Last fall I took a short trip to southern Japan. Unlike my other destination in October 2018, Japan isn’t known for its beer. Brought to the nation by the Dutch, the first brewery in Japan was Kirin in 1869. Asahi, Sapporo, and Suntory followed suit producing light lagers that use rice in addition to other grains. The four titans of Japanese beer didn’t see any challenges from microbreweries until 1994 when breweries were able to apply for a license without needing to produce the minimum 2 million liters a year.
Estimates of how many craft breweries are in Japan are difficult to find. One of the sources I found guesses 200 different breweries. The majority of these center around major metropolitan areas like Toyoko and Osaka. Eric and I did some research trying to find a local brewery in Kyushu. We found one in Kitakyushu called Mojiko Beer Factory, but it was closed when we visited. Despite not being able to visit any craft breweries during our trip, we still found plenty to try.
Japan has a tier of beer that I like to call “micro macros”. In the States, this would be comparable to what the Brewers Association calls a “Large Brewery,” producing over six million barrels a year. In America, these would be the Dogfish Heads and Ballast Points. In Japan, there is Yo-Ho, Minoh, and Kiuchi. These large craft breweries can be found all over if you are willing to do a little bit of digging. Eric and I found craft beer in convenience stores, train stations, and supermarkets. So before you buy that Ashai from a vending machine on the corner, search for some of Japan’s brewing all-stars. I can’t wait to return and sample from the source.
Aooni by Yo-Ho Brewing
American IPA / 7% / 62 IBUs
This beer reminded of an old school New Belgium Ranger IPA, if someone had squeezed a lemon in it. It kinda works! This is one of the best non-American “American” IPA’s i’ve tried.
Final score : three out of five not-so-fast train rides.
Boku Beer, Kimi Beer by Yo-Ho Brewing
Saison / 5% / 35 IBUs
Do you ever have the experience when you are drinking a beer and think, “I really shouldn’t like this.” That was me and this beer. It tasted nothing like a saison. Coming across like a hopped ginger ale. It wasn’t a beer but more a sweet funky canned cocktail. Honestly, not terrible.
Final Score: four out of five
Yona Yona Ale by Yo-Ho Brewing
Pale Ale / 5.5% / 41 IBUs
I was disappointed in this beer finding it too sweet and not tasting enough cascade hops for my liking. The other can in the photo is a peach alcohol-pop from my favorite convenience store chain. It was great! Didn’t make my teeth hurt or anything.
Final score: two out of five unpopular beverage opinions.
Lucky Cat by Kizakura
Wit Beer / 5% / ? IBUs
Simple but well excited Wit beer. All little too sweet for my tastes.
Final Score: Three out of five rounds of Karaoke.
Kyoto Bakushu by Kizakura
“Pale Ale” / 5% / ? IBUs
I was excited to try a Japanese take on my favorite style. However, this was more of a Kölsch. It was a well executed style but I was still disappointed in drinking a high end rice lager.
Final Score: Three out of five sake juice boxes.