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Editor’s Notes

Hello from the Pocket Concierge Editorial!
While our primary expertise lies in introducing Japan’s finest restaurants to our overseas guests, we would be sad to see them go without having enjoyed the country’s delicious brews; hence, in this episode, we map out the history and basics of beer around here, coupled with a list of recommended craft beer brewers gaining attention as we speak!
Having survived an ice age after the “local beer boom” of the 1990s went bust, Japanese craft beer today is becoming increasingly renowned, with a variety of both authentic and indigenous brews growing out of the classic German lager-pilsner style beers and netting both crowds and awards. The domestic audience has been attentive; with this past year seeing a local “craft beer boom” blossom more and more people are warming to locally micro-brewed beer. The number of brewers too have exploded, with approximately 200 breweries ranging from industrial to barely more than home-brewing active as of the moment.
With that being said, let us jump into the history and state of the world of Japanese beer today; for both beginners and avid drinkers, there surely is a brew to love!

Contents

1. Japanese Beer 101: The 5 Major Brands

2. Beer in Japan; a 140-Year History

3. Yebisu Beer; Tokyo’s Original Local Brew?

4. The Craft Beer Scene; Over 200 and All Over!

1. Japanese Beer 101: The 5 Major Brands

Before we go into the Beer Encyclopedia in earnest, let us introduce the most basic of Japanese beer knowledge.
Firstly, the consumer beer market in Japan is largely dominated by the ‘Big 5′ brands below:
・Asahi Beer
・Yebisu Beer
・Kirin Beer
・Sapporo Beer
・Suntory
For the curious, we have also a few fun facts regarding these commonplace brands, to make a drinking night out just a bit more enjoyable:
・The Japanese katakana characters for “Kirin” are hidden within the Kirin Beer logo, a playful puzzle for the keen-eyed.
・Suntory’s company name is a combination of the founder’s name and the best-selling product of its predecessor. The founder, Shinjiro Torii, merged his ‘Torii’ with the ‘sun’-like logo of his prior bestselling product in a bit of wordplay to make the market-leader’s current name.

TRUNK(KITCHEN) | Pocket Concierge

2. Beer in Japan; a 140 Year History

Beer in Japan has a long history. Sapporo beer, originally sold almost 140 years ago, is said to be the longest surviving beer today; this likely owes to Hokkaido’s natural affinity to the ingredients of beer, barley, hops, and water. The region is blessed with an optical clime for beer barley cultivation, and hops too are natural to the area. As the northernmost of the country’s main islands, ice to create a low temperature aging environment must also ave been easy to acquire. However, with World War II came rationing, and beer became a delivered good called “barley alchohol”, slowing down the market. It was only after the war ended that major beer distribution became mainstream; Suntory began selling beer, beers in cans rather than bottles grew popular, and the country’s beer culture kept growing. Thankfully, today, we are able to enjoy delicious beers at our pleasure.

Okinawa Soba Kaiseki “TOUTOGANASHI” | Pocket Concierge

3. Yebisu Beer; Tokyo’s Original Local Brew?

Many may know that the JR Yamanote Line Ebisu Station is named “Ebisu” after the major nearby “Yebisu Beer” factory that occupied what is today the Ebisu Garden Place. The name, Yebisu was taken from one of the seven lucky gods, Ebisu; as a landmark, the name stuck with the surrounding area as well, and eventually was officially adopted to become the name of the station as well. In this sense, Yebisu Beer definitely deserves the distinguishment of being called the original “local beer.”
Yebisu beer also played a major role in bringing beer to the middle class. At its origin, one bottle of the beer cost 20 sen (a hundredth of a yen). While that sounds cheap, it certainly was not; in today‘s currency, 20 sen of the day would be equivalent to almost 3000 yen! Of course, a commodity of this price was a luxury, something commoners could not casually buy and drink. This all changed when Kyohei Magoshi, CEO of Japan Beer, opened “Yebisu BEER HALL” on August 4th, 1899; the Ginza establishment offered beer as a casual drink, changing its image and making it into a beverage the masses could enjoy.

Kappo TAJIMA | Pocket Concierge

4. The Craft Beer Scene; 200-Plus and All Over!

The “Japan Craft Beer Catalogue”, supervised by the Japan Beer Journalist Association and published in May 2015 showcases a whopping 221 different domestic breweries! Below, we listed our top five recommendations.

Yoho Brewing (Nagano)

“Yona Yona Ale,” “Suiyoubi no Neko,” “Tokyo Black.” All these fun beers are brewed at a small brewery in Nagano Prefecture, whose beers’ cute designs have enraptured female fans. The most popular “Yona Yona Ale” has a slightly high temperature of 13℃ they recommend for drinking. If you want to create the 13℃ at home, buy a super-cold “Yona Yona Ale” at a convenience store, and let warm slightly at room temperature before pouring for your pleasure.

Abashiri Beer (Hokkaido)

Abashiri Beer brews several unique beers, of which the beautiful blue-colored “Ryuhyo Draft” is our top recommendation. The blue color is created using a natural dye extracted from gardenia, so it is safe even for people careful about eating naturally. The refreshing flavor is ideal for people who don’t prefer the bitter notes of more commonplace beers.

Minoh Beer (Osaka)

Minoh Beer is sometimes called “the world‘s best beer”; it has a global following for its widely acclaimed brews, with at least some brew winning a beer award every year. Our recommendation from this house are its seasonal specials, sold for limited periods every season using unique Japanese ingredients; for example, the winter-only “Yuzu White” uses the zest of yuzu citrus, making for a refreshing flavor popular among the ladies.

Baeren Brewery (Iwate)

Baeren Brewery brewers brew their beer using a beer brewing machine used in Germany in the early 1900s. Their brew too is widely acclaimed, having won the “Japanese Brewery to Share with the World“ award twice including 2018, among others. Take one sip of their age-old brew, and you might join the ranks of their massive following.

Ishigakijima Beer (Okinawa) 石垣島ビール(沖縄)

Ishigakijima Brewery is a brewery based in the southernmost regions of Japan. It has quite the history, dating to 1997 and having been active for more than 20 years. They have, for all of these two decades, stayed loyal to a special brewers’ yeast purchased in Germany before opening the brewery. One of their specialties, the “Marin Beer”, is called ‘the supplement you an drink'; it is renowned for its health-keeping qualities, and great for those avid drinkers who also are aware of their health. Our editorial specially recommends flying to the southern islands to enjoy; for sure, it will taste heavenly drunk admiring the beaches and seas of Ishigaki-jima island.

Nishiazabu Mikazuki | Pocket Concierge

With more than 200 breweries across Japan’s isles, there is sure to be something out there that matches anyone’s tastes! Of course, shopping and tasting are the classic seeker’s ways, but nowadays, more and more factories and breweries are offering free tours, which also happen to include samples. For a fun and tasty adventure, these too may be a good way to spend time in Japan. For the more serious, there are also tests and titles; the Japan Beer Test would be a great stage for people who actively seek opportunities to utilize their passion and hobby. But of course, for the majority of us, lets continue to happily, deliciously, enjoy this special beverage.

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