Thursday, 24 June 2010

World Cup Beer Sweepstake: Japan

Not a country I immediately associate with beer but as I found a couple of weekend’s back that Japanese whiskey is rather good it’s worth trying the beers on the off chance (the off chance of free beer is also appealing too I admit!). Beer review only mentions one beer which is the one most of us are familiar with: Asahi.

A bottle opens
Cold liquid clouds glass
Refreshment instant

However once you start looking there seems to be a few more although how you get them outside Japan is another story, the micro-brewery industry is strong with a rough estimate of three hundred of them and according to the Japan Visitor website many of them have been seeking help/advice from German microbreweries so they have taken the Japanese strategy for whiskey making and turned it to beer…. This sounds very promising. Luckily due to a trip to Nelsons Wine & Beer shop in South Wimbledon and a side trip the next day to Brewers Street and the Japanese supermarket there meant I ended up with five different beers/lagers to try. Not a bad haul for reviewing.

Reviewer waits keen
Poised to give approval
Beer awaits

First one out of the fridge (all of them suggest they should be served chilled on the bottle/can) is Sapporo (4.7% abv). Pours rather lively out of the bottle but settles quickly into a deep golden almost mead coloured pint with a large foamy head. This lager claims to be Japan’s oldest brand since 1876, not sure about that but it is a very nice lager. More hoppy than your usual lagers with a slight malt on the end but has a clean finish. Not powerful tasting lager by any means but it does go very well with the vegetable sushi I have in front of me. Because of it’s very clean finish after the malt I suspect the ‘brewed under license in the EU’ may mean Italy as this reminds me of Peroni but has it’s own character

Next up are the two Asahi, one is the standard version we normally see in the supermarket but it is the canned version from the Japanese supermarket and the other is an imported ‘black’ version from Nelsons. The imported Black Asahi (5% abv) first, I have never seen this one before and I was assuming before opening the bottle this will be a Japanese version of a stout or more likely Guinness despite the lager label. Looks wise it is stout like, deep black with ruby flashes when the gless is held up to the light. Thick creamy coloured head to it as well. The taste however is the important part, in no way does this remind me of Guinness (it has flavour and taste despite it being chilled for one!) nor does it remind me of Black Chalice, a black lager from the Wetherspoons recent beer festival. This strongly reminds me of the Darkstar Imperial Stout I tried a couple of weeks back. Lighter but still has those flavours I enjoy so much, although the liquorice flavours get stronger in this than the Darkstar because the treacly note fades fast before the finish. Gorgeous.

Sadly I am not so keen on the standard Asahi, it has a very citrus lime taste on the first taste so it almost tastes like lager and lime. The lager itself is still better than most of the commercial UK lagers on the market with what settles into a citrusly light fizz, drinkable but not remarkable compared to the first two. However it is a darn sight better than my next one, which was Kirin Beer (5% abv). This pours into a slightly hazy gold lemon pint with a fuzzy foam that soon disappears and also manages to taste a lot like Wells & Youngs London Gold but a lot gassier. This lager is actually brewed under license by Wells & Youngs Brewing Co but as it just succeeds in tasting like the brewery’s own stuff, not good. I wouldn’t write this one off fully though until I try the lager produced in Japan.

A new glass later and I have my last beer, Yebisu, this one I was keen to try but also concerned. The can boasts it is an ‘All Malt’ beer so I was concerned it may end up tasting like Supermalt which it didn’t. There isn’t too much other information I can give you from the can as it pretty much is all in Japanese, apart from it is a Sapporo Brewery product and there is a 5% on the label which I assume is the abv. It poured into a deep golden pint which wasn’t very gassy compared to the Sapporo lager I tried first, more a gentle fizz. Taste wise it is actually very hoppy but the malt takes off the bitter note leaving it a very powerful drink but highly drinkable. Unfortunately I had run out of sushi but I reckon this could take on wasabi which I find kills most drinks dead. This made a lovely drink to sit in the garden relaxing last night so much so I think alongside the Asahi Black I will get a few of these to enjoy with my next bbq.

Drunk on beauty
My review nearly ends
But for history

According to wikipedia (which as we all know is a source to be taken carefully), beer is the most popular choice of drink in Japan, its sales overtaking Sake sales. Like whiskey, beer has been taken to Japan ’s heart and therefore given the same artistic treatment. They produce seasonal beers like us but unlike us the cans or bottles are decorated according to that season so autumn beers have falling leaves and so on and forth. Unfortunately I couldn’t find any of those ones but it is small details like that make me want to seek out new beers from this country. But of course the best thing about a lot of these beers is that on the whole the brewing here is very good, the Asahi Black wins out of all of them for me. I hope I can find more of these especially the not so generally available ones as these have the better taste than the more commercial lagers/beers.


  1. Ever tasted this muck?

  2. Made with deep sea water... er... no ta. I'll stick to regular beers and lagers I think.

    Interesting way of getting out of paying revenue to their govenment though.

  3. Boak and I thought Yebisu was actually pretty decent -- "moreish and likeable". Michael Jackson's 500 beers has several fascinating-looking Japanese beers but I've never seen anything but big brands in the UK, usually the license brewed variations. Guess we'll just have to go there sometime!

  4. When I was looking online to see what Japanese beers there are I was very impressed by the range that is brewed, the problem is not many make it over here. I would be more than happy to buy Yebisu again but I have to admit it was the Asahi Black which I really enjoyed the best. Having said that I do like a well designed label and bottle so I really would like to get my hands on the seasonal beers with their matching bottles.

    I have a feeling that any visit to Japan would end up a beer and culture tour for me. :)