Japanese craft beers 地ビール
Beer brands are gradually increasing in Japan.
Craft beer at an izakaya!
Credit: Masashi Yanagiya https://www.flickr.com/photos/mersy/8678502790/in/album-72157633345226417/
The Japan Brewers Cup rewards the best craft beer, every year in Yokohama
Credit: Japan Brewers Cup http://japanbrewerscup.jp/english.html
With a consumption of about 40 liters per year per capita, beer has become the favorite drink of the Japanese in recent years. Besides the famous industrial breweries like Asahi, Kirin, or Ebisu, Japanese craft beers stand out for their great taste and originality.
A difficult start
The first sips of beer date back to the Edo era, when the Dutch opened stalls offering sailors the famous golden brew. It was not until 1869 that the Norwegian William Copland opened Spring Valley Buruwari, the first industrial brewery in the heart of Yokohama. It was only after the Second World War that this beverage became popular. Since then, many breweries have opened throughout Japan. Alongside the major industries, local breweries started to develop in the 1990s.
In 1994, tax laws softened, giving small breweries more of a chance. Before this, brewers had to produce 2 million liters per year to get their license. Now only 6,000 liters is enough to claim the title. Today, a hundred craft breweries are scattered across the country. The beers are called ji biiru (地ビール) in Japan, which means "local beer". Each have their own characteristics: blondes, brown ales, ambers... Competition with big producers is tough, especially as beer containing more than 67% malt is heavily taxed by the government (at 47%). Therefore, ji-biiru are on average twice as expensive as industrial beers, since there is such a small volume of production.
Nevertheless, they are very successful among amateurs and some are even offered at the finest restaurants in the country. Others are showcased and judged at the Japan Brewers Cup, a beer competition during which the public is warmly invited to the tasting. It is held annually in January in Yokohama. In 2016, the winner was the Hakone Pils from Hakone Beer brewery, located in Odawara. In Tokyo, many bars offer craft beer. Among them the Craft Beer Market is particularly interesting for its wide range of products.
Notice to all beer lovers: on your next visit to an izakaya, try a ji-biiru along with some edamame. Your evening drink might take on a whole different flavour...