hops, water, and yeast – no additional elements.
It’s said that Yebisu even oversees the production of their own barley on their own farm!
On top of using only the best raw ingredients, the malt ripening period during the manufacturing process of Yebisu takes longer than ordinary beer. This produces a beer flavour with a full and firm but mellow taste. Its mild bitterness, full-bodied richness and refreshing flavour make it a must-try for beer lovers.
Note that it is on the pricier end of Japanese beers, but you can probably see why!
6. Premium Draft Biru by Orion Draft
Described as having almost a cult-like following, this Japanese favourite is a fun and flirty entry to this list of popular Japanese beer brands!
Orion Draft Premium Draft Brew is a beer that embodies the Okinawan lifestyle: light and refreshing, reminiscent of the laid-back tropical island life in Okinawa.
It is a semi-dry beer with a soft texture and slightly bitter finish. You will taste whispers of grain, honey nut, lemon and orange zest, floral scents, and even bananas if you slow down and savour the taste. Due to its being a draft and therefore unpasteurised beer, it simply bursts with character.
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7. Koshihikari Rice Lager by Echigo Beer
The Koshihikari Rice Lager from Echigo Beer has earned its spot as the first microbrewery beer on this list. As the flagship product for the Echigo brand, this lager has continually made waves in the Japanese beer community and is a product every beer drinker should try at least once.
The purity of the Koshikari rice grains used in this beer has helped Echigo Koshikari become considered the ultimate rice beer. It boasts a complex flavour amongst a soft texture. Its pale gold colour alludes to the light floral and citrusy hop aromas of the beer.
Whilst it does sound expensive, it’s on the more affordable end of Japanese craft beers.
8. Yona Yona Ale
Yona Yona Ale is the most popular ale in Japan and has really set the standard as to what refreshing, delicious and affordable ale should be.
Ale is produced by being fermented at relatively high temperatures (this is the opposite of lagers), and this process creates a completely new beer experience. Whereas lager offers a clean, easy to drink taste, ale boasts an incredibly rich, full-bodied taste.
Yona Yona Ale is particularly known for its delicious citrus flavour mixed with floral scents and a sprinkle of spice. These flavours mixed with the bitterness of the hops makes it easier to consume than other ales.
It’s made in Karuizawa in Nagano prefecture.
9. White Ale by Hitachino Nest Beer
The Hitachino brewery, located in Ibaraki Prefecture, is part of a bigger traditional sake house. They began branching off to producing unique craft beers under the Nest Beer label in the mid-1990s and have never looked back since!
Whilst the Hitachino Nest Beer label boasts 12 different beers, its white ale is arguably its most popular, and is loved by many beer aficionados in the Japanese community.
The light golden colour of this beer complements the soft textured beer with a dry finish. It boasts a complex flavour of coriander and orange peel, lending the beer a refreshing fruitiness which balances the low hop bitterness.
For those who find traditional beer a little too harsh, Nest Beer White Ale is a smooth and light option for you.
On top of these 9 most popular Japanese beer brands in Japan, there are numerous others that haven’t made the list. With Japanese macro and microbreweries pumping out so many variations of beers every year, we’re sure that you would need an entire lifetime to try them all at least once!
With the increasing popularity of craft beers and microbreweries popping up around Japan, it seems that you’ll always be able to find a place to try something new every time you visit a different area.
We’d love to know if your favourite made this list, and if not, what is it and why? Let us know in the comment section below.