Guide to Japanese Beer: From The Big Three To Craft Breweries

  • 3 min read
Guide to Japanese Beer: From The Big Three To Craft Breweries


While sake is the national drink of Japan, you might be surprised to hear that beer is actually the most consumed alcoholic beverage in the country! Though beer sales have declined a bit in the last few years, it remains the favorite drink of Japanese people.

Japan’s “big three,” Asahi, Kirin, and Sapporo, are among the most popular beers, but there are many other products on the market, as well as a growing resurgence of craft beer.  

Guide to Japanese Beer: From The Big Three To Craft Breweries

Beer is beer, right? 

Well… normally yes, but not quite in Japan. There are actually three different classifications for beer in Japan, depending on the percentage of malt when it was brewed.

Beer with at least 50% malt is…. beer (ビール). The cans should actually say it's beer, and chances are you can judge based on the price. The higher the malt, the higher the price.

Happoshu (発泡酒) has a lower malt percentage, ranging from 25%-50%, and are cheaper than beer.

The newest contender in the beer market is shinjanru (新ジャンル). These beers have less than 25% malt, with some having no malt at all! These are the cheapest beer products on the market, and really aim to hit that sweet spot for flavor and value.

Guide to Japanese Beer: From The Big Three To Craft Breweries

The Big Three Beers In Japan

The most common beers in Japan come from the big three, and you will find them to be very familiar drinks if you like crisp, refreshing lager beers.

Kirin beer was founded in Yokohama, Asahi in Osaka, and Sapporo, which perhaps unsurprisingly was founded in Sapporo, Hokkaido. Another of the major beer producers I would be remiss to not mention is Suntory (founded in Osaka), whose premium beer Kinmugi “Rich Malt” is also very popular. The sheer market dominance of these breweries can make it hard for other beer producers to get into the market, but even small grocery stores in Japan are starting to carry imported and craft beer on their shelves.

Guide to Japanese Beer: From The Big Three To Craft Breweries

Craft Beer In Japan

The big three (or four!) are not the only names in the Japanese beer market.  Craft beer is steadily growing in popularity with the market opening up in 1994 with the founding of Japan’s first microbrewery, Echigo Beer in Niigata prefecture.

Since then, locations like Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki (makers of the very popular and iconic Hitachino Nest beers) and Abashiri Beer Brewery in Hokkaido (makers of stunning beers that come in shades of blue, green, and pink for different seasonal experiences, a personal favorite of mine) have continued to push the Japanese craft beer market forward. While these can be a little harder to find, the payoff for discovering new Japanese craft beer can be huge!

Regardless of whether you are a craft beer connoisseur, or prefer to crack open ice cold brews from the biggest names in Japanese beer, it's hard to go wrong when pairing these beers with some delicious Japanese foods like those found in our Japanese Foods That Pair With Alcohol: "Otsumami" Care Package



About the author: 

Michael Bugajski

Michael Bugajski

Michael is originally from Chicago, IL in the United States, but has lived in Japan for seven years in Niigata and Hokkaido. He is an avid home chef, baker, and coffee enthusiast, but his one true love is ramen.  Ever in pursuit of the perfect bowl of noodles, you can always find him by listening for the tell-tale slurp of ramen being enjoyed!

1 Response



June 06, 2022

My ultimate favorite is the Sapporo Classic, Only Hokkaido. (although I did find it in Osaka). As soon as I land in Chitose, I head straight to the shops in the airport and grab at least two cans. One to have right there and then, and one to enjoy while on the train headed to Sapporo.
I live in Hawaii and will come home with at least a case when I do go to Sapporo,

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