Finding Beer In Japan – A Simple Guide

Posted on June 1, 2010 by

Beer Billboard in JapanA rant and helpful links.

Resources for Craft Beer In Japan

Brewery Links

Places to Purchase

Tanakaya Website

My Experience

Kampai!

Or, in English, “Cheers”!

After about 10 years of yearning to go to Japan, I was finally able to cross this place of my list of places to visit. I was vacationing and visiting a friend while taking in some sites. I wasn’t really there to experience the beer scene but being the beer nerd that I am, I tried to anyway. All I have to say is that I am happy I wasn’t there strictly on a beer mecca because I may have been thoroughly disappointed.

Disclaimer: I do have to admit that I didn’t do a lot of research into different places to go to get beer, nor different brands/styles of beers to look for while I was there. A lot of my research went into accommodations, sites, culture and general getting around. My wife wouldn’t have been so happy had we only gone to a bunch of breweries and beer shops. So, I went in a little bit blindly.

Finding Beer in Japan

Vending machine with beer in it, in JapanJapan is a very interesting place with lots of culture, people, neon lights, seafood and vending machines…6 million in Tokyo alone. Inside some of those vending machines was one of my favorite things in the world. Beer. That’s right. You can buy pints of all the mass produced beers right out of vending machines. If that isn’t awesome enough, you are able to crack it open, walk down the street and hop on the subway if you wish.

As cool as that sounds, none of the beer was to die for. Ninety-five percent of the beer I was able to readily find in vending machines, convenience stores, grocery stores and even liquor stores was usually of an all malt variety or rice beer. None of which was very good unless you were extremely thirsty, had a bad day or you just hadn’t had a beer in a while. There were a couple of cases that I was able to find a stout created by one of the big Japanese brewers, Kirin, which was a nice change, but pretty run of the mill.

Frustration Sets In

I honestly didn’t think it was going to be that hard to find a “craft” type beer in a place with so many people, until I found out that the importation tax on grains makes beer more expensive to drink than Jack Daniel’s. It was at this point that I was determined to find something.

I jumped on the Internet and found some pubs in Tokyo, Kyoto and Hiroshima. However, I kept finding the same thing each time I went and looked at menus…$15 for a pint of Rogue. Almost all the “craft” beer I could find was in the form of an import and had a hefty sticker price. I didn’t bother buying anything that was something I could get in America for a cheaper price. There were beers one the lists that could have been locally produced, I couldn’t find info stating if it was local or an import, but they were still $15 a pint.

It was not until I found a website “Beer in Japan” that I was able to track down some “local” brew made right in Japan. The site directed me to the “Harvestmoon Brewery” in Tokyo. This just so happened to be a hop, skip and a jump away from where we were staying. So we went. I was actually able to do a review on one of their beers and you can see it here, later this week.

Overall

It was difficult to find any kind of beer that I really wanted to drink in Japan. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the occasional Sapporo or Kirin Lager, but I ended up falling in love with Sake and spent most of my nights drinking up glass after glass of the rice wine. A $3.50 flask of Sake lasted me as long as $9 worth of beer did for my wife. If your looking for American Craft beer, you can find it, but be ready to pay an arm and a leg for it…

I’m curious though. Have any of you found different local brews in Japan? Let me know. I plan to go there again someday and I’d like to add them to this list!

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  • Drizzly

    This shouldn't have 'guide' in the title. It should have 'one guy didn't do any research and eventually stumbled across a decent beer.

    Popeye's in Tokyo is one of the best beer bars in the world. There are several good bottle shops in Tokyo and in other major cities like Kyoto or Fukuoka. Hitachino Nest is a world class craft brewer, with many others following up in the 'excellent' category. Nothing is cheap…but hey, it's Japan.

  • mikebiewer

    Drizzle,

    Thanks for your comments. I agree, I didn't do a lot of research before hand and I found Popeye's after the fact. I was unaware of Hitachino Nest. I appreciate you bringing that up. I thought Hitachino's Nest was kind of like a brand brewed by Kiuchi Brewery. Regardless, it wasn't on our way and it was not the purpose of our trip. If you don't mind though, I'd like to add it to my list here.

    I've only considered it a guide, a “simple” guide to boot, because after my experience I found a few resources and found a few places while I was there and I thought it might help someone searching someday in the future. So, I'd be more than happy to change the name if you think this information wouldn't help someone in the future. However, I'd like to continue adding to it as people give me more suggestions on it. Maybe I should rephrase part of it to state I'm creating a better guide, or maybe call it a “resource guide”?

    Thanks for your input and I appreciate any follow up information you can submit!

    Mike

  • Drizzly

    I dunno…perhaps “impressions of beer in Japan”?

    I guess my comments were not the most constructive, but I did click on it hoping to learn something for my next trip, so was kinda like, bah, this is useless!

    Ozenoyukidoke, Baird, Suruga Bay and Toshi’s are all worth seeking out. A bit of googling will find good bottle shops. I know of three in Tokyo, one in Osaka and one in Fukuoka – I'm sure there are many others.

    Hitachino is available in the US, not cheap, but the espresso stout is world class, strong ale excellent and the red rice beer worth trying for it's uniqueness.

    I guess your guide will be a useful lesson in two parts: first, you won't just stumble into craft beer like you're in San Francisco or Portland. I look forward to reading part two, when you find all the awesomeness on your next trip.

    Also key: don't think about the price.

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