Japanese Beer Guide: A Peek Into Hokkaido's Top Breweries | CoolJapan

Although Japan is better known for its traditional liquor such as sake and shōchū, the nation’s favourite tipple is really their beer (pronounced as bīru by the locals). Their support for domestically produced beer has led to the boom of both large and smaller craft breweries across the country in recent years.

Japanese Beer

Photo from: Marcelo Ikeda Tchelão from Pixabay

In 2018, Japan was the seventh-largest beer-consuming country in the world, guzzling a staggering 5,108,000 kiloliters and producing about 52.6 million hectoliters. It's safe to say that if you intend to visit Japan, you can expect that there will definitely be no shortage of beer. If you want to get acquainted with the Japanese beer industry, Hokkaido would be the perfect place to get started. Why? Well, Hokkaido is the birthplace of beer in Japan.

The first Japanese beer brewery

Beer was first introduced to Japan during the Edo period (1603-1868) by Dutch traders. In 1869, the Meiji government set up a new administrative unit in Hokkaido in order to develop the region, and beer brewing was amongst one of the new business portfolios.

Several years later in 1876, the Hokkaido Kaitakushi Beer Brewery was built and it became the first brewery in Japan managed by the government. Initially, the brewery struggled with the cultivation of specific barley that would survive Hokkaido's cool climate. It was only after almost five years of research and trials that they managed to successfully find a variety of barley that can be locally grown for its brew production. It was renamed Sapporo Beer Brewery in 1882 and this marked the beginning of the famous Sapporo Beer.

Hokkaido: A beer paradise

Japanese BeerPhoto from: May_hokkaido from Pixabay

Numerous beer breweries can be found in Hokkaido today. Besides the big boys such as Sapporo and Kirin, there are several small craft brewers honing their skills and producing their own specialties. However, merely beer-tasting would not be that fun isn’t it? If you want a more immersive experience, here are some beer makers who offer more than just a pint of cold Japanese beer.

Sapporo Beer Museum

Japanese BeerThe entrance to the Sapporo Beer Museum.

Sapporo Beer is the pride and joy of not only Sapporo but the whole of Hokkaido prefecture. Its original red star logo was inspired by the North Star, which is symbolic of a pioneering spirit. This famous red star can still be found today on the old beer can designs of its signature lager beer and numerous buildings in Hokkaido city.

To fully appreciate its fascinating history, it is a must to visit the stunning red-bricked building of Sapporo Beer Museum — Japan’s only museum dedicated to beer. Get lost in the gallery that features a range of historical items and treat your taste buds to a delicious sampling of Sapporo beers (priced JPY300/~USD3 onwards) in their beautiful tasting hall. Besides its usual labels, you can also try the Hokkaido-exclusive Sapporo Classic, the beloved Sapporo Draft Kuro Label and the historically rich Kaitakushi Beer.

Sapporo Beer Museum

Activities at the Sapporo Beer Museum

Tsuki to Taiyou Brewing brewpub

Meaning "moon to sun” in Japanese, Tsuki to Taiyou Brewing is a cosy craft beer brewpub hidden in the bustling Nijo market. Their beer is homemade in the pub, you can even see the brew kettles brewing happily through their shop windows. This is as fresh as it gets.

What sets Tsuki to Taiyou apart from other breweries is their team's creative spirit. From formulating delicious basic brews that are well-loved by the masses to creating unique recipes that showcase their pursuit to break boundaries, these guys are relentless in their craft. Plus, they use only the finest ingredients found in Hokkaido.

Tsuki to Taiyou Brewing offers an excellent menu of 10 different craft beers sourced from all over the world, along with three to four in-house novelty beer variants that change daily. For those who like to experiment with new tastes, you will always be in for a surprise at this homey and laughter-filled brewpub.

Kirin Brewery factory tour

With its heritage tracing back to more than a hundred years ago, Kirin Beer is one of the brands that has survived Japan’s tumultuous years and is now very much beloved the world over. At the Kirin Brewery in Chitose, avid beer fans can check out Kirin’s meticulous manufacturing methods by signing up for their Brewery Factory Tour.

There are two tour options: one is free and the other one costs JPY1000/~USD10. Both take you on an experiential journey into the wonderful world of beer making where you can taste the malt, touch the hops and smell its aroma. However, the paid tour gives you special access to the actual preparation room where you can peer into the charging pots.

Of course, don't forget to take a swig of their freshly brewed beer that is bursting with delicious malt flavours. Choose from three types of Kirin Ichiban Shibori draft beer, two types of Ichiban Shibori dark beer, or if you prefer something light, there's the Kirin Zero ICHI that has zero alcohol content.

Otaru Beer Warehouse No.1

Located along the picturesque Otaru Canal alongside other warehouses that contain memories of a bygone era, the Otaru Beer Warehouse No. 1 is a microbrewery pub that brews beer directly at its beer hall. Yup, the huge beer vat standing proudly in the centre churns out the freshest and tastiest of beer to customers daily. The Otaru brewery boasts a pretty impressive beer range. Additive-free and made using only natural ingredients, Otaru beer follows the authentic German-style beer that prioritises quality over convenience.

It's also a recommended place to visit if you are fascinated by Japan's history and old architecture. This charming, stone-bricked structure with European design influences was built way back in 1924 and was transformed into the Otaru brewery in 1995. Despite renovations, the building retained the warehouse’s original ceilings, beams, and pillars, too. Once you step inside, you'll be welcomed by a warm and nostalgic ambience. 

  1. 1.Sapporo Beer Museum
  2. 2.Tsuki to Taiyo Brewing
  3. 3.Kirin Brewery
  4. 4.Otaru Beer Warehouse No.1
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