If you like a beer after a long day, or, if like me, you are a beer lover who likes to taste as many different beers as possible; here is some useful information about beer in Japan.
Four big brewers share a majority of the market, Asahi, Kisin, Sapporo (and the sub-brand Ebisu) and Suntory. Along with the giant breweries, it is now possible to find a wide variety of craft beer makers, like Coedo, Echigo, Ginga Kogen, Minoh Beer and Yo-Ho, to name a few.
Type of beer
Even if the majority of beers are pale lager, it is possible to find some variety, especially if you are looking at craft beer. However, it is important to know that there is different category of beer, that are defined by the raw ingredients used to make them, that also define the tax level on the product.
First of all, the beerビール, pronounced bîru must contain at least 67% of malt. The cost of these products should range from ¥175 to ¥300, for a standard can of 350 ml. The price can go up to ¥600 for craft beer.
Second, the happōshu 発泡酒, that contain 66% of malt or less. Third, the third category beer 第三のビール (dai-san no bīru), also called happōsei 発泡性, liqueur リキュール and new genre 新ジャンル. These are beer made without malt or a mix of happōshu with a strong alcohol. Finally, free beer that are beer flavored drinks, or alcohol free beer. All of these products are not subject to the same tax, so their price usually ranges from ¥100 to ¥175.
It’s easy to know that type of product you are looking at as it’s always written on the can. One only have to look for the circle with お酒 (osake – alcohol), and next to it you should find the percentage of alcohol and the type of product, for example ALC. 5% ビール, for a real beer.
Watch carefully, as other type of drinks like chu-hi and high ball, that are a mix of spirit and flavored carbonated water are also sold in cans and are usually displayed next to the beer in stores.
Where to buy?
You can find beer in a variety of stores, like convenience store (konbini), liquor store, supermarket, department stores (at the basement) and even at Don Quijote. The unit price is similar in all the stores, even if it’s a bit higher in convenience stores, but the price goes down when you buy a bigger pack. You can also check for promotion where you can get a free glass when you buy a pack of tree of six beers. If you are looking for variety, make sure to go to different chain stores as some products are exclusive, for example some only sold at 7eleven.
During your next trip take the time to taste different type of products and you will make some nice discoveries. And don’t forget, the legal drinking age in Japan is 20.