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Monday, February 22, 2016

Japanese Beer

Beer! Glorious beer!

Even before sloshing back beer in Japan through numerous 'kanpai! (cheers!)' or the weirdly funny 'chin-chin' (in Japanese, this Italian cheer is slang for 'penis'), I had enjoyed partaking of the nectar of the gods back in Toronto (pre-1990).. though not as much as the poor Japanese business man in the photo above. I always knew when and when not to keep my pants on. Thank goodness he listened to his mama-san and wore clean underwear that day in the subway. He looks comfortable. Not.

In Toronto, my friends and I would go to a downtown bar (how the hell did we get back?) where they offered beers from around the world.

My thing was to try all the beers with a religious connotation to the brand: Bishop's Tipple; Pope's 1880; St. Pauli Girl; El Diablo… you get the drift…

St. Pauli Girl Katarina van Derham makes me thirsty... like Holy sh!% - there's the real religious theme. Pants off with plenty of panting.
As such, my taste buds were opened up to a world of flavors and possibilities.

In Japan, I was lucky enough to find an American PX in Tokyo where I could purchase global beers, getting the opportunity to sample many a Belgian brew of dubious alcohol content, and even one American beer that was infused with a red hot chili pepper - something stupid of me to have tried because I hated such hot and spicy things - much to the chagrin of my Indian heritage, as I have always sought to distance myself from such things while living in Canada.Nowadays, I don't mind the heat - but not in my alcohol.

Belgium's Trompe la Mort beer was one of the best beers I ever had.
In Japan, I tried to keep an open mind about all things, and when it came to alcohol - I kept an open throat.

Beer… or bīru (ビール) in Japanese is quite popular. I pretty much went with the Coors Light/Molson Canadian/Labatt's Blue common beer—Kirin Lager—as my favorite, but I would drink whatever beer was put down in front of me.

In 2012, Japan consumed about 5.55-million kiloliters of beer, but I should note it also includes low and no-malt type beers, which ain't really beer in my blog. Back when Matthew and I were in Japan, I'm pretty sure the beer consumption numbers were higher.

But in real beer drinking, Japan is 40th globally in beer consumption as of 2012 with 43.5 liters per person.

I was writing about this for another article, but: according to 2012 compiled data, globally the Czech Republic is the hands-down leading consumer of beer with 148.6 liters per capita, and Austria a distant second at 107.8 liters followed closely by Germany at 106.1 liters per person.
Beer drinking in Japan can get sloppy, so it's always good to make sure everyone has a bandana. Poor Melissa somehow put up with me that evening as a drinking companion only. Melissa and I are in focus, though apparently the photographer wasn't. Man... look at that tan line... and I'd only been in Japan for three days...
For comparison, Canada was ranked 25th overall globally just three spots behind Great Britain, but well back of the 14th-ranked U.S. Australia is #11, New Zealand #27. The Irish are #6. Look HERE, if you want the top 50.

Not that anyone cares, but my favorite types of beers nowadays are dark beers a la Irish dry stout Guinness, and white beers like Blanche De Chambly - a Belgian-style white beer from Chambly, Quebec, Canada, and, of course, Boddington's Pub Ale, a creamy, golden pale ale. Oh... and 12 Minutes To Destiny, a hibiscus pale lager from Barrie, Ontario, Canada's Flying Monkeys Craft Brewery - great people there and some excellent beers, to boot. My one Flying Monkeys beer glass is a treasured item!

No IPA in my choices... but a great deal of flavor variance.

Anyhow… when I was in Japan in the early 1990s (excluding Coca-Cola, o-cha/green tea, milk, Twinning's teas and sake), it was pretty much just beer from the four main breweries, as craft beers had yet to take off.I think I got my water from all those other non-milk drinks. Those main Japanese breweries are:
  • Asahi Breweries, Ltd.
  • Kirin Brewery Company
  • Sapporo Breweries Limited
  • Suntory
Drink responsibly, or you could end up married to a Japanese high school music teacher wearing a baby blue silk track suit. Wearing an earring in the left ear means you're 'cool' right? Or is it the opposite in Japan??!! I'm missing my shoes and drinking bandana.
As of January 2014, Asahi, with a 38% market share, was the largest of the four major beer producers in Japan, followed by Kirin Beer with 35% and Suntory with 15%. Not mentioned, but one would suspect that Sapporo also has a percentage - 12%, I assume... which is weird, because I saw more Sapporo beer than Suntory beer - then again... that was 23 years ago. There were no craft breweries of any kind in Japan at that time... or if there were, they must have had pretty limited distribution.

Here's a good site for examples of Japan's beers: or here for where to find good beers in Japan:

Kirin Brewery Company

Kirin (キリン株式会社 Kirin Kabushiki-gaisha) was originally known as The Japan Brewery Company, Limited, and was established in 1885 after it took over the assets of the Spring Valley Brewery.

Spring Valley Brewery was established in Yokohama in 1869 by Norwegian-American brewer William Copeland.

The Kirin Brewery Company was made a separate entity in 1907 after it purchased the assets of Japan Brewery.

Kirin Brewery continued the traditions of the Japan Brewery… which means it followed the tradition of using malted grains and hops from Germany, and using German brewers for overseas production.

Kirin Lager was first brewed in 1888, and is one of Japan's oldest beers. It is also one of the most popular. For kicks, look for the three Japanese alphabets of キリン "ki", "ri" and "n" hidden within the mythical beast on the label. Always a fun game when you are already buzzed and can't remember where you last saw it even though the position never changes.
Find the kirin within the kirin logo.
In Japanese, "kirin" can refer to giraffes, or to Qilin, the mythical Chinese creature. Kirin Brewery is named after the latter.

Kirin Premium - a very tasty brewski.
Its next most-popular beer is Kirin Premium. My taste buds aren't good enough to say which was which, suffice to say that I thoroughly enjoyed guzzling down both Lager and Premium brands in beer - which is why I have listed this company first.

Other beers from Kirin include: Kirin Akiaji; Kirin Ichiban Shibori - Nagoya-Zukuri, Grand Kirin; Grand Kirini Fukoro no Mori; Kirin Heartland Beer; Kirin Fukkoku Lager and Kirin Tanrei (happoshu - low-malt beer). Some of these beers are seasonal.

Asahi Breweries, Ltd.

Asahi (アサヒビール株式会社 Asahi Bīru Kabushiki Gaisha) was founded in 1889 as the Osaka Beer Company (大阪麦酒会社 Ōsaka Bakushu Kaisha).

The main Asahi beer was Asahi Draft - first produced in 1892 - until the 1950s, when Asahi Gold - first produced in 1957 - took over until around 1988.

So… between 1889 and 1892… what were they brewing? Anyone know? Probably something called (and I'm guessing here) Osaka Beer.

It was in 1987 that Asahi Super Dry - a damn fine beer - was introduced… a beer that changed the whole beer industry. The Asahi Super Dry (you pretty much always say the full name) is a lager without the heavy malt flavors, possessing a dry taste similar to German beers.

Kirin was the acknowledged leader at this time, but the demand for Asahi Super Dry kicked everyone's butt and became the moset popular beer in Japan. 

I used to drink Asahi Super Dry then and after I got back home to Canada, Canadian versions of dry beers. Good luck finding one nowadays.Fads, eh... but still... the Asahi Super Dry really was a grea-tasting beer.

What's the popular beer right now - at least in Canada where every brewery and craft brewery is cooking up a storm of...? It's IPA. India Pale Ale… which, in my honest opinion, is the suckiest sucking type of beer ever. It tastes great in your mouth… but when you swallow - bleeeeech. Yes, I am aware there's a dirty joke in there. Who do you think I am?

One of Japan's most recognized buildings, is the Asahi headquarters…

This is the Flamme d'Or, by Philippe Stark, Asahi Super Dry Hall, Asakusa, Tokyo... or ...

Yes… the golden sperm building. See joke above.

Aside from Asahi Super Dry, other Asahi brands include: Asahi Premium Beer Jukusen; Asahi Dry Black; Asahi Dry PremiumAsahi Hon-nama (happoshu - low-malt beer); Asahi Dry Premium: Hatsu-Jikomi Premium; Asahi Premium Jukusen; Asahi Dry Premium: Kaori no Kohaku; Asahi The Craftsmanship Christmas Beer: Eve Amber; Asahi The Craftsmanship Christmas Beer: Merry Gold. Some of these beers are seasonal.

Sapporo Breweries Limited

Sapporo Breweries Limited (サッポロビール株式会社 Sapporo Bīru Kabushiki-gaisha) is a Japanese brewery founded in 1876 in Sapporo. Originally called the Kaitakushi Brewery thanks to the Hokkaido Development Commission, but when privatized in 1888, its name was changed to Sapporo Beer Company.

Sapporo Lager was its first beer, and was brewed in 1876 by the German-trained brewer Nakagawa Seibei (surname first). Nowadays, its global headquarters are in Ebisu, Shibuya, Tokyo. The company purchased the Canadian company Sleeman Breweries in 2006.

I like Sapporo (the beer and the place), but I no longer get an freebies when I talk with Sleeman (still the best origin story of a Canadian brewery… or at least, the only one I am aware of, because they play it up wonderfully). Coupons… like what Molson and Labatt's offer. Yeah... those are always nice freebies.
Nowadays, Sapporo produces 616,374 kiloliters of beer annually, which, if I still drank beer, would still seem like a lot.    

When the Japan Beer Brewery Company began producing Yebisu Beer in 1890, there was some pretty good competition brewing between it and Sapporo Beer Company... so...

Sapporo, Japan Beer Brewery and other Osaka breweries merged in 1906 to form Dai-Nippon Beer Company, Ltd.… basically calling itself the Big Japan Beer Company. Limited.

They held a near monopoly on Japanese beer until after WWII, when in 1949 Dai-Nippon split to become Nippon Breweries and Asahi Breweries.

In 1956, Nippon Breweries began to create its Sapporo brand again, eventually changing its name back to Sapporo Breweries in 1964.

Although Sapporo beer is produced in Sapporo, Japan, it is also produced in Chiba, Shizuoka and Kyushu, while if you've drunk it in Canada, it comes from the Sleeman brewery in Guelph, Ont., just west of Toronto; or with U.S. Sapporo brand beer coming from La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Look Raoul! Stars!
Although no different in taste from the Sapporo Lager, Sapporo did create Space Barley beer from barley seeds that had spent five months aboard (but not being grown) the ISS (International Space Station) back in 2006. It was approximately US $100 or ¥10,000 for a six-pack, and was sold via a lottery system.

Aside from Space Barley and Sapporo Lager, other Asahi brands include: Yebisu; Sapporo Black Label; Sapporo Classic; Yeibisu Black; Yebisu - The Hop; and Hokkaido Nama-shibori (happoshu - low malt beer); Sapporo Mugi to Hop The Gold Extra Malt; Sapporo Lager's High Hanayaka Hop. Some of these beers are seasonal.


Lastly, the Osaka-headquartered Suntory.

The only reason Suntory makes this list, in my opinion, is because it is one of the largest producers of distilled beverages in the world. It produces the Malt's (and Premium Malt's brand) and Suntory brands, and as you can see from the image above, the Premium Malt's beer is considered to be a very, very good beer.

Suntory is attempting to market the Premium Malt's as something worthy of its efforts to create "the world's greatest beer".

It doesn't say it has created the world's greatest beer… nor do they claim that it is the world's greatest TASTING beer, but it is a multiple award winner, so maybe Suntory has something. To be fair, Suntory is excellent at distilled beverages, so I would think it would want a beer to maintain that company branding.

Anyhow, Suntory the beverage maker debuted in 1899, and while they have been manufacturing beer for a long time, it is hardly a core business, despite having decent in-roads into the Japanese beer market.

Suntory Beer debuted in 1963 via sister company Musashino Beer Factory. Premium Malt's in 2012… and Malt's - I have no idea when... pre 2012...

It's a distinct flavor that many people enjoy - it wasn't bad, but it wasn't my favorite, either. The label has changed a lot since I left Japan.
Old-school Suntory Malt's branding.
Total types of Suntory beers include: Suntory Draft; Suntory Malt's, Suntory Premium Malt's, Super Magnum Dry (happoshu - low-malt beer); and Suntory Kinmugi Kuro no Hitotoki. Some of these beers are seasonal.

If anyone has any genuine information on the Suntory Beer operations, please pass it on.

Somewhere looking for a drinking bandana... musta been a wedding... and it ran off with some other head-covering.
I will say that while I preferred Kirin Lager and Kirin Premium, I also loved Asahi Super Dry. The rest of the main beers I also tried and enjoyed... though some more than others. Apparently the beers get tastier the more you imbibe them.

For now...

Andrew Joseph

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