PREMIUM SUPER-DRY LIQUID BREAD
Being a beer drinker in Japan sucks.
Of course, beer is available here. In some weird way, it’s also become a cultural statement for the Japanese populace. “I drink Asahi!” or “I’m a Kirin man!” brings memories of those who voice their loyalties to Miller, Bud or Coors back back in the states.
And just like America (and even more-so), the Japanese market is dominated by a handful of companies: Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo and Suntory. One of them, Asahi, being so big that they also produce a large amount of popular soft drinks, but also dabble in the food, baby product and pharmaceutical business.
And it’s not that microbrews don’t exist. Rather, it is just so hard to actually produce them given the heavy taxes on producing beer compared to sake and sochu. This was supposedly done in fear of the growing beer market making sake obsolete, because, you know, Americans totally forgot about wine and whiskey once beer was more mass produced. With those taxes, the availability of things like IPAs, Pale Ales, Porters or other variations are rare. You better like Lagers and Pilsners. But to get one thing out of the way: a must-try craft beer company in/from Japan is Hitachino. If you ever see their stuff, buy it. They have a cute little owl just to remind you.
The tax also created a dirty, dirty product that has swept the market: Happoshu. Literally translated as “Bubbling Spirits,” Happoshu is “beer” (quotations on purpose) that contains 67% malt or less (most Happoshu today is brewed around 25% to even down to 0%). Happoshu came to be simply to avoid the heavy taxes placed on real beer: 35% compared to 46% for beer, all the while saying “hey, it’s almost the same thing.” So, always check the label to make sure you’re getting the real thing. It’s usually labeled right at the bottom of the can, which will either have 発泡酒 (the bad stuff) or ビール (the good stuff). Having said that, we’re not dealing with those today.
What I am dealing with are some of the biggest beers that are provided in Japan. I went out and bought some of the most regular brands one might see on a trip to a convenience or grocery store to see how they stack up.
1) Asahi Super Dry
Brewer: Asahi Brewries
Beer Advocate Score: 64
Let’s start off with the big one, and the company that is most common within my prefecture. Super dry is also notorious for starting the “Dry Wars” between the big beer companies above in the late-80s. SUPER-DRY, though, is just another way to say “rice lager” and, MAN, does this sure taste like one. Nothing notable by any means. You could have easily ripped off the label and seen “Coors.”
2) Yebisu Premium
Brewer: Sapporo Brewery
Beer Advocate Score: 78
This was actually my favorite out of the group. The taste was more of a heavy lager and actually tasted like what a beer should be. Didn’t blow my mind away by any means, but out of the rest I tried this was surely the most I most preferred.
3) The Premium Malts
Beer Advocate Score 76
I know this beer most by its hilarious commercials, where Suntory really tried to go all out by attempting to say “YO, THIS IS LEGIT.” When I drank it, I barely tasted any flavor and was one of the most watery beers I had. It almost tasted lighter than the Asahi Super-Dry. Barely any taste whatsoever.
4) Suntory All Malt
Beer Advocate Score: None Available
There wasn’t much memorable out of this drink, besides it being a little more bitter than the usual. Otherwise, it was pretty standard.
5) Asahi Bitter Premium
Beer Advocate Score: None available. Only one review which gave it a 3/5
The ironic thing about Bitter Premium is that it was not even all that bitter, if at all. Not all that different than any of its other “bitter” cousins.
6) Grand Kirin
Beer Advocate Score: None available. Average score out of three reviews was 2.5
This one is so fancy, it actually came in a glass bottle! Quite the rarity! So fancy that I decided to actually pour it in a mug. It had a more thick texture, but the more I drank it the more it reminded me of the standard Kirin brew. New clothes with the same boring personality.
7) Yebisu Kohaku
Brewer: Sapporo Brewries
Beer Advocate Score: 77
Yebisu Kohaku is toted as the “premium lager with amber,” which it does actually have. Sure, it wasn’t the best amber beer I’ve ever had, but it was a nice change of flavor. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find an equivalent to compare it to, but by itself it wasn’t terrible; nothing seriously noteworthy either.
8) Aki Aji (Fall Flavor)
Beer Advocate Score: 77
The reason I only tried one fall seasonal beer is because the Kirin brand was the only actual beer. It also tries to sell itself as more of an “amber beer” and I did have a slight taste of some spices. Don’t let you fool that though: it was just barely noticeable. Maybe my taste buds were making up sensations that I just wanted to have. I would recommend it, only to vote with your dollar for real seasonal beers. Currently, the winter beers are also being pushed out, but I have yet to check them out.
If I happened to sound like a broken record, well, that’s what I was actually expecting/trying to do with this. I’ve already met my fair share of people that claim one beverage tastes better over the other, but the claims seem to be only regional preferences (being in Hyogo, it’s usually Asahi all the way). Even with the slim specialty products that are made to commemorate the changing of the seasons, they don’t really make a statement. Rather, it’s like throwing a few pinches of spices/fruit/whatever-seasonal-cliche in the regular batch and calling it a day. The beer environment in Japan is a bleak one, but it’s one that fans of the drink must deal with.
And, originally, that was how I was going to end the article. A somber and unfortunate claim that there is no hope for beer drinkers in Japan. Luckily, over the past weekend, I was proved wrong. While taking a trip to Tottori, it was recommended I visit a craft brewery/restaurant around Mt. Daisen. I was skeptical, but I’ll go to anyone who claims to have anything besides a lager. The restaurant, named Daisen G, claims to have recently won a world beer award for their Weizen. And, all I can say is, they well deserved it. It was, by far one of the best Weizens I have ever had. For any regular drinkers of Blue Moon, for example, this absolutely blew it out of the water. It had a crisp, refreshing citrus flavor which lingered long after the first drink, and had a more thick texture, not to give any allusions to something like a Summer Shandy or “lemon twisted” whatevers come spring time. I absolutely loved their Weizen, along with the Pale Ale, Stout and Hop Brew [sic] they had for the stupidly cheap “all-you-can-drink” price of $10. Following the format, I’ll give you the stats here.
9) Daisen G Weizen
Brewer: Daisen G. Tottori-ken Saihaku-gun, Japan
Beer Advocate Score: None available. The site says it’s expired, but that is ALL LIES.
There is hope, my friends. There is hope.