One doesn’t have to go far to see signs of Japan’s current craft beer boom. It’s as simple as taking a trip down to the nearest convenience store and checking out the beverage corner. Just a few years ago, this corner in shops such as Family Mart and Lawson featured the usual sudsy suspects -- the Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo brews. Those are perfectly fine options, but a little variety is always welcome.
In 2015, that’s just what’s happened -- convenience stores started to stock not just the expected domestic drinks, but a variety of craft beers from Japan and beyond. Major brewers have started making drinks aimed at the craft market, while supermarket chains such as Aeon have begun selling up to 90 varieties of craft beers. A new wave of bars and speciality stores have opened up too, and not just in the always bustling Tokyo -- from Hokkaido to Okinawa, Japan is experiencing a craft beer boom.
It’s not the first time, though the current trendiness of craft beer has already outlasted the last one. In the early ‘90s, the Japanese government got a little more lax about brewery regulations, allowing a fresh-faced crop of smaller brewers to emerge and start selling their creations. The quality, however, wasn’t particularly high, and this boom ended with a whimper.
Japanese Craft Beer -- Photo by Patrick St. Michel
The situation has improved significantly, though. Upstart breweries such as Baird Beer from Numazu, Swan Lake from Niigata and Minoh out of Osaka developed delicious drinks and slowly but surely caught the attention of customers looking for more. Craft beer started gaining more attention and soon could be consumed in most major cities across the country, and with imported delights popping up at an ever-increasing rate, today, they are easier to find than ever before.
Part of the fun though, is going out to a bar or brewery to enjoy a small brewers offering, and the craft beer boom has allowed for a new generation of drinking venues to open up. These range from brewer-backed joints, such as Baird’s series of taprooms in the Kanto region, all the way down to the Helios pub in sunny Okinawa, to spots offering up a wide range of drinks from around the globe. Some of the latter destinations have become must-visit locations for beer fans, like Popeye on the Eastern side of Tokyo, boasting more than 70 varieties on tap daily.
Craft Beer Label -- Photo from Flickr cc
And then there are the Japan-only experiences. In Tokyo, one can swing over to the West side and visit Koenji’s Bakusho Kobo, a bar and restaurant where they brew their own beer everyday, and once it’s gone for the day, it’s gone. Or how about a liquor store stocking a wide variety of beers...and hiding a quaint drinking area in the back, open to anyone on weekdays. Time your trip just right and be ready to venture outside of the capital and you could go to a festival such as Snow Monkey Beer Live, an annual concert held in the snowy mountains of Nagano. Organized by brewer Shiga Kogen, this event features live music and lots of craft beer, all within a perfect winter setting.
Right now, the craft beer boom in Japan shows no signs of slowing down. Whether you want to head out to a bar for the night or just make a run to the local convenience store, now is the perfect time to experience the nation’s variety of brews.
Want to experience Patrick's craft beer trip for yourself? Click the link below!