We scoured the Land of the Rising Sun to seek out those craft brewers who have risen to the top of its innovative and vibrant beer scene. If you ever make it to Japan, make sure you try beers from these brewers. You might even spot them in your local watering hole as the craft beer wave gathers pace in Japan.
1. Kyoto Brewing Company
The combined brainchild of a Welshman, a Canadian and an American who met in Japan, Kyoto Brewing Company is the product of ten years of friendship and love of beer in Japan. The company is proud to be based in Kyoto, the Japanese city that the trio of owners claim there is nowhere with a stronger artisanal history or particularity about quality and flavour.
The sole mantra for Kyoto Brew Co is ‘brew the beers you want to drink’, which is exactly what they have done, with a focus on being ethical, and combining the unique characteristics of brewing powerhouses the USA and Belgium.
Hopulist beer reccomendation: Purple People Eater, a collab sour saison with Heretic Brewing, made using ume juice and red shiso leaves.
2. Hitachino Nest Beer
As one of the Japanese brewers that has managed to gain some serious traction on the global stage, the little red owl logo of Hitachino will probably be familiar to many of you. The many beers of this brand are brewed by the Kiuchi Brewery, which is an eight-generation family business that has been brewing Japanese sake since 1823. The brand uses western hops and malts but brews them in traditional Japanese styles to create beers of depth and character. The brewery also began growing its own hops in Japan in 2014, with the beers to be brewed with those hops yet to arrive on the market.
Hopulist beer reccomendation: Dai Dai Ale, a fruity IPA made with fukuremikan orange, combined with Bourgogne, Chinhook and Hallertau hops.
3. Baird Beer
A Japanese brewer with heavy roots in the Pacific Northwest of the United States, Baird Beer started when husband and wife Bryan and Sayuri Baird quit their jobs in Japan to take up brewing in the USA. Eventually they found their way back to Japan and set up their company with the sole intention of celebrating great beer. Baird is based in Shuzenji in the Shizuoka Prefecture close to Mount Fuji and boasts making beer with minimally processed ingredients. They exclusively use whole flower hops and floor-malted barley. The brewer has six taprooms dotted around the southeast of Japan.
Hopulist beer reccomendation: Red Rose Amber Ale, a rich, fruity and malty ale that has refreshing crispness and dry mouthfeel.
The leading light in craft beer in Osaka, Minoh Brewing has an emphasis on making beer with feel. Its brewers are hugely experienced and encouraged to make great beer with sight and taste and trial and error that only comes with going through the process many times. It has grown at a strong rate since its foundation in 1996 and remains a family-run affair, with the eldest daughter of the family, Kaori Oshita, the well-regarded head brewer. The brewery has several pubs in the Kansai region by the name of Beer Belly and has some stylish branding with its iconic purple monkey adorning the taps of craft bars around Japan.
Hopulist beer reccomendation: Imperial Stout, a stout with a fine blend of roasted malts and sweetness, followed by hints of chocolate and coffee.
DevilCraft is a beer pub and pizza joint with several locations in Tokyo – however, it’s also a well-established brewer in its own right and uses ideas and inspiration from Japan and the USA, as it is a combined business venture by folk from these two nations. The brewpub mentality of DevilCraft is enhanced by its focus on creating great food to match its great beers (it’s Chicago-style deep pan pizzas are pretty famous in Tokyo). Great beer paired with great food has helped DevilCraft become one of Tokyo craft beer lovers’ best-kept secrets.
Hopulist beer reccomendation: Patriot Crush New England IPA, an absolute cracker of an IPA, hazy, fruity and hard-hitting on a hop front.
Check out ISSUE 4 for a full report on the craft beer scene in Japan.