Navigating the Japanese Beer Landscape: A Guide to Major Brands


Japan boasts a rich brewing tradition, renowned for its light, crisp, and smooth lagers. While countless breweries and regional variations exist, four major brands dominate the market: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo, and Suntory. This guide offers a brief overview of each brand to help you navigate the world of Japanese beers:

1. Asahi:

  • Flagship beer: Asahi Super Dry
  • Taste profile: Known for its dry, crisp, and clean finish with a hint of bitterness. Considered a lighter stylecompared to other Japanese beers.
  • Popularity: Consistently ranks as the best-selling beer brand in Japan.
  • Additional offerings: Asahi Dry Black (a darker lager with a roasted malt flavor), Asahi Super Dry Prime (a higher alcohol content version of Super Dry).

2. Kirin:

  • Flagship beer: Kirin Ichiban Shibori
  • Taste profile: Offers a balanced and slightly sweet flavor with subtle floral notes. Known for its “first press” brewing method, which uses only the first press of the wort, resulting in a smoother taste.
  • Popularity: A popular choice for its easy-drinking nature.
  • Additional offerings: Kirin Lager (a classic Japanese lager with a slightly hoppy taste), Kirin Nodogoshi Nama (a refreshing beer with a focus on a clean finish).

3. Sapporo:

  • Flagship beer: Sapporo Black Label
  • Taste profile: Offers a slightly richer and maltier flavor compared to other major brands. Has a balanced bitterness with hints of caramel and roasted malt.
  • Popularity: Popular for its fuller flavor and association with the iconic Sapporo Beer Museum in Hokkaido.
  • Additional offerings: Sapporo Yebisu (a premium beer with a smooth and slightly sweet taste), Sapporo Premium (a crisp and refreshing lager).

4. Suntory:

  • Flagship beer: The Premium Malt’s
  • Taste profile: Offers a richer and more complex flavor compared to other major brands. Known for its use of premium malts and a longer brewing process, resulting in a fuller-bodied experience.
  • Popularity: Considered a premium brand with a higher price point but loyal following due to its distinctive taste.
  • Additional offerings: Suntory Beer (a classic Japanese lager), Yebisu (a historically significant beer with a malty and slightly sweet flavor).

Beyond the Big Four:

While these four brands dominate the market, Japan offers a diverse range of craft beers and regional breweries worth exploring. Don’t hesitate to venture beyond the familiar and discover unique, locally produced beers on your adventures in Japan!

Choosing Your Perfect Beer:

Ultimately, the best Japanese beer is a matter of personal preference. Experiment and explore different brands and styles to find your favorites. Remember, consider the occasion and context when choosing your beer. Some options might be better suited for a casual gathering, while others might be more fitting for a special celebration.

Kanpai! (Cheers!)

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