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Beer in Japan
Beer in Japan - Recommended Japanese Domestic Beers
Japanese Beer Basics
It's here, it's there, it's everywhere. Japanese beer. Not sure where to start? Let us steer you in the right direction.
The Big 4
The Big 4 breweries in Japan are Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory. Benefiting from Beer Tax Laws that increased production quotas out of the reach of smaller brewers, the Big 4 have monopolized the Japanese beer market for nearly a century. (Recommended craft beers in Japan).
Lager has been the preferred product of Japanese brewers and therefore has become synonymous with beer for many Japanese beer drinkers. Generally characterized by a golden colour, lighter body and slightly bitter aftertaste, lagers dominate the selection at izakayas (Japanese-style pubs), supermarkets, sake-yas (liquor stores), and the ever present conbini (convenience stores) throughout the country.
Prices for all Japanese domestic brands will usually hover in or around 215 yen for a 330ml can to nearly 400 yen for a 500ml can. Bottles (called “bin biru”) will be slightly more expensive but are arguably better value for money. Discount supermarkets may also, occasionaly, have lower prices on the usual titles.
While selection will vary, it will be a rare shop indeed that does not have at least 3 of the Big 4 represented on their shelves. The exception to this can be Orion Breweries' Orion Draft, which is slightly more difficult to find (but well worth it!).
As with all mass-produced lagers the colder the better. The crisper section of your fridge (the veggie storage shelf) should do the trick. You might consider chilling a beer glass along with the beer to better enhance what flavours there are on offer.
It is pretty well known that in Japan it isn't illegal to consume alcohol in public, including on the streets, in parks or even on public transportation. Having said that, moderation is the key here. It's not going to be just you and your friends on the trains or in the parks so best to not get too carried away.
Warning "Near Beer"
Japan offers a wide variety of "near beers". If you are looking for some real beer do not attempt the happoshu ("beer-like" beverage) and definitely avoid at all costs the “diet” or “calorie off” beers! Remember, if in doubt look for the nama kanji-生. The 生=real beer.
Japanese Brewery Information on the Web:
Asashi Prime Time
A very smooth and surprisingly, reasonably full-bodied beer for a mass market brand
Asahi's response to Suntory's Premium Malts is a pleasant beer with a good, if slightly bitter finish.
Kirin's green bottled brew is a well-rounded lager that can match any day or mood and offers good value for money as well.
Kirin Gold & Brau Meister
Decent passes at a more German style brew that show a nice shift away from the straight lager style beers from Kirin.
Orion. Fantastic for the beach, the beer garden, and summer. Or, when you want to bring it all back again on those cold winter eves!
The flagship. Good any time of year.
Sapporo Autumn & Winter Seasonal Beers
Slight variations on the "Nama" theme but annually interesting and a good way to shake up the routine a bit at the end of the year. Keep in mind, only limited numbers are sold.
Suntory Premium Malt's
2 gold medals 2 years in a row in European competition. Must be something to this one. A very pleasant surprise the first time and quite enjoyable for subsequent rounds.
Yebisu & Yebisu “The Hop”
Higher quality, richer flavours and a cleaner finish than any other mass market brand on the market. Look no further than the gold and green Yebisu cans at the supermarket.
Kirin Brau Meister
Kirin THE GOLD
Winter Seasonal Beer: Fuyumonogatari (from Oct.)
Suntory The Premium Malt's
Asahi Prime Time
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