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Thursday, December 7, 2017

Japanese Beers

Everybody loves lists, right? You know who hates lists? The person compiling them.

Presented for your edification, is a list of beers made available year-round (IE, no seasonal or limited run brews) by the major Japanese breweries.

I have decided not to even try and list any Japanese craft brewers—there's over 200 in Japan—for fear of 1) alienating anyone, and 2) going nuts from the attempt.

Per capita, the Japanese are, as of 2016, the No. 55 country as far as beer consumption goes... shockingly a drop from No. 38, in 2010.

For those keeping score, the Americans are 20th, while the people from the Czech Republic are, indeed, No. 1. The only Czech I knew was a woman named Julia or, as she was known on the stage, Ariana Falco. She liked beer, and as far as I could tell, the beer calories went straight to her luxurious blonde head of hair, and nowhere else. Believe me, I Czeched.

Along with standard beers, there are two other categories of Japanese beer: the New Genre; and the Happoshu.

New Genre
In Japan's Alcohol Tax Law, when discussing "Other Sparkling Alcoholic Beverages," the following alcoholic beverages that have been produced with hops or bitter ingredients are the object of a special tax rate:
  • Beverages that have been fermented using sugar, hops, water or soya (2 degrees extract or more);
  • Sparkling alcoholic beverages that contain barley spirits or wheat spirits (2 degrees extract or more).

What is Happoshu?
According to Japan's Alcohol Tax Law, happoshu are sparkling alcoholic beverages that are partly produced with malt. The percentage of malt that must be used in its production is strictly regulated.  

Happoshu must have less that 67% malt content in relation to other raw materials, excluding water. Alcohol tax varies according to the malt percentage that has been used for its production.

I'd be lying if I said I understood any of what I just wrote/copied... but I'd also be lying if I said I actually read what I wrote.

Beer Barrel Polka
Before traveling to Japan, as a then-25-year-old, I had only recently begun to expand my palate away from the commonalities of the major breweries in Canada.

I had gone from Molson Canadian, to Molson Dry, to Red Dog, and had the misfortune of drinking a case of Labatt IPA (India Pale Ale), but liked the more common Labbat Blue. I didn't mind the Carling-O'keefe Black Label, but that may only have been because the punk rockers drank it - and I may have wanted to seem cool.

My friends and I would travel to downtown Toronto on a Friday or Saturday night to Rotterdam's... or was it Amsterdam's (?)... and order—on apiece, a different bottle of beer from around the world. We'd each have a small sample of each - if we wished... and then we'd order a different beer each for the next round, and the next round, and the next round. There were probably a few more rounds after that.

My friend Rob was ordering a lot of high-alcohol beers in stupidly large bottles (I believe that the higher the alcohol content in beer, the more sugars there are in it... still too much, and it tastes like crap).

Whenever I ordered a beer there, I ALWAYS ordered a beer with a religious theme: Pope's 1880; The Bishop's Tipple; El Diablo, Saint Pauli Girl, even... I think I had a Santa Claus beer, too... but that might have been Rob.... but regardless... beer's like that.

El Diablo... a 4% Mexican beer was actually my favorite, though the Belgian (I think) Bishop's Tipple was right up there.

Everything was wheat, wheat, wheat-based.

Going to Japan, the beer's were rice-based... or so I was told. It certainly tasted unlike any other beer I had ever had.

My favorite Japanese beer was my first Japanese beer: Kirin Lager... the equivalent is probably the common Coors Light or Molson Canadian... good beers, of course, but hardly cutting edge.

I was in Japan, and the beer was tasty. It was cutting edge to me.

I had and enjoyed the Asahi Super Dry, but that was pretty much it for Asahi. While I might appreciate the malts of an Yebisu or Suntory now (Suntory was only as whiskey back then... and Orion wasn't around either)...

I always felt like I was being served second-rate product when an enkai (party) only had Sapporo beer available. Of course... that was only because it was the smallest of the big-3 brewers... and I preferred the Kirin Lager which at least tasted similar to a Canadian beer...

As for the heading of this section: Beer Barrel Polka... I used to play the accordion... polkas are a common thread amongst accordionists... 'nuff said.

Size Matters
Usually, in Canada, beer is available in four sizes:

  • draught/draft poured into whatever glass the place feels like (a tray of "beer" at the Paddock - 14 glasses, used to cost $17 - Canadian.);
  • can - can sizes can vary from the usual 341 or 355 mL to a 473 mL tall boy size...;
  • bottle - standardized at 341 mL;
  • keg - usually only found at drunken university parties and under the counter at a bar, where it is tapped and funneled in as a major beer brand because it's cheaper than purchasing 2-4 packs of beer.

In Japan:
For example, Asahi cans are available in:
  • 125 mL (4.2 oz / half a cup); 
  • 250 mL (1 cup); 
  • 300 mL (10 oz/soda can); 
  • 500 mL (1 pint); 
  • 1 L; 
  • 2 L;
  • 3 L;
Bottles: a typical size is 500 mL - which is pretty darn big... considering 341mL is what we have in Canada.

Let's get on with the list. Surprisingly,there are fewer beers available from the Big Brewers of Japan, than there are flavors of Kit-Kat... and even fewer than there are flavors of the carbonated drink, Fanta.

Asahi Breweries Ltd.

Asahi Dry Zero (Non-Alcoholic)

Asahi Off (New Genre)

    Asahi Premium Beer Jukusen

Asahi Style Free (happoshu)

 Asahi Super Dry

Clear Asahi

Kirin Brewery Company, Limited.

Grand Kirin: JPL; White, and; IPA
Grand Kirin Japan Pale Lager (JPL) a India Style Lager
Grand Kirin White, is a wheat beer
Grand Kirin IPA, is an American-style India Pale Ale - I hate IPAs.  

Kirin Heartland Beer

Kirin Ichiban Shibori

Kirin Lager Beer

Kirin Tanrei (happoshu)

Kirin Tanrei Gokujo Nama (happoshu)

Kirin Tanrei Green Label (happoshu)

Kirin Tanrei (happoshu)

Kirin Tanrei Platinum Double (happoshu)

Kirin Tanrei W Double (happoshu)

Orion (Distributed by Asahi Breweries since 2002)

Orion Cider

Orion Draft
Orion Premium Draft

Orion Special X

Orion Southern Star

Orion Splash Beat

Sapporo Breweries Limited

Sapporo Black 

Sapporo Classic

Sapporo Lager

Sapporo Premium

A premium pale lager.

A tasty malt beer.

Yebisu Premium Black

Yebisu - The Hop

Hokkaido Nama-shibori (happoshu)


Super Magnum Dry (happoshu)

Suntory Malts

Suntory - Premium Malts

This is what I have found... and I think it is current as of December of 2017.

The beers listed are, again, the ones that are available year-round. They are not seasonal beers. They are not limited edition beers. They are not beers brewed by Japan's burgeoning craft beer makers.

These are the mainstream beers available from the major brewers in Japan.

IF I have missed a beer, or have provided an out-of-date label, or if a beer mentioned here is no longer being brewed, please let me know, and provide an image location if you can.

If you know of, or have a blog or website that provides English-language information on these Japanese brews, please let me know.  


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