What is the Best Japanese Beer?

Here is a list of the top 12 Japanese beers. We have also included a list of recommended craft beer bars and stores in Japan. "Stay thirsty, my friends."

This article will present 12 of the best Japanese beers and, luckily for the thirsty amongst you, details on the best stores and bars to pick them up in. Before we go into that, we will briefly go over the history of Japanese beer in order to better understand how Japanese beer came to be. 

Best Japanese Beer: History 

Japan was closed off to the world for the most part of its history. Its earliest interaction with the outside world was with the Dutch in the 17th century – a meeting that gave the country its first taste of beer. It wasn’t long before the country was hooked. With the help of an American, the Kirin Brewery Company came into being in 1869, spawning a wave of brewing companies such as Asahi, Sapporo and Suntory. This was the birth of the “big four”: Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo and Suntory.

After 1994, there was a “micro boom” in microbreweries due to the loosening of Japanese alcohol tax laws. With the help of social media, the popularity of microbreweries grew tenfold. Now, Japan has over 200 microbreweries.

In addition to microbreweries, Japan has two unique kinds of beers: happoshu (low-malt beer) and dai-san no biru (“the third beer”). Happoshu is “beer” that has less than 67% malt. Dai-san no biru is “beer” that uses alternatives to malts. Due to alcohol tax laws, these “beers” are cheaper than their “real” counterparts. Even though these “beers” are similar to their “real” counterparts in terms of taste, a lot of people look down on them.

Due to the third grade nature of happoshu and dai-san no biru, there will none of these “beers” on this list.

Best Japanese Beer: Top 12

1. Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout

Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout

Photo Credit: dangerismycat via Flickr cc

Who is Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout brewed by?

Kiuchi Brewery

What type of beer is Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout?

Stout

How much alcohol is there in Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout?

7.5%

What is Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout like?

Do you like Guinness? Then Hitachi Nest Espresso Stout is for you. It is like Guinness on crack. This beer has a very strong aroma with hints of chocolate and dark fruits. This beer is not your ordinary stout. It uses the Russian Imperial Stout as its base. That is what makes this beer uniquely pleasant.

Where can I get Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout in Japan?

You can buy Hitachi Nest Espresso Stout at several department stores and major supermarkets. It is also more popular during the winter months.

You can buy Hitachi Nest Espresso Stout on their own website.

You can also buy it online at Rakuten.

 

2. AJB – Imperiality

Who is AJB – Imperiality brewed by?

Anglo Japanese Brewing (AJB) Company

What type of beer is AJB – Imperiality?

Imperial Stout

How much alcohol is there in AJB – Imperiality?

9.5%

What is AJB – Imperiality like?

Tomas Livesey, an Englishman, moved to Nozawa Onsen, Nagano two years ago. Together, he and his wife, Emiko, started the Anglo Japanese Brewing Company, thus creating the AJB – Imperiality. This hand-crafted beer uses only the finest ingredients, filling it with quality malts and sweetness. This small town beer is definitely world class.  

Where can I get AJB – Imperiality in Japan?

AJB is a small company so Imperiality can only be found in a handful of places. Most of them are shops in Nozawa Onsen, Nagano.

You can get it at their own taproom: Libushi. 

It was also sighted at the now defunct craft beer bar, Mikkeller Tokyo. Don’t worry. Mikkeller Tokyo is currently looking for a new location.

 

3. Swan Lake Imperial Stout

Provided by Foursquare

Who is Swan Lake Imperial Stout brewed by?

Hyouko Yashiki No Mori Brewery (Swan Lake)

What type of beer is Swan Lake Imperial Stout?

Imperial Stout

How much alcohol is there in Swan Lake Imperial Stout?

10%

What is Swan Lake Imperial Stout like?

If you like salmiakki (Finnish salty licorice), then you will like Swan Lake Imperial Stout. It has a hint of that salty Scandinavian licorice. In addition to this, this full-bodied beer is full of flavors such as chocolate, coffee and fruits. This complex stout is for the sophisticated gentleman and gentlewoman.

Where can I get Swan Lake Imperial Stout in Japan?

You can get Swan Lake Imperial Stout at select craft beer bars and stores.

You can buy it online at Rakuten

You can also get the Swan Lake Imperial Stout at their very own pubs. 

 

4. Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock

Provided by Foursquare

Who is Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock brewed by?

Fujizakura Heights Brewing

What type of beer is Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock?

Smoked

How much alcohol is there in Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock?

7%

What is Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock like?

Winner of multiple awards, Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock certainly delivers on the overall experience. When poured into a glass, it is aesthetically pleasing to the eye with a brown body and a white head. It has a smoky fragrance, and it tastes like smoked ham. Tastes just like a good old fashioned BBQ. 

Where can I get Fujizakura Heights Rauch Bock in Japan?

This beer can be found at stalls during festivals.

It can also be found at their own food and alcohol establishments.

 

5. Coedo Imperial IPA

Codeo

Photo Credit: itchys via Flickr cc

Who is Coedo Imperial IPA brewed by?

Coedo Brewery (Kyodo Shoji Koedo Brewery)

What type of beer is Coedo Imperial IPA?

Imperial IPA (Indian Pale Ale)

How much alcohol is there in Coedo Imperial IPA?

11%

What is Coedo Imperial IPA like?

One of Kawagoe’s pride and joy, Coedo Imperial IPA is definitely for the likes of a royal. The fruitiness of this IPA is not overbearing because it is well balanced with a hint of copper. This beer is perfect for kicking back with your friends as you sip it. Drink like royals, my friends.

Where can I get Coedo Imperial IPA in Japan?

Coedo beers can be found throughout Kawagoe; however, since Coedo Imperial IPA is not one of Coedo’s classic beer, not many stores carry them.

It is sometimes on tap at their own bar: Craft Beer 1000 Labo.

 

6. Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale

Baird

Photo Credit: jeorge galvan via Flickr cc

Who is Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale brewed by?

Baird Brewing Company

What type of beer is Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale?

Brown Ale

How much alcohol is there in Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale?

6.2%

What is Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale like?

Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale is the child of Bryan and Sayuri Baird. This husband and wife team’s deep appreciation for beer is shown in the form of Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale. This brown ale is mild in bitterness and full of citrus and chocolate flavors. This “angry boy” is sure to give your taste buds a kick.

Where can I get Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale in Japan?

Baird Angry Boy Brown Ale can be found in some craft beer stores.

You can buy it online at Rakuten

It can also be found at the 6 Baird Taprooms (Numazu Fishmarket, Nakameguro, Harajuku, Bashamichi, Shuzenji, Takadanobaba).

 

7. Ginga Kogen Ko Mugi No Beer

Ginga Kogen

Photo Credit: David Pursehouse via Flickr cc

Who is Ginga Kogen Ko Mugi No Beer brewed by?

Ginga Kogen Beer Company

What type of beer is Ginga Kogen Ko Mugi No Beer?

Weizen

How much alcohol is there in Ginga Kogen Ko Mugi No Beer?

5%

What is Ginga Kogen Ko Mugi No Beer like?

Brewed in Sawauchi, Iwate, this fruity Weizen is made with 100% wheat and barely malt with the wheat being over 50%. As beautiful as the can is, the beer is equally beautiful in that it has a hint of banana and spice. It is quite the tasty beer.

Where can I get Ginga Kogen Ko Mugi No beer in Japan?

This beer can be bought at many major Japanese supermarkets.

 

8. Minoh W-IPA

Minoh

Photo Credit: Leslie via Flickr cc

Who is Minoh W-IPA brewed by?

Minoh Beer (A.J.I. Beer Inc.)

What type of beer is Minoh W-IPA?

Imperial Pale Ale*

How much alcohol is there in Minoh W-IPA?

9%

What is Minoh W-IPA like?

This imperial IPA has a medium head, a medium body and medium carbonation. Minoh W-IPA is the epitome of a “medium” beer. While there are many negative connotations to the word “medium” such as average and sub-par, Minoh W-IPA is no slouch. It doesn’t aggressively attack your taste buds as you drink it, nor does it immediately die when it comes into contact with the tongue. Minoh W-IPA is a great beer to relax with after work.  

Where can I get Minoh W-IPA in Japan?

You can get Minoh W-IPA at their own bars or brewery.

You can buy Minoh W-IPA on their own website.

You can also get it at a few select craft beer stores. One particular craft beer store is Le Collier which is located in Tokyo station.

*Mildly interesting fact: Imperial IPA is also known as double IPA. In Japan, it is often referred to as “W-IPA.”

 

9. Yo-Ho Yona Yona Ale

Yona Yona

Photo Credit: ╬ಠ益ಠ) via Flickr cc

Who is Yo-Ho Yona Yona Ale brewed by?

Yo-Ho Brewing Company

What type of beer is Yo-Ho Yona Yona Ale?

American Pale Ale

How much alcohol is there in Yo-Ho Yona Yona Ale?

5.5%

What is Yo-Ho Yona Yona Ale like?

Not overly hoppy, and not inadequately hoppy. Just the right amount of hops. Yo-Ho Yona Yona Ale is a fruity beer that can be enjoyed by everyone. This mild but pleasant beer invites you to try a can or two or more.   

Where can I get Yo-Ho Yona Yona Ale in Japan?

Yo-Ho Yona Yona Ale can be found in most Japanese supermarkets and convenience stores.

 

10. Otaru Dunkel

Provided by Foursquare

Who is Otaru Dunkel brewed by?

Otaru Beer Brewery

What type of beer is Otaru Dunkel?

Dunkel

How much alcohol is there in Otaru Dunkel?

5.2%

What is Otaru Dunkel like?

Johannes Braun –  a German national – founded the Otaru Beer Brewery, thus creating the Otaru Dunkel. This authentic German beer is rich with caramel flavors, and it goes down your throat smoothly. A simple beer for the simple man or woman.  

Where can I get Otaru Dunkel in Japan?

Otaru Dunkel can be found in a finite of supermarkets and convenience stores. Most of which are located in Hokkaido where the brewery is located.

In addition to this, it can be found at their own breweries and restaurant: Leibspeise.

 

11. Sapporo Yebisu

Yebisu

Photo Credit: Yuichiro Haga via Flickr cc

Who is Sapporo Yebisu brewed by?

Sapporo Breweries

What type of beer is Sapporo Yebisu?

Premium Lager

How much alcohol is there in Sapporo Yebisu?

5%

What is Sapporo Yebisu like?

This lager is slightly more expensive than its counterparts such as Kirin and Santory. Therefore, it is considered by many to be more of a luxury beer. Sapporo Yebisu has a bitter taste, but at the same time it is sweet too. This easy-to-drink beer pairs well with fish, so grab a Sapporo Yebisu while you’re at a sushi bar.

Where can I get Sapporo Yebisu in Japan?

Sapporo Yebisu can be bought in most Japanese supermarkets.

It can also be found in certain Sapporo sponsored pubs.

 

12. Asahi Super Dry

Asahi

Photo Credit: dslrnovice via Flickr cc

Who is Asahi Super Dry brewed by?

Asahi Breweries

What type of beer is Asashi Super Dry?

Pale Lager

How much alcohol is there in Asahi Super Dry?

5%

What is Asahi Super Dry like?

What Bud Light is to USA is what Asahi Super Dry is to Japan. However, Asahi Super Dry is vastly superior to its cheap American counterpart. It is the most popular beer in Japan. Both Asahi Super Dry and Bud Light promises a fresh, crisp and clear drink, but Asahi Super Dry also promises some aroma as well. Enjoy a cold Asahi Super Dry on a nice summer day.

Where can I get Asashi Super Dry in Japan?

Asahi Super Dry can be bought in all Japanese convenience stores and supermarkets. Most restaurants, bars and pubs serve Asahi Super Dry. 

Best Japanese Beer: Craft Beer Bars

Throughout the article, “select craft beer bars” has been mentioned several times. Here are some craft beer bars that should carry most of the beers on this list.

1. Craft Beer Market

Provided by Foursquare

This premium craft beer bar is one of the biggest in Japan with currently 9 branches. They sometimes carry Baird beers, Swan Lake beers, Minoh beers, Fujizakura Heights beers, etc. To check if they carry these beers, the “Today’s Beers” site will be listed alongside its corresponding branches.     

Toranomon Branch

Address: SA Grace 1F, 1-23-3 Nishishinbashi, Minato, Tokyo 105-0003

Today’s Beers 

Jimbocho Branch

Address: Jimbocho Sumitomo Building 1F, 2 -11-15 Kanda, Jimbocho, Chiyoda,  Tokyo 101-0051

Today’s Beers 

Awajicho Branch

Address: First Takada Building 1F, 2-9-1 Kanda Tsukasamachi, Chiyoda, Tokyo 101-0048

Today’s Beers

Mitsukoshimae Branch

Address: COREDO 3 1F, 1-5-5 Nihonbashi-Muromachi, Chuo, Tokyo 103-0022

Today’s Beers

Koenji Branch

Address: 2-22-6 Koenjikita, Suginami, Tokyo 166-0002

Today’s Beers

Jimbocho Terrace Branch

Address: 3-22 Kanda Nishikicho, Chiyoda, Tokyo 101-0054

Today’s Beers

Kichijoji Branch

Address: 1-1-24 Kichijoji Minamicho, Musashino, Tokyo 180-0003

Today’s Beers

Sendaikokubuncho Branch

Address: 2-1-12 Kokubuncho, Aoba, Sendai, Miyagi 980-0803

Today’s Beers

Otemachi Branch

Address: 1-9-2 Otemachi, Chiyoda, Tokyo 100-0004

Today’s Beers

 

2. Hitachino Brewing Lab

Provided by Foursquare

Located in a old subway station, this is Kiuchi Brewery’s very own bar that serves its Hitachino line of beer.

Address: 1-25-4 Kanda Sudacho | N1 Area, Chiyoda, Tokyo 101-0041

 

3. Libushi

Provided by Foursquare

The owner of AJB, Livesey, has no intention of becoming bigger yet because he believes in taking a more hands-on approach to brewing. Therefore, Libushi, AJB’s taproom, is one of the only few bars serving AJB beers. 

Address: 9347 Toyosato, Nozawaonsen, Shimotakai, Nagano 389-2502

 

4. SWANLAKE Pub Edo

Provided by Foursquare

Due to its quality and popularity, it is no wonder why Swan Lake has four branches of their own pubs. 

SWANLAKE Pub Edo (Yaesu Branch)

Address: 2-6-5 Yaesu, Chuo, Tokyo 104-0028

SWANLAKE Pub Edo / Cafe De Tete (Shibuya / Yoyogi-Uehara Branch)

Address: 46-9 Oyamacho, Shibuya, Tokyo 151-0065

SWANLAKE Pub Edo (Tamachi Branch)

Address: 1F, 5-21-15 Shiba, Minato, Tokyo 105-0014

SWANLAKE Pub Edo (Niigata Branch)

Address: 1-25 Nakajima, Agano, Niigata 959-2024

 

5. BeerBar Fujizakura Roppongi

Provided by Foursquare

Other than Fujizakura Heights Heights Rauch Bock, you can try the many other beers that Fujizakura Heights Brewing has to offered here.

Address: Shimada Building B1F 4-8-7 Roppongi, Minato, Tokyo 106-0032

 

6. Sylvans Restaurant

Provided by Foursquare

In addition to being Fujizakura Heights Brewing’s very own restaurant, they also do most of their brewing there.

Address: 6663-1 Funatsu Aza-Kenmarubi, Fujikawaguchiko, Minamitsuru 401-0301

 

7. Craft Beer 1000 Labo

This is Coedo’s very own bar or “laboratory.” The “1000” in the Craft Beer 1000 Labo comes from the fact they carry 1000 liters of their delicious goodness that is Coedo beer. 

Address: 59-1 Fukuda, Kawagoe, Saitama 350-0821

 

8. Craftheads

Provided by Foursquare

There have been sightings of Coedo Imperial IPA at Craftheads. However, craft beer bars rotate their beers from time to time. If you’re trying to enjoy a Codeo Imperial IPA, go at your own discretion.

Address: 1-13-10 Jinnan, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0041

 

9. Craft Hands

Provided by Foursquare

Craft Hands is a popular destination for Tokyo inhabitants to enjoy a nice beer. Coedo Imperial IPA was also sighted there. Again, go at your own discretion. 

Address: CASA ESENCIA 1F, 1-3-13 Azabujuban, Minato, Tokyo 106-0045

 

10. Bungalow

Provided by Foursquare

Bungalow is a must go craft beer bar for beer lovers all of the world. In addition to being a must go place, there was a sighting of the myserious Coedo Imperial IPA. 

Address: 15 Kashiwayacho (Shijodori), Shimogyo, Kyoto, Kyoto 600-8498 (〒600-8498 京都府京都市下京区柏屋町(四条通)15)

 

11. Baird Taproom

Provided by Foursquare

Baird sure knows how to capitalize on the craft beer market with its 6 taprooms. While most of the branches are located in Tokyo, a few of them are located outside of Tokyo in places like Shizuoka and Yokohama.  

Baird Taproom Numazu Fishmarket Branch

Address: 19-4 Senbonminato-cho, Numazu, Shizuoka 410-0845

Baird Taproom Nakameguro Branch

Address: Nakameguro GT Plaza Building C 2F, 2-1-3 Kamimeguro, Meguro, Tokyo 153-0051

Baird Taproom Harajuku Branch

Address: No-Surrender Building 2F, 1-20-13 Jingumae, Shibuya, Tokyo 150-0001

Baird Taproom Bashamichi Branch

Address: 5-63-1 Sumiyoshi-cho, Yokohama, Kanagawa-ken 231-0013

Baird Brewery Gardens Shuzenji Branch

Address: 1052-1 Odaira, Izu, Shizuoka 410-2415

Baird Taproom Takadanobaba Branch

Address: 3-2-14 Takadanobaba, Shinjuku, Tokyo 169-0075

 

12. Minoh Beer Warehouse

Provided by Foursquare

This is where Minoh does most of its brewing. Come here to get Minoh W-IPA straight from the vessel. 

Address: 3-14-18 Makiochi, Minoo, Osaka 562-0004

 

13. Beer Belly Tenma

Provided by Foursquare

This is one of two Minoh bars. Beer Belly Tenma a great place to drink a chilled Minoh W-IPA and chill. 

Address: 7-4 Ikeda, Kita, Osaka, Osaka 530-0033

 

14. Beer Belly

Minoh

Provided by Foursquare

This is the second Minoh bar. Beer Belly also has a relaxing atmosphere with a gorgeous view of the river.  

Address: 1-1-31 Tosabori, Nishi, Osaka, Osaka 550-0001

 

15. Otaru Soko No. 1 (Warehouse Microbrewery)

Provided by Foursquare

This is Otaru’s biggest brewery. Enjoy a big stein of Otaru Dunkel at this big brewery.

Address: 5-4 Minatomachi, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0007

 

16. Otaru Beer Zenibako Regional Brewery

Provided by Foursquare

This is Otaru’s other brewery. Due to its popularity, Otaru might as well be considered a “macrobrewery.”

Address: 3-263-19 Zenibako, Otaru, Hokkaido 047-0261

 

17. Leibspeise

Provided by Foursquare

Leibspeise is Otaru’s very own restaurant. In addition to authentic beers, this place has authentic German food. Come here for an authentic German experience. 

Address: Parade Building 3F, 3 Chome Minami 2 Jonishi, Chuo, Sapporo, Hokkaido 060-0062

Best Japanese Beer: Craft Beer Stores 

If you couldn’t find your beer of choice at any of the establishments listed above, here are some “select craft beer stores” that should carry them.   

1. Tanakaya Liquor Store

Provided by Foursquare

Located near Meijiro station in Tokyo, this is a great place for people to pick up their favorite beer on their way home.

Address: 3 -4-14 Mejiro, Toshima, Tokyo 171-0031

 

2. Yamaoka Saketen

Provided by Foursquare

“Don’t judge a book by its cover.” This saying is very apt for Yamaoka Saketen. While the outside of this Kyoto craft beer store seems very nondescript, the inside is a wonderful emporium of beers from all over Japan – including Minoh, Fujizakura Heights, Swan Lake, etc. 

Address: 555 Botanbokocho, Kamigyo, Kyoto, Kyoto 602-8475

 

3. Le Collier

Provided by Foursquare

In order to access this craft beer store, you have to pass the ticket gates of Tokyo station. Le Collier is well worth a visit due to its myriad of selection, and it also has Minoh beer. 

Address: 1-9-1 Marunouchi, Chiyoda, Tokyo 100-0005

C. Akira

C. Akira

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