Dish of the Day: Japanese craft beer

Will Coldwell

beer whiteale 117x300 Dish of the Day: Japanese craft beerUsually when something is “big in Japan”, its popularity is rather less so over here. Craft beer, it seems, is an exception. The country has seen a huge boom in production of the drink, and much in the same way as we have seen over here and in the US, smaller brewers have been winning over drinkers in a market previously dominated by huge brands. In the case of Japan; Asahi, Kirin, Suntory and Sapporo pretty much ran the beer market until the mid-90s, when the industry was finally deregulated.

Now, craft beer is growing in popularity at such a rate that even producers of Japan’s most coveted national drink – sake, or rice wine –  are setting up their own micro-breweries. Sake is in fact more like a beer than a wine anyway – it’s fermented in a similar way – so the switch is pretty easy to make.

Kiuchi Brewery is one example of this. They are the brewer behind Hitachino Nest Beer, known for its stubby bottles and colourful owl character on the label. The brewery originally made sake and still use ‘hints’ of its traditional techniques when making the beer. Although you will rarely find them in British bars, it is well worth ordering some in from a specialist beer shop. The Hitachino Weizen is fantastic; soft, with a hint of banana and spicy vanilla, it is cool, sweet and refreshing. The Hitachino Pale Ale is equally good; rich, hoppy and full bodied and a very convincing interpretation of the British style pale ale.

In Japan at least, it’s certainly all going down well. Despite the fact that craft beer only makes up around 1% of the market, it has created a lot of business for a lot of people. As well as the 200 odd breweries, craft restaurants, bars and shops have been popping up around the country. Yo-Ho, the biggest craft brewer in Japan saw their sales nearly double by the end of last year. And, best of all, the beers look set to become increasingly available in the UK.

The Number One Drinks Company – who usually deal with whisky but have been recently bringing British craft beers over to Japan – are starting to bring back beers from some of Japan’s craft breweries. Expect to see drinks from Minoh Beer Brewery, Brimmer Brewing Company and Baird Brewing Company cropping up in pubs and specialist beer shops soon.

It may still seem like a bit of effort is needed to track these beers down, but according to the Japanese Craft Beer Association, 41% of the country’s craft beer sales are actually done online. So I would suggest you do as the Japanese do; get on the internet and buy yourself some beer.

Follow Will at @will_coldwell

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  • Robin Goldsmith

    Hi Will, I completely agree with above. I first tried Japanese craft beer earlier this year at IFE 2013 (The International Food & Drink Event 2013) and wrote about the Hitachino Nest range at

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