UPDATED! Japanese Craft Beer – A Beginner’s Guide



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Most people who drink can name at least one Japanese beer these days. Products by major breweries such as Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory are now available around the world. 

But ask about Japanese craft beer from microbreweries in Japan, and you're more likely to get blank looks. 

Since the mid 1990s, the Japanese craft beer movement has steadily gained momentum and recognition in Japan (and beyond). Join us as we explore Japan using Japanese craft beers as our guide... 

Download my Free "Japanese Craft Beer Experiences & Tours" Guide:

Japanese Craft Beer A Beginner's Guide The Real Japan

Japanese Craft Beer: A Beginner's Guide
by Rob Bright of BeerTengoku

Beer and Humans

Beer and humans have a long and storied history.

In fact, historians believe that beer’s history is so long that some of the first writings from Babylon, which mentioned beer in the Code of Hammurabi included laws regulating beer and places to buy beer. Beer even has its own goddess, Ninkasi, who is often praised to be the goddess of alcohol.

West Coast Brewery Japanese craft beer The Real Japan

West Coast Brewing dudes Cedric (left) and Derrek (right) - Photo: BeerTengoku

Nearly every country in the world consumes beer, and that has made it be the third most drunk beverage around the world – behind water and tea. Whiskey more your kind of beverage? Dekanta has some stunning Japanese whiskeys and they deliver worldwide in a few days.

Japan's Beer History

Japan also has its own history with beer, though not quite as long as the Babylonians. 

Beer was first introduced into Japan in the 17th century when Dutch sailors, who were stationed in Dejima, Nagasaki, wanted somewhere to drink. The Dutch traders at the time opened a beer hall strictly for those sailors working between Japan and the Dutch Empire.

Japanese Craft Beer Ise Kadoya Brewery The Real Japan

A selection of craft beers from Ise Kadoya Brewery - located in Ise city, Mie prefecture

Over time, and as Japan became more open to trade, other countries began to import their beer, with Bass Pale Ale and Bass Stout being two of the more popular brands at the time. Despite beer being popular, it wasn’t until the mid 19th century that the first domestic brewery opened up by a Norwegian-American called William Copeland.

While he might not be well-known, the brewery that he opened was called the Spring Valley Brewery, which later became the Kirin Brewery Company, and in what became a full-circle, later became Kirin Brewery’s efforts to crack the craft beer market.

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Japan's Big Four: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, Suntory

When you think about beer in Japan, no doubt you will think of one of the big four brands: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory. Those four beers have dominated the beer scene for so long in Japan that the image of a beer is synonymous with the plump white head of a beer on top of the golden hues of a lager-style beer.

Those beers have become massive hits because they all hit different niches in the market.

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Suntory Premium Malts

Asahi Super Dry with its clean flavour is used to pair against Japanese cuisine, which is light in flavour. Kirin Ichiban has full malt flavour that is good for the first beer after a day at work. Sapporo evokes the image of Hokkaido and German-style pilsners. While Suntory is at the higher end of the beers and is used to show off quality and workmanship.

Some of these beers have become so popular that it possible to buy them overseas, with Asahi Super Dry, Kirin Ichiban, and Sapporo Draft being three examples that can be bought in many countries.

Birth of The Japanese Craft Beer Market

However, since 1994, the craft beer market has been steadily growing and has gone through a variety of changes after the government relaxed the limitations for making beer.

In the past, breweries needed to produce a minimum of 2 million litres of beer per year to obtain a license, well beyond the capacity of all small breweries.

Japanese Craft Beer A Beginners Guide The Real Japan

Some Japanese supermarkets now have special craft beer promotions, making it easy to sample a wide range

In 1994, the government reduced this limitation down to 60,000 litres per year for a beer license, where only water, malt, hops, and yeast are allowed, or 6,000 litres for what is known as a happoshu licence, where a certain amount of the ingredients have to be non-beer ingredients, such as tea, fruit, or in some circumstances salmon.

Pale Ales and India Pale Ales

The craft beer market in Japan has its focus on beers that are primarily not lagers – why try to imitate the big four brands when they have been doing what they’re good at for years. Moreover, lagers tend to take a long time to make, with anywhere between 3 to 6 weeks for the whole process to be complete.

Japanese Craft Beer TDM 1874 Brewery The Real Japan

TDM 1874 is a brewpub located in Tokaichiba, Kanagawa - Photo: BeerTengoku

Craft beer breweries, those who produced smaller amounts of beer than the larger counterparts, have been influenced by both styles that were originally brought over by the brewers employed at the time, with a heavy focus on German style beers, but also styles that are popular in America, so pale ales and India pale ales.

Craft Tasting Notes: Characteristics and Communities

The flavours tend to vary wildly compared to lagers, with pale ales and IPAs focusing on more hops in the beers.

So citrus, tropical, and earthy flavours are more prominent; wheat beers focusing more on the wheat portion so creamy and oat, stouts and porters have a richer, darker flavour profile so chocolate, coffee, and cocoa are often noted.

Then there's the fruit beers using a variety of produce from local communities, so fruits like yuzu, hyuganatsu, grapes, and oranges can be found throughout the year.

6 Japanese Microbreweries You Should Try

If you’re looking to supplement your beer drinking with some Japanese craft beer, here is a list of breweries that we’ve enjoyed in Japan, and can be found across the country. If you can’t get to them, then you can also buy some of their beers online directly from their online stores (links below).

Minoh Beer (Osaka)

Opened in 1997, Minoh Beer started out when the late Oshita-san bought a brewery for two of her daughters, Kaori and Mayuko, and later their younger sister joined in.

Japanese Craft Minoh Beer A Beginner's Guide The Real Japan

Photo: BeerTengoku

Minoh Beer first made news when the W-IPA was advertised in a Japanese newspaper; however, Minoh Beer was known among Japanese craft beer fans before then. Minoh Beer is also a multiple award-winning brewery with some of the wins coming in best IPA and best stout.

Homepage: www.minoh-beer.jp
Online store: www.minoh-beer.jp/products/beer

Kyoto Brewing Company (Kyoto)

Founded in 2015, Kyoto Brewing Company has been a story of continued success ever since. The three people behind KBC (as they’re often called) are Chris Hainge, Paul Speed, and Benjamin Falck.

Japanese Craft Beer Kyoto Brewing Co The Real Japan

Photo: BeerTengoku

The beers from KBC have a strong Belgian influence, from the yeast used, to the style of beer. The hops used at KBC also show a global connection as imported hops from the USA, New Zealand, Australia, Slovenia, and the UK are all used in some of their beers.

Japanese Craft Beer Kyoto Brewing Co The Real Japan

Photo: BeerTengoku

Belgian beers have also heavily influenced the styles of beers made too, with Belgian saisons, stouts, and blonde ales being part of the core line up.

Homepage: https://kyotobrewing.com/en
Online Store: https://kyotobrewing.com/en/collections/bottle

Shiga Kogen (Nagano)

Tamamura Honten started brewing Shiga Kogen Beer, like several other breweries such as Kiuchi Brewery, as an offshoot from a sake brewery.

Japanese Craft Shiga Kogen Beer A Beginner's Guide The Real Japan

Photo: BeerTengoku

In 2004, Tamamura Honten applied for a license and started brewing in September of the same year. Unlike other breweries however, Shiga Kogen Beer receives 20% of its hops from the local area, produced by Tamamura Honten.

Shiga Kogen are also well known for collaborating with both domestic and oversea breweries throughout the year.

Homepage: http://www.tamamura-honten.co.jp/
Online Store: http://tamamurahonten.shop-pro.jp/

Brewery Songbird (Chiba)

Brewery Songbird, also known as Songbird Beer, is a Chiba based craft beer brewery, located in Kisarazu city, that opened in 2015.

Japanese Craft Beer Songbird Brewery The Real Japan

Songbird Brewery is a family affair - Photo: BeerTengoku

The owners, Kyohei and Monami Nakajima, received their license in April 2015 and have quickly established themselves as brewers of predominantly Belgian style craft beers, while also producing some other styles of European beers.

Songbird Brewery beer’s can be bought and tried at their bottle shop and tasting room or bought online too.

Homepage: http://songbirdbeer.blogspot.co.uk
Online store: http://songbirdbeer.blogspot.co.uk/p/web-shop.html

West Coast Brewing (Shizuoka)

West Coast Brewing is a Japanese brewery located in Mochimune, in Shizuoka, Japan.

Japanese Craft Beer West Coast Brewery The Real Japan

West Coast Brewing - Photo: BeerTengoku

They operate out of a new tourist facility that was renovated from a building that was previously used as a tuna processing plant. The building stood unused for more than a decade after traders withdrew in around 2005 due to the tightening of international tuna catch regulations.

Japanese Craft Beer The Real Japan

A selection of West Coast Brewing's brews - Photo: BeerTengoku

West Coast Brewing obtained their brewing license in July 2019 and since then, have been focussed on mainly making IPAs and the kind.

Homepage: https://www.westcoastbrewing.jp
Online Store: https://wcbshizuoka.stores.jp/

TDM 1874 (Kanagawa)

TDM 1874, which stands for Ten Day Market with the year coming from when the original company was founded, is a brewpub located in Tokaichiba, Kanagawa.

Japanese Craft Beer TDM 1874 Brewery The Real Japan

A selection of TDM 1874's cans - Photo: BeerTengoku

TDM 1874 has been brewing since and has already seen interest growing in both its beer and its head brewer, George Juniper. Sales of their beers, which started in their own brewpub, have spread across Japan and can now be found in bars in the Kanto region, Niigata, Osaka and Kyoto.

Homepage: http://www.tdm1874brewery.com/ja/
Online Store: https://item.rakuten.co.jp/s-wine/c/0000002316/

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About the Author

Rob Bright is Founder and Owner at BeerTengoku ('Beer Heaven').  A website dedicated to searching for the best Japanese craft beer and beer bars to drink it at.

Japanese Craft Beer Experiences & Tours

To accompany Rob's article, I've curated a selection of tours across Japan, that enable you to visit microbreweries, sample some Japanese craft beers, and to experience the culture that surrounds beer drinking in Japan...

TOKYO: Sommelier Guided Pairing - Regional Food & Craft Beer

Experience five curated pairings by Tokyo's FIRST Certified Cicerone® Beer Sommelier and food guide.

Taste regional foods paired with uniquely Japanese beers carefully selected to match each dish. This includes Wagyu beef, award winning Japanese cheese, and an Uji matcha dessert and more.

Tokyo sommelier craft beer experience The Real Japan

A unique Tokyo sommelier guided beer and food pairing experience   |  Photo: Viator


  • Experience the only Cicerone® (Beer Sommelier) guided pairing in Tokyo
  • Taste representative local food specialties
  • Sample unique and hard to find beers (Miso, cherry blossom, brett, etc.)
  • Learn fascinating historical and cultural facts, key table, chopstick and drinking manners

OSAKA: Minoh Falls Japanese Craft Beer Hike

Visit the Minoh Beer Warehouse (featured above) in Osaka and work up a sweat as you hike to a scenic waterfall spot, then quench your thirst with craft beer during a Minoh Falls Craft Beer Trek. Minoh Falls, located in Minoh Park, is a stunning 33 metre high natural waterfall.

This 5-hour hiking tour is hosted by a certified beer server who has a lot of experience enjoying Minoh Beer (and many other Japanese craft beers), so feel free to ask questions and get recommendations about local brews.

Minoh craft beer hiking tour The Real Japan

The Minoh Falls Craft Beer Trek takes in Minoh Falls, located in Minoh Park  |  Photo: byFood


  • Enjoy a hike, culminating in a view of scenic waterfalls and greenery
  • Treat yourself to a bottle of Minoh Beer as you take in the natural beauty of Osaka
  • Learn all about Minoh Beer from a certified craft beer server who has intimate knowledge about craft beer
  • Treat yourself after the hike and have 2 more half-pints at Minoh Beer Warehouse

OSAKA: Half Pint Craft Beer Tour in Osaka

This is a craft beer tour that takes you along on a journey to discover the best craft beer bars in Umeda, a district in downtown Osaka. The Half Pint Craft Beer Tour in Osaka focuses on Japanese craft beer and their respective breweries.

Like your beer malty, hoppy, or mild? You can find a wide range of Japanese beer at the Japanese craft beer bars in Osaka, and gain insights about the world of Japanese craft beer from an expert.

Osaka Craft Beer Tour The Real Japan

Drink half pints at several Osaka establishments with a craft beer expert  |  Photo: byFood


  • Hop between several craft beer bars in downtown Osaka
  • You will be guided by a certified craft beer server
  • Ask questions and get inside knowledge from an expert beer guide
  • Includes a half pint at each of the bars visited

NARA: Craft Beer and Sake Walking Tour

This walking tour of Nara heads off the beaten path and takes in Japanese craft beer, sake, food and mochi (Japanese rice cake), and includes a visit to Naramachi Craft Beer, Harushika Sake Brewery, and the Take No Yakata restaurant.

Named after the city's former merchant quarter, Naramachi Beer was created in 2017, producing a very smooth and refreshing beer. Harushika is a sake brewery where you will have a tasting session with 5 types of sake, with the possibility to buy sake at their souvenir shop.

Nara craft beer tour The Real Japan

Sample craft beer, sake, mochi and Japanese food on the Nara Craft Beer Tour |  Photo: Viator


  • Visit Nara's original handmade Mochi shop and have a Mochi
  • Tasting session with 5 types of sake at Harushika brewery
  • Naramachi Craft Beer drink their smooth beer with snacks included
  • Early dinner at Take no Yakata

MATSUMOTO: Craft Beer, Castle, Sake & Food Walking Tour

Matsumoto Castle is one of the most famous sights in Matsumoto, and this experience allows you to bypass long ticket lines as admission is included.

First, explore the grounds of this impressive castle, then learn about Japan’s signature drink - sake at a sake brewery. Later, enjoy a local lunch, Nawate Shopping Street, and finally - round off the tour with a local craft beer.

Matsumoto walking tour The Real Japan

Round off a walking tour of Matsumoto by sampling craft beers  |  Photo: Viator


  • Visit a castle that dates back to the 16th century
  • Learn about Japanese rice wine - visit a sake brewery for a tasting 
  • No hunger pangs - a delicious local lunch is included 
  • Round off your walking tour by sampling Japanese craft beers

OKAYAMA: Daiginjo Japanese Sake & Craft Beer Tasting

Okayama Prefecture boasts Japanese sake made from high-quality rice and water along with its own craft brewery.

Visit Miyashita Sake Brewery (Craft Brewery Doppo Kan) for premium sake and craft beer. Add a fish shabu-shabu meal prepared using fresh snapper from the Seto Inland Sea. Taste two varieties of Japanese sake and three kinds of craft beer.

Doppo Kan craft beer tour Okayama The Real Japan

Round off a walking tour of Matsumoto by sampling craft beers  |  Photo: Viator


  • Visit four facilities: Japanese Sake, beer, distiller and storage
  • Experience watching, drinking and buying
  • Two kinds of Japanese sake or three kinds of craft beer are included
  • See inside Craft Brewery Doppo-kan at Miyashita Winery tourist wine cellar

The Real Japan Travel Guide

How to Travel in Japan Without Speaking Japanese

One of the major considerations with travelling in Japan is the inscrutable Japanese language.

A seemingly incomprehensible, often kaleidoscopic, barrage of cryptic symbols awaits the foreign traveller who doesn’t speak or read the language.

I’ve been exploring Japan since 2000 and I’ve picked up plenty of tips along the way.

I’ve distilled decades of my experience into this ebook for you.

This practical Guide and Workbook covers all the essential basics you need to ensure your first (or next) trip to Japan is as Amazing as you deserve it to be.


We hope this short introduction to the wonders of Japanese craft beer has whetted your appetite to sample at least some of them. Why not add some of the brewery towns to your next itinerary? (We can help you with that.)

Kanpai literally means "Empty the cup/glass". It's the Japanese word for "Cheers!" when drinking a toast. So, when you raise a glass of your first, or next, Japanese craft beer be sure to say "Kanpai!".

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Download my Free "Japanese Craft Beer Experiences & Tours" Guide:

Some of the websites and stores of the breweries featured in this article are in Japanese. only If you don't speak Japanese simply drop the address into Google Translate and the results should be usable.

Minoh Beer

Homepage: www.minoh-beer.jp
Online store: www.minoh-beer.jp/products/beer

Kyoto Brewing Company

Homepage: https://kyotobrewing.com/en
Online Store: https://kyotobrewing.com/en/collections/bottle

Shiga Kogen

Homepage: http://www.tamamura-honten.co.jp/
Online Store: http://tamamurahonten.shop-pro.jp/

Songbird Beer

Homepage: http://songbirdbeer.blogspot.co.uk
Online store: http://songbirdbeer.blogspot.co.uk/p/web-shop.html

West Coast Brewing

Homepage: https://www.westcoastbrewing.jp
Online Store: https://wcbshizuoka.stores.jp/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/wcbshizuoka/

TDM 1874

Homepage: http://www.tdm1874brewery.com/
Online Store: https://item.rakuten.co.jp/s-wine/c/0000002316/



The Japanese Craft Beer Experiences & Tours

Sommelier Guided Pairing - Regional Food & Craft Beer (Tokyo)
Minoh Falls Japanese Craft Beer Hike (Osaka)
Half Pint Craft Beer Tour in Osaka (Osaka)
Craft Beer and Sake Walking Tour (Nara)
Craft Beer, Castle, Sake & Food Walking Tour (Matsumoto)
Daiginjo Japanese Sake & Craft Beer Tasting (Okayama)

The Real Japan Travel Guide

Our tavelguide How to Travel in Japan Without Speaking Japanese is available HERE.


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Leave A Comment / Ask A Question

  • Penelope Smith says:

    It is nice to know that you can get some of these craft beers shipped to you in different countries. My cousin would love to get some craft beer from around the world. It seems like that could make a fun holiday gift for him.

    • Sounds like a great idea for a holiday gift to me Penelope!

  • Awesome awesome job on this post Rob. I am not a beer drinker by any means – big fan of the #1 beverage known as water – but I do try the odd sip here and there.


    • Thanks Ryan – credit must go to Rob from Beer Tengoku who kindly authored this great introduction to Japanese beer.

      Maybe there’s a follow-up post about the best drinking water in Japan to be written!

  • This is great, Rob. Especially for us beer lovers! Definitely good to see the expansion of beer culture in Japan. Great guide and info!

    • Thanks Mikkel – good to hear that!

      I feel Japan is still little-known for its growing microbrewery and craft beer culture, so it seemed right to help shed some light on it for fellow beer lovers!

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