When it comes to alcoholic beverages, beer has become a very popular choice among Japanese drinkers.
And some non-Japanese people have learned to appreciate Japanese beer as well.
Let’s take a look at this drink, and learn which Japanese brands are the best to try. We’ll also explain how you can legally purchase Japanese beer online.
Important Note: Before we begin, keep in mind that beer contains alcohol, so please obey all local drinking age restrictions.
Japanese Beer Notes
In general, Japanese beer is dominated by a few large brands — Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory. These four brands make multiple kinds of beer, from pale lagers to the uniquely Japanese happoshu, a.k.a. “low-malt beer.”
Kirin, Sapporo, and Asahi can all trace their origins back to the Meiji Era. (There have been some mergers, a break-up, and some name changes along the way, but they all claim to have brewed beer since then.)
Suntory started out with other beverages, and moved into beer in 1963. Japan’s fifth largest beer company is Orion Breweries from Okinawa.
While the giant corporate breweries remain huge, beer experts have reported that smaller craft beers are growing in popularity. This change makes sense, given Japan’s trendy, gourmet food culture.
Can I Get Japanese Beer Delivered Here?
Yes, it is possible to transport beer from Japan to international destinations.
However, you should be aware that different countries have various regulations and limitations regarding the import and export of beer, wine, and sake. For example, the United States prohibits using the post office to ship alcoholic beverages. To complicate matters, individual states can also restrict beer delivery.
Various shipping companies such as UPS, FedEx, DHL, etc. have their own rules and guidelines for shipping and receiving beer. And finally, some nations ban alcohol completely, so don’t even try it.
Fortunately, you don’t have to be a legal expert to know whether you can buy beer online. Any good online retailer (such as ZenPlus) will let you know if a product can be shipped.
If all else fails, your local liquor stores, grocers, and Asian supermarkets might sell some Japanese beers. But you’ll probably only find the major brands; in some cases made by a local subsidiary. You won’t find the same variety that you will find online.
List of Best Japanese Beer Brands
- Yokohama Brewery
- Yebisu (Sapporo)
- Baeren Beer
5 Best Japanese Beer Brands
Yokohama Brewery is one of a couple of craft beer companies located in the historic port town. The brewery makes numerous kinds of lagers and ales, including German-style Hefeweizen and Dusseldorf Alt beers, and an American Pale Ale. It also makes some special, seasonal beers.
The brewery has been around for more than 20 years.
If you ever find yourself in Sakuragicho in Yokohama, you may want to visit Yokohama Brewery’s bar/ restaurant. However, ZenPlus also sells both cans and bottles of the craft beer. Varieties currently available at ZenPlus (while supplies last) include Yokohama Lager, Hefeweizen, Bohemian Pilsner (shown above), American Pale Ale, Dusseldorf Alt, and a Kolsch (Cologne-style) beer made with Doshi spring water. (Doshi is a tiny village in Yamanashi Prefecture.)
Yebisu is a malt beer label made by Sapporo Breweries. The beer comes in two basic varieties — Yebisu Premium, a pale lager (shown above); and Yebisu Premium Black, a dark lager.
Yebisu started out in 1890 as a brand of the Japan Beer Brewery Company. Japan Beer and Sapporo, and Osaka (Asahi) merged in 1906.
The Yebisu brand disappeared for years until Sapporo brought it back as a premium, luxury label in 1971.
The beer is named after Ebisu, one of Japan’s Seven Gods of Fortune, so you know it must be good. (That’s his picture on the can.) The beer was originally brewed in a section of Shibuya, Tokyo, which eventually became known as Ebisu.
Baeren is a craft beer brewery from Morioka, Iwate Prefecture in northern Japan. It’s been around since 2001.
The name comes from the German word for bear. The company’s website explains that the name “symbolizes the natural riches of Iwate Prefecture and the strength of the beer-brewing artisans.”
The brewery makes a lot of different kinds of beer. And with its German name, the company naturally brags about its traditional European brewing style and historic, imported German equipment.
But Baeren also gets creative with its flavors, such as Lemon Radler (a.k.a. British shandy). Other varieties include Yuzu Cidre, and Milk Chocolate Stout.
ZenPlus currently offers Baeren Classic, Schwarz (i.e. black beer), Innovation Red Lager, Lemon Radler, and Trad Gold Pilsner in various cans and bottles.
It’s a long way from Tokyo by Tohoku Shinkansen, but Baeren has a couple of brew pubs/ restaurants/ bars in the Morioka area.
Kirin is one of the big four Japanese beer companies. It’s probably best known for Kirin Ichiban Shibori, and Kirin Lager Beer.
They’re both lagers, but Ichiban Shibori is a malt pilsner. “Ichiban” translates as “number one,” but “Ichiban Shibori” actually refers to the “first press” method used to brew it. Kirin Lager is a “rice lager,” which contains both rice and barley.
If you’re looking for something different, Kirin also makes a happoshu, Kirin Tanrei Premium (shown above). Because they use less malt, happoshu beverages tend to be lighter, and less bitter than regular beer. Technically speaking, Japanese law doesn’t consider happoshu to be actual beer, but it does contain alcohol.
Incidentally, you should not confuse Kirin Tanrei Premium with Kirin Tanrei Green Label, which is a “light beer” version of the same product.
Asahi Breweries started out as the Osaka Beer Company in 1889, but its most popular product was invented in 1987 — Asahi Super Dry.
Super Dry is both a rice lager, and a “karakuchi,” or dry beer. According to Asahi, the company was inspired by dry (i.e. not sweet) sake. Super Dry wasn’t the first dry beer, but it helped to popularize the concept when it first came out.
Dry beers are defined as low-carb, pale lager beers, and are sometimes described as good beers for dinner, or paired with food.
Of course, Asahi makes more than Super Dry. ZenPlus currently has several Asahi options, including non-alcoholic beers, and happoshu beverages.
If you’re in Japan, Asahi offers factory tours of a couple of its breweries.
Japanese Beer History
Japan has known about alcohol since it arrived from China around 300 BCE or so. Japanese people have brewed rice wine, or sake, since ancient times.
However, beer is not native to Japan. The first beer in Japan was introduced by the Dutch during the Edo period (1603-1867). According to a Netherlands government website, the Japanese word “biiru” even comes from the Dutch word “bier.”
Despite this, it wasn’t until the 19th century Meiji Era that beer became widely available in Japan. The Brewers Association of Japan names Koumin Kawamoto as the first Japanese beer brewer in 1853.
Both the association and Wikipedia mention the Spring Valley Brewery (founded in either 1869 or 1870) in Yokohama, which would later become the Kirin Brewery Company.
From 1906 until its break-up in 1949, Dai-Nippon was Japan’s largest beer company. Both Sapporo and Asahi were part of it.
As you can see, you have a lot of options when it comes to Japanese beer. (Please only drink in moderation; we take no responsibility if you try all of these options at once!)
We hope that this article helps you to better understand the many kinds of Japanese beer.