For a long time, the Japanese beer market was dominated by four major breweries who all put out similar products. Until recently, there was a severe lack of diversity in the beer scene, but times are changing and Japanese craft beer is having its moment. If you’ve only been exposed to the mass-produced light, crisp beers that Japan has become known for, you might want to try some of these game-changing craft brews.

Echigo Koshihikari
Available at Yardbird

The Echigo Brewery in Niigata Prefecture was the first brewery in Japan to produce craft beer. They started brewing beer in 1994 and are an industry leader in Japan’s short craft beer history. Echigo Koshihikari is a rice lager beer that uses a premium short grain rice called Koshihikari. Niigata Prefecture is known as an ideal rice-growing region and Koshihikari is seen as the best quality rice in Japan. Echigo Koshihikari is very light and makes for easy drinking. With a clean and simple flavor, this beer is a great start to any meal.

Hitachino Nest White Ale
Available at Yardbird and RŌNIN

Hitachino Nest Beer is made by Kiuchi Brewery, a brewery that made sake for eight generations but knew next to nothing about beer production when they first started out. They have a cult following in the United States and are one of the biggest names in today’s Japanese craft beer scene. Their White Ale is one of their best-selling beers and has won gold medals at several beer competitions, with good reason! It’s light and soft, yet carries complex flavors from the orange peel, nutmeg, and coriander adjuncts. Even non-beer drinkers can love this beer.

Hitachino Nest Nipponia
Available at Yardbird

In contrast to the White Ale, which is inspired by Belgian-style witbier, Hitachino Nest Nipponia is very much a celebration of Japan. Nipponia is brewed using a revived ancient Japanese breed of Kanego Golden barley, as well as a strain of hops called Japanese-bred Sorachi Ace. This beer has a beautiful golden hue and complex flavors with a slight citrus taste.

Coedo ‘Beniaka’ Sweet Potato Amber
Available at Yardbird

Coedo is starting to become a big name in Japan’s craft beer scene but it has an interesting backstory. The brewery came about from an organic farming initiative in Kawagoe which started growing wheat in the 1980’s. They tried to make beer with this wheat but abandoned the idea because there were no independent malting companies around at the time. In 1996, however, the farmers managed to brew “beer” from the sweet potatoes they grew that were too large or unshapely to sell at the market. While Coedo does brew beer, the Beniaka is considered a happoshu, a term describing a low-malt beer or beer-like product, because of the sweet potato as an ingredient. This brew drinks like an amber ale and is full of flavor with a touch of sweetness.

2 thoughts on “Four Japanese Craft Beers We’re Currently Drinking

  1. Brian F. Sanford

    Your article popped up in my Apple News feed and as a craft beer enthusiast, I wanted to share a few thoughts about some of what you have written.
    First of all, none of these companies are considered to be among the best of the Japanese craft breweries. Simply put, the best don’t export. I would put these in a middle tier between the macro-breweries like Asahi and Kirin and the truly respected craft beer outfits like Minoh and Shiga Kogen. In fact, you’d have a hard time actually finding the beers listed in this article in a craft beer bar or bottle shop. Echigo pretty much only sells to more high-end supermarkets and department stores. Also, pretty much every craft beer in Japan is labeled as happoshu because any ‘adjuncts’ automatically qualify it as such. The original intent of happoshu was to avoid the taxes on malts which made beer more expensive to the consumer. By definition, a beer which includes anything beyond malts, hops, yeast and water is happoshu. I hope you and your readers will visit Japan someday and try some of the truly good craft beer that is being made here!

    1. sundaysgrocery

      Hi Brian, thank you for your feedback!

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