Four Unmissable Beers to Try in Japan


WordsManon Baeza

Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo… The names are probably familiar; they are the biggest producers of beer in Japan and until recently, dominated the Japanese market entirely. Due to strict regulations imposed by the Japanese government, the acquisition of a licence to open a brewery was difficult to impossible for small producers.

It was only in 1994 that the distribution of licences became more open. The minimum capacity for beer production in order to obtain a licence dropped from 17000 barrels, to just 511, and small, family-run businesses flourished. Today almost 100 artisanal breweries have sprung up across Japan. These beers are characterised by the alliance of traditional know-how and original flavours, blending a number of ingredients such as matcha, wasabi, sweet potato or sancho pepper. PEN Magazine has made its pick of the four breweries and beers that stand out for their flavour and quality.

The Kadoya Honten Brewery's 'Ise Kadoya' Beer

Before becoming a brewery, Kadoya Honten was a tearoom, founded over 440 years ago and protected by the Ise temple. It was only in 1923 that the family business began to brew beer, and in 1997 that they started producing artisanal beer. The Ise Kadoya is somewhat like a Belgian beer, brewed with natural yeast cultivated from the sap of trees local to the Ise region. This can be distinguished in its acidity as well as by its spicy taste which comes from the flavour of the yeast, blended with the refreshing taste of yuzu which avoids any taste of bitterness in the drink. It is also worth noting that Kadoya Honten was the first Japanese producer to win the gold medal at the Australian International Beer Awards in 2017.

Coedo Brewery's 'Beniaka' beer

The brewers at Coedo are renowned for their traditional know-how that comes from the authentic culture of the town of Kawagoe in the south of Japan. The Beniaka beer is brewed with roasted Kintoki sweet potatoes grown locally. This method allows for the emergence of a sweet and tasty flavour and gives way to a rich amber beer. It’s the perfect balance thanks to caramel notes mixed with the bitter earthiness provided by the hops.

The Karuizawa Brewery's 'Seiryo Hisen Premium' beer

Situated in one of the country’s most popular summer tourist towns in Karuizawa in the north west of Japan, the brewery’s beer is distinguished by its long ageing process. While normally only two weeks suffice to produce a beer, the Karuizawa Brewery leaves its beer to age for 40 days. It is this long period which gives its beer an exceptionally refreshing quality. The ‘Seiryou Hisen Premium’ is undeniably the brewery’s star beer thanks to its light and creamy texture, its fruity flavour, and its head with aromas of grapefruit. The beer won the 2019 World Beer Awards grand prize in the Taste and Design category.

Baird Brewery's 'Wabi-Sabi'

Baird Brewery is best known for marrying green tea and wasabi – specialities in the Shizuoka region – with malt flavours: fresh hops and yeast, which are particularly present in comparison to other beers which prefer to eliminate them with an intensive brewing process. The Wabi-Sabi beer is a hybrid Japanese product which is intriguing for its floral scent, strong character, and a flavour which is both refined and audacious, resulting in something which is both simple and tranquil.