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Beer in Japan

Microbrews at The Great Japan Beer Festival - Ranking the Craft Beers in Japan

Beer knowledge

Deryk Bliss

Deryk Bliss
An escapee from Northern B.C., "Dez" has made Japan home for the last 10 years. When not turning out for the illustrious Saitama Jets or turning up on a ski slope somewhere, he can be found in tireless investigation in his quest to find the perfect craft beer. At least so he claims.


The grey skies and threat of rain didn’t deter beer enthusiasts as they congregated in their 100s on May 5th at Ebisu’s Garden Hall. The Great Japan Beer Festival opened its 2008 edition with close to 60 brewers and more than 130 different craft beer titles ready to welcome the sell-out crowd. While the live music wasn’t quite to everyone’s taste, the beer certainly was! The enthusiasm and excited buzz only grew throughout the afternoon.

Now in its 10th year, these festivals continue to do a great service to the craft beer community in this country and should be a highlight on any beer lover’s calendar. Can’t wait for the next ones in Osaka and Yokohama!

Cheers & Kampai!


Outback Steakhouse in Shinagawa Outback Steakhouse in Shinagawa


Outback Steakhouse in Shinagawa Outback Steakhouse in Shinagawa


Festival Do's & Don'ts:

-get there early. Intrepid photographer Ross Mitchell and I arrived at 2:30 when the doors opened only to find ourselves at the back of a very long line. By the time we got into the venue some titles were already sold out!

-get there fashionably late. We noticed that by about 3:00 or so, sample tables near the back of the hall already had shorter lines and by about 3:30 things had thinned out considerably as patrons began to wander outside, compare notes or focus on a bit of lunch.

-bring palate cleansers. Soda crackers, bread and popcorn are apparently the pros snack of choice but make sure to get something to give your taste buds a break.

-water, water, water. The very cool sample glasses provided may look small but can catch up on you quite quickly. Take lots of water breaks and be able to enjoy the full day!

-rinse and repeat. Take advantage of the cleaning stations the GJBF crew set up for you. You’ll be able to better appreciate the flavours when the previous 10 samples aren’t competing for space!

-forget your tickets!
-forget to leave the car keys at home.

Upcoming Great Japan Beer Festival Information

This Writer's Top 5 Craft Beers from the Great Japan Beer Festival

Okhotsk Beer Factory, Kitami City, Hokkaido:

Red Ale: A fantastic English Style Brown Ale. A full-bodied beer with a really nice, clean finish that was a perfect fit to the event.

Canadian Brewery Inc., Sapporo, Hokkaido:

Coriander Black: You read that correctly, coriander! Described as a “herb-spice beer” this surprising dark beer was the new find of the day! Great company name as well.

Baird Brewing, Numazu, Shizuoka:

Cream Ale: American Lager/Cream Ale which once tasted, it was easy to understand the international awards this beer has won.

Kiuchi Brewery, Naka-shi, Ibaraki:

Hitachino Nest Beer Amber Ale: A long-time favourite of this writer and as good as was hoped for the first time trying it on tap.

Swan Lake Brewery, Niigata

Swan Lake Ale: an in-house special that delivered on the server’s promise of being refreshing and something between a blonde and golden ale.

Honourable Mentions

Kamikaze Beer (Nishi-Kunitachi) Cream Ale

Harvest Moon (Chiba) Fruit Ale

Komagatake Brewery (Nagano) Minamishinsyu Porter

ICI Beer (Osaka) Minoh Real Pale Ale, Double IPA

Ginjyo Kura Brewery (Gunma) Ozeno Yukidoke Brown Weizen

Kumazawa Brewing Company (Kanagawa) Shonan Beer Super Porter



Where to buy

One of the main issues confronting craft beer in Japan is the question of distribution.

Nearly all brewers have restaurants that serve their beer fresh from the tap (yes, please!) or have off-sales from shops on their premises.

Many have also begun their own online shops where you can usually get titles individually or in sets and - in some cases- “beer subscription” offers where beer will be delivered to you periodically throughout the year!

However, with the exception of Baird Brewing, these websites are usually only in Japanese. Online supermarkets (especially organic food sites) also carry some titles but again these sites are usually only in Japanese.

Beer/Sake sections of major department stores like Isetan/Mitsukoshi or “up-market” supermarkets like Miuraya or Kinnokuniya also often have a limited selection on their shelves.

This situation will hopefully continue to improve but for now those are the available options to get a hold of these fantastic craft beers.

But don’t let this discourage you.

Grab a friend to help you navigate the online shops!

Explore department stores and supermarkets!

Or, best of all, go the brewers themselves and sample the brilliant beer and the great food on offer!

Watch these pages as we bring you more info on craft beer and where to get it- be it online, in the shops or at the growing number of craft beer pubs around Tokyo and Japan.

Until the next time! Enjoy!



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