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8 Popular Japanese Beer Brands And Their Must-Try Beers, From Asahi Super Dry To Yo-Ho Yona Yona Ale

Japanese beer brands

Drinking at restaurants and izakayas is a common social activity in Japanese society, especially among Japanese salarymen. Although sake is more commonly associated with Japan than beer, the latter is the popular choice at drinking parties. There are many different beers in Japan, and this list of 8 popular Japanese beer brands and their must-try beers serves as an introductory crash course.

1. Asahi

japanese beer brands - asahi super dry
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Although Asahi Super Dry is pretty much synonymous with Japanese beer, at least internationally, it only became Asahi’s best-selling product in the 1990s. 

For almost 100 years, from 1892 to the late 1980s, the Asahi Draft was Asahi’s flagship product. It was only in the late 1980s that Asahi felt they had to shake things up and produce something different. Asahi Super Dry, a beer that could be paired with a wide range of food, was released in 1987 after extensive research and market focus groups.

japanese beer brands - glass asahi super dry
Image credit: @mohalaohana

By 1997, Asahi Super Dry became the best-selling beer in Japan. Even today, it is still Japan’s #1 beer. Asahi describes Super Dry as karakuchi (辛口), which translates to “dry taste” but is actually a more complex concept that is hard to directly translate into English. 

The Asahi Super Dry is crisp and dry with a quick and clean finish. It is thirst-quenching and helps to cleanse your palate for the next dish when having a meal.

japanese beer brands - asahi dry black
Image credit: @chiharu0425

Another popular offering is the Super Dry Black, more affectionately known as Super Dry’s dark side. It has a deep and dark appearance, but a mild vanilla and nutty palate with a rounded finish. The roasted malt used during the brewing process gives it its dark colour and slightly sweet taste. 

It is especially suitable for the summer months as it is surprisingly thirst-quenching and refreshing.

2. Kirin

japanese beer brands - kirin
Image adapted from: @daniel_w_kim

The Kirin Ichiban-Shibori is Kirin’s flagship beer, made using the first-press method. It first hit the market in 1990 and went on to become an extremely popular beer in Japan. 

Kirin is the only major beer producer that produces beer using solely the 1st press of the wort, a sugary liquid extracted from ground malt steeped in water. Most other producers blend both the 1st and 2nd press.

japanese beer brands - kirin beer
Image credit: @tomomo0419

The first-press method ensures that only the most flavourful portion of the ingredients is extracted, resulting in a smooth and refined taste. The Kirin Ichiban-Shibori has a rich malt flavour, which pairs well with Japanese food.

japanese beer brands - kirin lager
Image credit: @oira1985

The Kirin Lager is a well-loved brew that has over 130 years of history. It was first released in 1888, under Japan Brewery. Because of the success of this lager, the brewery was thereafter renamed Kirin Brewery. The Kirin Lager is characterised by a bright amber colour and a fresh fragrance. It is suitable for beginners as it doesn’t have a strong bitterness, unlike other beers.

3. Sapporo

japanese beer brands - Sapporo premium beer black label
Image credit: @nemonardotacaprio

Sapporo Premium Beer Black Label has been around since 1977. It was originally sold as “Sapporo Bottled Draft” and stored a brown bottle with a black label. Thereafter, it became colloquially known as the “kuro (black) label” beer. Sapporo officially adopted the name “Black Label” in 1989.

Sapporo Black Label is a pale lager that is not as dry as Asahi or Kirin. It goes down smooth but has a significant bitter aftertaste.

4. Suntory

japanese beer brands - suntory premium malt
Image credit: @eduardo_minamoto_mendes

Suntory brews their beers using water that is drawn from deep underground at their breweries. The Premium Malt’s was 1st released in 2003 and was awarded the Monde Selection Grand Gold Medal for 3 years in a row, from 2005-2007.

This brew has a flowery aroma and a thick, creamy foam. Suntory places a lot of emphasis on the foam and they have managed to create a foam that adds depth to the beer.

suntory tokyo craft
Image credit: @sakuchan74

Suntory Tokyo Craft represents Suntory’s foray into the craft beer market. This Tokyo Craft Indian Pale Ale is made exclusively at Suntory’s Tokyo Brewery. It has a tangy orange aroma and a light malt flavour with a slight bitter aftertaste. Other seasonal flavours under the Tokyo Craft series are also sold in similarly brightly coloured eye-catching cans.

5. Orion

orion draft beer
Image credit: @bonbeerstagram

Orion’s flagship beer is the Orion Draft Beer. Orion was born in Okinawa and their beers are crafted in Okinawa as well, making it a genuine Okinawan beer. It is now the #1 beer in Okinawa and is also enjoyed around the world. This is a refreshing and light brew that pairs well with delicate-tasting Japanese food, such as sushi.

6. Yebisu

Image credit: @shirou3

Yebisu is a brand under Sapporo. The Yebisu Beer brewery was built in 1889, and beer-brewing equipment and brewing engineers were brought in from Germany. The first Yebisu beer was released in 1890 and marketed as a German-style beer. However, production stopped during World War II. The Premium Yebisu beer was only relaunched in 1971.

The relaunched brew is 100% malt-based, made without rice, corn, and other additives. The result is a creamy and rich malt flavour.

7. Hitachino Nest

japanese beer brands - hitachino nest
Image credit: @omusubistylejapan

Hitachino Nest is a brand that has a cult following both in Japan and around the world. Although it is usually classified as a craft beer brand, Hitachino Nest is often mentioned in the same breath as major beer producers when it comes to must-try Japanese beers.

The Hitachino Nest white ale is brewed with wheat malt and flavoured with coriander, orange peel, and nutmeg. The citrusy flavour comes through in both its aroma and taste. This is one of Hitachino Nest’s best-selling beers.

8. Yo-Ho Brewing

yona yona ale
Image credit: @skbr.4631

Yo-Ho Brewing Company is one of the most renowned craft beer breweries in Japan. Their brews are commonly found in convenience stores and supermarkets nationwide.

The Yona Yona Ale is their flagship product, and “yona yona” means “every night”. This is a smooth brew that’s so easy to drink, you could drink it every night. Although there is a slight bitterness, it is acceptable even for beginners.

Popular Japanese beer brands and their must-try beers

Once you’ve tried this list of popular Japanese beer brands and their must-try beers, you’re on your way to becoming a true-blue Japanese beer connoisseur. The next step would be to venture into Japanese craft beer brands, which is a whole new ball game.

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Cover image adapted from (from left to right): @oira1985, @244rock, and @oira1985