Unique Japanese beers
With witty innovations such as foot-operated vending machines and cat finger masks, it is no surprise that the Japanese would come up with uniquely flavoured Japanese beers. For something different from the regular Japanese beers, this list of 14 unique Japanese beers will give you a whole new drinking experience that could be pleasant or bizarre, depending on your taste preferences.
1. Sakura beer
Image credit: @mikisanktgallen via Instagram
When spring hits, you’ll find cherry blossom-flavoured everything making the rounds in stores, and beers are no exceptions. Sankt Gallen – a craft brewery in Kanagawa – releases their cherry blossom beer every year in spring. They harvest the cherry blossoms by hand, and brew the beer together with wheat, barley, and locally grown rice.
Orion beer Ichiban Sakura.
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Major beer producers in Japan such as Asahi and Orion also release cherry blossom beers. If you happen to be in Japan in spring, keep a lookout for them and give them a try.
2. Matcha beer
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We know the Japanese love their matcha and beer – individually. But who would’ve thought that they’d combine these 2 to create matcha beer? Kizakura from Kyoto produces a matcha Indian Pale Ale (IPA) which blends the pleasant bitterness of matcha with bitter accents of the beer.
This matcha IPA is available in supermarkets in Japan, though it might not be as commonly found as other brands of beer.
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If you’re in Japan, you might be able to find matcha beer in some restaurants and cafes . One such place is Omatcha Salon in Ikebukuro PARCO, Tokyo, which has matcha beer on their drink menu. A pint costs ¥600 (~USD4.51).
3. Mango beer
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Produced by Niigata Beer, a small craft brewery located in Niigata, the sparkling mango beer is made of real Alfonso mangoes from India. Thanks to its distinct fruity sweetness, it is easy to enjoy, even if you’re not the biggest fan of beer.
Image adapted from: @beiyuan05 via Instagram
Hideji Beer, a microbrewery in Miyazaki Prefecture, produces a mango lager that is made with yeast cultured from the skin of locally grown mangoes. It is a fruit lager with a refreshing mango aroma. This brew is normally available during the summer months in Japan, so if you happen to be in Japan between May and August, keep a lookout for them in supermarkets.
4. Blue-coloured draft beer
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You might be put off by the unnatural blue colour of Abashiri Brewery’s Abashiri Drift Ice Draft. But contrary to expectations, the vibrant blue is achieved naturally instead of artificial colouring. Made from gardenias, local seaweed from Hokkaido, and melted iceberg water from the Sea of Okhotsk, this blue beer tastes as light and refreshing as it looks.
A carton of 6 cans can be purchased via Amazon for ¥2,490 (~USD18.72).
5. Collagen beer
Image adapted from: Oricon via YouTube
In April 2015, Suntory released Precious, a beer which contains 5% alcohol and 2g of collagen. It was aimed at the collagen-consuming female market as collagen items were popular for their beauty benefits. Although this brew generated quite the buzz when it was released, it’s no longer available as Suntory stopped production after October 2015.
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In 2016, the beer purveyor came back with All-Free, a non-alcoholic collagen beer which contains no calories, sugar, and artificial sweeteners and flavours. In other words, feel free to drink away without having to worry about the repercussions of a head throbbing hangover the following morning.
A carton of 24 cans of All-Free costs ¥4,814 (~USD36.21) on Amazon Japan.
6. Wasabi beer
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You’ve had wasabi as a condiment, in KitKats, and even in the form of creamy ice cream. But have you had them in beer form?
Produced by Niigata Beer, the Wasabi Beer has a light wasabi flavour. When poured into a cup, it looks the same as a regular beer. But if you can’t take spice, proceed with caution, as it’s said to be as spicy as the real thing.
7. Tomato beer
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Tomatoes aren’t just for salads. They can also be used to make beer. That’s what Asahi has done with this Red Eye tomato beer, which is made with 20% tomato juice. You can even smell the tomatoes once you pop open the can.
Tomato haters might want to give this a pass, as the taste of tomatoes is more prominent than the beer flavour. This can be found in supermarkets and convenience stores in Japan and it should cost you less than ¥200 (~USD1.51) for a 375ml can.
8. Chestnut beer
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The Dark Chestnut Ale is a flavoured stout beer made from chestnuts from the Miyazaki Prefecture. Chestnut paste is added midway through the brewing process, resulting in a full-bodied brew with hints of cocoa and hazelnut. This chestnut ale was awarded the World’s Best Flavoured Stout & Porter at the World Beer Awards 2017.
A bottle costs ¥990 (~USD7.45) on Rakuten.
9. Durian beer
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This durian beer was released by Sankt Gallen Brewery on 1st April 2020, but it wasn’t an April Fool’s joke. They actually made and sold this beer for real.
Every year on 1st April, Sankt Gallen produces a special beer and sells them only for 24 hours. In 2020, the 3,000 bottles of durian beer were released and sold out by 1pm on the same day. The reactions of the general public were mixed – some liked it for its creamy vanilla flavour, while others hated it because of the pungent smell.
Image credit: @mikisanktgallen via Instagram
The CEO of Sankt Gallen Brewery, Nobuhisa Iwamoto, had a thorny time dealing with the spikes and the smell of the durians during the brewing process. As they couldn’t get the kitchen knife into the durians, they had to use a screwdriver to pry them open.
Thanks to the durians’ pungent aroma, the brewery only had to use 5 fruits to brew 3,000 bottles of this durian beer. For comparison, their apple cinnamon ale required 500 apples to brew the same number of bottles. Although each bottle contains only 0.8g of durian, the smell is intense once you pop open the cap.
10. Sweet potato beer
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This sweet potato amber from Coedo Brewery is brewed with Kintoki sweet potatoes grown in the farmlands of Kawagoe, where the brewery is located. The sweet potatoes give this brew a rich caramel flavour and a smooth finish.
It is available via their online store and costs ¥2,640 (~USD19.87) for a box of 6 bottles.
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If you’re in Saitama, the brewery runs a restaurant called COEDO BREWERY THE RESTAURANT, where you can get a small glass of their brews for ¥380 (~USD2.86). They also have a taproom in Hong Kong – the brewery’s first overseas taproom.
11. Bonito flakes beer
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This is a beer with character, literally. Produced by the Yo-Ho Brewing Company, the Sorry Umami IPA has a refreshing tropical flavour from the umami that is extracted from bonito flakes. But don’t worry, it doesn’t taste like fish.
Image credit: @craftbeertoshikun via Instagram
The full name of this beer is “I’m Sorry! I Didn’t Ask You What You Like”. The back of the beer can explains the concept behind it – a beer that the brewers themselves wanted to drink, “without being bound to the conventional beer styles and standard recipes”.
You can get a carton of 12 cans from Yahoo at ¥4,290 (~USD32.29).
12. Children’s beer
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Children in Japan have it good, they start young with a “beer” made especially for them. This children’s beer, also known as Kodomo no Nomimono, is a non-alcoholic drink made by Sangaria. It is packaged to look like beer and its contents look very much identical to beer, but it’s actually an apple-flavoured soda.
Image credit: @manocene via Instagram
The idea to make a children’s beer didn’t start from Sangaria. It originated from Yuichi Asaba, the owner of an izakaya, who repackaged a soda into a children’s beer. After repackaging the beverage as “children’s beer”, it started to sell very well.
Then, he approached Tomomasu, a beverage company, to commercialise the drink. Tomomasu improved the contents of the drink to make it what it is today – a drink that looks like beer but tastes like cola.
The concept behind the drink is to help kids feel mature and more included in celebrations where there’s beer involved.
13. Space barley beer
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In 2009, news broke that “Space Beer” had landed in Japan and Sapporo was launching the world’s first beer produced using malt made 100% from “space barley”.
As part of a collaborative research between the Russian Academy of Sciences and Okayama University, the barley was kept in space for 5 months.
Image adapted from: @fujita0316 via Instagram
The 6-pack boxes were sold through a lottery system for a whopping ¥10,000 (~USD75.52). The proceeds were donated back to Okayama University to contribute to the promotion of science education for children, and to further research on space science in Japan and Russia.
14. “Elephant dung” beer
Image adapted from: tarax via Untappd
Despite what its name suggests, this beer contains no poop. It’s made from the coffee beans that were picked out from the elephant’s dung and rinsed before using. The beer was released by Sankt Gallen Brewery on 1st April 2013 and it sold out within minutes.
Image credit: @gtaef_thailand via Instagram
As an elephant’s digestive system has enzymes that break down the proteins in the coffee beans, the result is a smooth and earthy brew. The elephants’ caretakers at the Golden Triangle Elephant Foundation in northern Thailand were initially afraid that ingesting large amounts of coffee beans would have a detrimental impact on the elephants’ health, but they did not find ill effects on the elephants.
Although it’s no longer available, you can look out for more unique brews by Sankt Gallen Brewery every April Fool’s Day.
Unique Japanese beers to try
With all these unique beer flavours from Japan, you’ll never get bored with your alcoholic beverage choices. These novelty beers are also great ideas for April Fool’s or birthday pranks. The brewers in Japan are constantly coming up with new and interesting flavours so keep a lookout for any unique looking beers in supermarkets in the country.
Can’t get enough of such peculiar products? Check out these weird Japanese food combinations, or weird Japanese mascots that are borderline nightmare-inducing. You might also want to read more about these strange Japanese laws and these unusual facts about Japan.
Cover image adapted from: @sandwichman_morningman, @2beer.buddies
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