Recent Trends in Japanese Beer

By Umami Recipe
Recent Trends in Japanese Beer

It seems more and more overseas supermarkets are stocking their shelves with Japanese beer. In this article, we explore the different types of beer products that are on offer in Japan, and increasingly outside Japan as well. These include the standard beer, craft beer, non-alcoholic beer and happoshu, all very popular in Japan. Recently, beers with less sugar than standard beer and non-alcoholic beers are taking market share in Japan. The primary reason for this is a heightened awareness of diet and health amongst consumers. On the other hand, happoshu (wheat beer), which has a similar flavor to beer but is cheaper, is also gaining popularity.

Japan's Four Major Breweries

Kirin, Sapporo, Suntory and Asahi are the leading beer manufacturers in Japan.
The Japanese beer market is an oligopoly market dominated by these four companies. The beer available at supermarkets and convenience stores in Japan are characterized by a light and refreshing taste. Many beers from Southeast Asia, such as China's Tsingtao Beer and Thailand's Singha Beer, have the same taste as Japanese beer. If you like fruity beers like black beer or pale ale, you may find it lacking.
Asahi has several big-selling brands, including Super Dry, which is becoming more commonly available outside of Japan. The Super Dry brand has been dominant in Japan, and has earned the top spot in terms of sales for many years. However, in a 2020 survey, Kirin and Suntory surpassed Asahi in terms of sales, which became a hot topic.

In recent years, cheaper beer-like alcohol, such as happoshu, has also gained in popularity. In 2020, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, the consumption of happoshu overtook that of beer, partly due to the fact that restaurants could not easily serve beer. In the near future, the government will gradually introduce a liquor tax, reducing the tax on beer while increasing it on happoshu. As a result, it will become harder to take advantage of the low cost of happoshu, and for this reason it is expected that beer sales will recover.

A variety of new Japanese beer products are also being steadily released with seasonality in mind. Black beers and pale ales with authentic flavors are increasingly available. In general, however, beers with a refreshing taste are the go-to choice. Other aggressive sales strategies are being developed and deployed, such as Asahi's reprinting of old beer designs.

The Japanese beer market is crowded with happoshu and various limited-time beers hitting the shelves, but the top choice is consistently the light and refreshing beer.

The Local Craft Beer Scene in Japan

Craft beer breweries are popping up all over Japan, mirroring the craft beer craze that can be seen in many parts of the beer loving world. Craft beer is gaining a great deal of momentum, especially in the Tokyo metropolitan area, but breweries in Hokkaido, located in the north of Japan, where the main ingredients for beer are produced, are well known for making particularly delicious craft beer. Hokkaido and other regions of Japan, with its clean water and abundance of hops, malt and natural yeast, are well positioned to experiment and produce craft brews. Breweries are often located in rural areas, but there are many craft beer stores in Tokyo and Osaka where customers can taste authentic craft beer. Not limited to Japanese craft choices, visitors can try Czech and German varieties. There are various types of Japanese craft beers, such as beers with more than double the amount of hops and craft beers with a gentle citrus bitterness.

Growing Popularity of Sugar-free Beer

Beer in general is a drink that is high in calories and carbohydrates. One beer a day may not cause too much problem, but two or three pints begins to cause a concern in fat accumulation in the stomach. To combat this worry, there are types of beer (happoshu) that are sugar-free, and they are becoming more and more popular, especially among daily beer drinkers, as they can drink them with less worry about gaining weight. The amount of malt used in sugar-free beer is lower than that in regular beer. But this resulted in a lack of bitterness that is characteristic of traditional beer. That's why producers turned to secondary ingredients that would mimic the taste of beer. By making adjustments to the content of rice and cornstarch, producers succeeded in creating a beer-like flavor. The taste is almost the same as beer, but with less sugar, making it the perfect beer for people who are watching their weight, and it is now as popular as regular beer. In particular, most people of middle age and beyond have a reduced metabolic capacity. So even if they drink a small amount every day, they are still suffering from an increasing amount of triglycerides. With sugar-free beer, customers can enjoy beer without stress. Japanese food is delicious, but if you feel that you may have eaten too much, why not try pairing it with sugar-free beer instead of regular beer?

Japanese Beer Evolving with the Times

Most beers on the market in Japan are light and refreshing, which is what the Japanese like. There are also beers on the market that are sugar-free. Beer is a drink that can easily make you fat if you drink too much, so even a small reduction in sugar content has a significant impact for regular drinkers. Craft beer is also popular in Japan, and features a rich variety of local beers made with Japan's clean mountain water, hops and malt. Incidentally, there are some good craft beer shops in central Tokyo and Osaka, where visitors can taste local craft beers and beers imported from abroad. When you visit Japan, search for and try the local brews. You may find them surprisingly to your liking!

Umami Recipe Team

Bringing what's new on Japanese food and culture, from traditional to current trends to your home.