A Brief History of Japanese Beer

by Catherine Flores

Japanese beers are one of the most popular drinks in Japan and are widely consumed not just in drinking establishments but also at homes. It’s almost always present during dinner at family tables after the folks have gotten home from a day at work. Most working-class Japanese people will spend some time in their favorite izakayas or bars to wind down and have a serving of ice-cold beer along with their grilled skewers. Currently dominated by four big companies (Asahi, Sapporo, Kirin, and Suntory), Japanese beer is something you must try when visiting Japan.

The history of Japanese beer starts in the Edo period when Dutch traders started brewing their own beers at Dejima in Nagasaki where they were stationed to monitor the trade between Japan and the Dutch empire. A foreign businessman opened the first brewery to serve Japanese beers in 1869 in Yokohama. With the changes of the ownership of the brewery, it started producing Kirin-branded beers in 1888. You can visit the modern day factories and taste the different types of Japanese beer that is available on tap.

While Yokohama continued to brew their own blend of beer, Sapporo also did the same, starting their own brewery in 1876 with their Sapporo Beer brand which developed fully in the island of Hokkaido. Yokohama and Sapporo hold the title for being the pioneers of brewing beers and are considered the birthplace of Japan’s favorite alcoholic drink. Its popularity continued to soar high during the 20th century and it’s not just something the locals enjoy during their izakaya and bar visits but something tourists can also enjoy.


Aside from the usual beers, Japanese people also developed craft beers (ji-biru or local beers), which first emerged during the mid-1990’s. But up until then, only large-scale breweries were given licenses to operate. The government eventually became composed and relaxed the law, granting small-scale breweries license to operate. Gradually, microbreweries gained popularity and with hundreds of them spread all over the country, there’s really no stopping them from making delicious craft beers for the folks.

So, how does one person enjoy his or her serving of beer? First, you must know what you’re looking for. Do you want that traditional Japanese taste in a can of beer or maybe something that you can drink any time of the day? Japan has four popular beer brands from which you can choose whatever your heart’s desire.

Starting off with Asahi Beer. This beer clearly has that Japanese blend everyone looks for. The brand has been producing quality beers since 1889 and if that doesn’t convince you, wait until you have your first sip. It has a clear and pure flavor that is free from any strange aftertaste but still has that kire (sharpness) at the end, making it a great companion over grilled skewers and conversations. It also contains very little sugar but you’ll still have that refined taste in every sip.

We also have Suntory Beer, which is called the revolutionary brewer of premium malts, establishing Japan’s premium beer status. It’s made delicately with fine ingredients such as two-rowed barley, water, and diamond malt. Enjoy its rich, deep flavor while it invades your nostrils with its splendid aroma. Suntory Beer is best enjoyed while enjoying an evening watching your favorite movie or just to wind down.

Next is Sapporo Beer which is known for using only the finest raw ingredients. It has been around since 1876 at a brewery in Hokkaido under the same name and by the time this delicious beer first hits your tongue, you’ll be quickly blown away by its crisp yet invigorating taste. It has long-lasting flavor with the great harmony of fine sharpness, just the right bitterness, and depth of flavor. Enjoy it on a quiet late afternoon by yourself or with friends.


Lastly, we have Kirin Beer with a history of its brew dating back to the Meiji period. This beer has an international reputation and is popular with tourists. It’s been highly recommended by most people to have Kirin beer as your first Japanese beer when visiting the country because it goes really well with everything. It has a balanced and refreshing taste that doesn’t leave any strange aftertaste once you’ve had your first sip. You can have your ramen with you and still enjoy the great taste of Kirin beer or maybe have your sushi with you and wash it down with your Kirin beer. It’s just absolutely great!


Japanese beers are sold almost everywhere and you can find them readily available in supermarkets, convenience stores, limited vending machines, and of course, in izakayas and bars. Enjoy it cold with your favorite dish and happy drinking!

Article from Tokyo by Food.
Tokyo by Food is a platform for food events in Tokyo, with over 80 experiences to choose from and a fantastic resource for learning about Japan’s thriving food culture! What’s more, Tokyo by Food runs a charitable outreach program, the Food for Happiness Project, which donates 10 meals to children in Cambodia for each person who books a food event through our platform!

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