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Japanese Beer Traditions: A Frothy Voyage Through Time

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Have you ever wondered about the frothy origins of your favorite Japanese beer? While sake may be Japan's traditional go-to, beer has emerged as a beloved nationwide staple, with Asahi Super Dry commanding a 35.5% market share! This article will quench your curiosity by diving into the rich history and traditions of Japanese beers - from their European introductions to today's innovative flavors.

Get ready for a fizzy ride through time that promises to leave you thirsty for more!

Key Takeaways

  • Japanese beer has a rich history that dates back to the late 19th century, with Spring Valley Brewery becoming Japan's first brewery in 1869.

  • Sapporo Beer, established in 1876, was Japan's first - ever beer and is now enjoyed globally as a symbol of Japan's brewing heritage.

  • Kirin Lager, created during the Meiji period, holds a substantial market share in Japan and is known for its quality and craftsmanship.

  • Japanese beer culture includes unique customs like pouring each guest's glass before your own, saying 'Kanpai!' (cheers), group drinking events called Nomikai, and enjoying otsumami snacks alongside beers.

The History of Japanese Beer

Japanese beer has a rich history that dates back to the late 19th century when it first arrived in Japan, with Spring Valley Brewery becoming the country's first brewery in 1869.

Arrival of Beer in Japan

history of japanese beer

The frothy journey of beer in Japan is colored with global influences and a thirst to create a unique brew. Beer didn't originate on the archipelago; instead, it was brought over by Dutch sailors and traders during the Edo period.

These maritime visitors ignited Japan's fascination with new tastes from their homeland, leading the locals to adopt some of these foreign delights. Despite its European origins, Japanese brewers gradually recrafted the beverage until it bore little resemblance to its predecessor—an evolution that continues today in Japan's bustling brewing scene.

In fact, generations later in 1869, a watershed moment arrived as Spring Valley Brewery opened its doors—the first-ever brewery on Japanese soil—signifying a shift away from imported beer towards domestic brewing traditions that define what we know about Japanese beers today.

Sapporo: Japan's First Beer

sapporo japanese beer

Sapporo Beer, a renowned symbol of Japan's rich brewing history, emerged as the country's first beer back in 1876. The Sapporo Brewery, established by the Kaitakushi Brewery in Hokkaido during Japan's Meiji Period, has carried on traditional methods while innovating with modern techniques to create this timeless brew.

Known for its craftsmanship and quality across the globe and deeply embedded within Japanese beer traditions, Sapporo Beer has been enjoyed by generations of beer enthusiasts.

The success story of Sapporo does not limit itself to local markets but also shines bright globally. Today it is a household name available in over 60 countries showcasing the appeal of Japanese drinking culture worldwide.

In fact, their commitment towards global expansion was further solidified when they purchased Anchor Brewing Company in 2018 integrating a valuable asset into their brewing portfolio.

Conveying Japan's dedication to tradition and social bonding through its cultural significance, Sapporo continues to share a frosted glass filled with heritage far beyond its homeland.

Kirin Lager: Japan's Largest Brewery

kirin japanese beer

Established during the transformative Meiji period, Kirin Brewery Company quickly became a game-changer in Japan's beer industry. With its renowned Kirin Lager leading the pack, this legendary brewery holds a substantial 28% of Japan's beer consumption, imprinting its influence on Japanese Beer Culture.

Generating annual sales of 2.3 trillion and operating an impressive network of 15 breweries across Japan, Kirin is undeniably one of the country's largest breweries. Despite fierce competition from fellow brewing giants like Asahi Breweries and Sapporo Brewery, it once dominated half the market share – a testament to its solid standing in Japanese Beer Brands line-up.

Over time, offerings such as 'Kirin Classic Lager' and 'Kirin Grand Kirin White Ale' have become synonymous with quality malt beer as they continue to cater to both traditional customs and evolving tastes of social drinking enthusiasts nationwide.

Understanding Japanese Beer Culture

Japanese beer culture is a fascinating mix of tradition and innovation, with unique customs and styles that set it apart from other countries.

Regular Japanese Beer vs ‘Sort-of-Beer'

Japanese beer culture offers a unique distinction between regular Japanese beer and what is often referred to as 'sort-of-beer.' While traditional Japanese beer follows the traditional brewing process using malted barley, sort-of-beer is made from a combination of rice, barley, and other ingredients.

This distinction arises from a tax classification system in Japan where beers with lower malt content are subject to lower taxes. As a result, these sort-of-beers have gained popularity due to their affordability.

However, it's important to note that many purists argue that these beverages lack the complexity and depth of flavor found in traditional Japanese beers.

Drinking Customs

Japanese drinking customs are deeply ingrained in the culture and reflect the importance of socializing and bonding over drinks. Here are some key customs to know:

  1. Pouring each guest's glass before your own: It is customary in Japan to pour drinks for others before pouring your own. This shows respect and consideration for others' needs.

  2. Saying 'Kanpai!' (cheers): Before taking a sip, it is customary to raise your glass and say 'Kanpai!' which means cheers. This is a way of expressing goodwill and wishing everyone a good time.

  3. Group drinking: Drinking in groups is common in Japan, especially among colleagues or friends. It fosters camaraderie and helps build stronger relationships.

  4. Nomikai: Nomikai refers to after-work drinking parties organized by companies or organizations. These gatherings provide an opportunity for colleagues to socialize outside of work and strengthen team bonds.

  5. Sharing drinks: In Japanese drinking culture, it is common to share a large bottle of beer or sake among the group instead of individual servings. This encourages a sense of unity and sharing.

  6. Respectful drinking pace: In Japan, it is important to pace yourself while drinking, especially during formal occasions or business settings. Drinking too quickly or becoming excessively intoxicated can be seen as disrespectful.

  7. Accepting refills graciously: If someone offers to refill your glass, it is polite to accept with gratitude. It shows appreciation for their gesture and maintains harmony within the group.

  8. Using two hands when receiving drinks: When receiving a drink from someone else, it is considered polite to hold the glass with both hands as a sign of respect.

  9. Avoiding empty glasses: It is considered impolite or disrespectful to leave an empty glass on the table without immediately ordering another drink or finishing what you have been served.

  10. Toasting etiquette: When making a toast, it is customary to make eye contact with each person in the group and show genuine appreciation for their presence.

Otsumami – a snack for alcoholic drinks

otsunami snacks

Otsumami snacks are an integral part of Japanese beer culture, adding a tasty dimension to the drinking experience. These savory treats are specially crafted to be enjoyed alongside alcoholic beverages and are believed to enhance the flavor of beer.

From crunchy nuts and tangy pickles to dried fish and edamame, otsumami snacks offer a wide variety of flavors that perfectly complement the bitterness of beer. Traditionally served in small plates or bowls, these snacks provide a contrast to the drink and play an essential role in socializing at izakaya pubs.

Sharing otsumami snacks is customary, reflecting Japan's dedication to enjoying beer as a shared experience with friends. These mouthwatering bites have evolved over time and now include international flavors, making them even more exciting for those seeking new culinary experiences while sipping their favorite brews.

Modern Japanese Beer

In the modern era, Japanese beer has undergone a dynamic transformation. From the iconic Asahi Super Dry to the rise of craft beer and local breweries, there's an impressive range of flavors and styles waiting to be explored.

Get ready to dive into Japan's frothy paradise!

Asahi Super Dry: Japan's Most Popular Beer

Asahi Super Dry is widely regarded as Japan's most popular beer brand, consistently dominating the market with its crisp and refreshing taste. Introduced in 1987 by Asahi Breweries, this light and easy-drinking beer quickly gained popularity among Japanese consumers and has since become a cultural icon.

With a market share of 35.5%, Asahi Super Dry outperforms other well-known brands like Kirin and Sapporo. Its success also extends beyond Japan's borders, as it has distributed over 100 million cases worldwide since its launch.

The rise of Asahi Super Dry reflects the changing preferences in Japanese drinking culture, as beer now surpasses sake as the nation's favorite alcoholic beverage.

Suntory Premium Malt Beer

Suntory Premium Malt Beer is a highly regarded and popular choice in Japan's beer scene. This beer has won two gold medals in European contests, showcasing its exceptional quality and taste.

As part of the frothy voyage through time, Suntory Premium Malt Beer represents the evolution of Japanese beer from its Dutch origins to the present day. With a commitment to tradition and modern brewing techniques, Suntory has established itself as a major player in the Japanese beer industry.

One standout variant within their range is The Premium Malt's Master's Dream, offering a smooth and subtly malty flavor profile that appeals to both traditionalists and those seeking something unique.

Craft Beer in Japan: Ji-bīru, or “local beer”

Craft beer, known as Ji-bīru in Japan, has gained immense popularity in recent years. These locally brewed beers offer a unique and diverse range of flavors that cater to the discerning tastes of beer enthusiasts.

Craft breweries have emerged all over Japan, each with their own distinct brewing techniques and ingredients sourced from local farmers. These small-scale producers prioritize quality over quantity, resulting in artisanal beers that showcase a true taste of Japan.

From rich stouts to refreshing IPAs and fruity sours, craft beer lovers can explore a world of flavors while supporting local businesses. With the rise of Ji-bīru, the Japanese beer scene continues to evolve and delight both locals and visitors alike.


In conclusion, exploring the rich history and vibrant culture of Japanese beer unveils a frothy voyage through time. From the arrival of beer in Japan to the rise of iconic brands like Sapporo and Kirin, Japanese beer traditions have become deeply ingrained in society.


The history of beer in Japan dates back to the late 19th century when beer production began. In 1870, the first beer brewery, established by William Copeland in Yokohama, introduced beer to the Japanese market.

The beer culture in Japan has evolved significantly over the years. Initially, beer was seen as a foreign drink and gained popularity among Western residents and foreign visitors. However, with the introduction of Japanese craft beers and the rise of the craft beer scene, local beer has gained traction within the country.

The Japanese beer industry revolves around major beer producers, such as Asahi Beer, and a growing number of craft breweries. These cornerstones shape the beer market and fuel the craft beer boom in Japan.

Craft beer is different from regular beer in terms of production and characteristics. Craft beer is usually made by smaller, independent breweries and emphasizes quality, flavor, and brewing techniques. Regular beer, on the other hand, is often produced by large-scale commercial breweries.

The craft beer scene in Japan is thriving. There are numerous craft beer bars and beer halls across the country, offering a wide selection of Japanese craft beers. The scene has experienced a boom in recent years, with microbreweries popping up in various cities, including Osaka and Yokohama.

Beer arrived in Japan several decades after its invention in Europe. The opening of international trading ports in the mid-19th century led to the introduction of beer through foreign merchants and visitors.

In Japan, lagers are the most popular types of beer. However, with the rise of the craft beer market, a variety of styles, including pale ales, IPAs, stouts, and wheat beers, have gained popularity among enthusiasts.

Beer is commonly distributed and sold in Japan through various channels, including convenience stores, supermarkets, liquor stores, and online platforms. Additionally, vending machines are also a common way to purchase beer, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

Yes, there are regulations regarding alcohol content in Japanese beer. The tax law sets a minimum malt content for beer, known as low-malt beer, which has a lower tax rate compared to regular beer. This category includes beverages with lower alcohol content.

The Japanese beer market has undergone significant changes. Initially dominated by major beer producers, the market has diversified with the growth of the craft beer market, offering consumers a wider selection of beers and contributing to the overall growth of the industry.