Skip to main content

Beer in Japan: Making in Roads...

Making in roads …..

Micro/Nano/Homebrew are words often associated with craftbeer, is beginning to make ' in roads' in Japan, and with a much younger crowd  I believe.    Major in roads, I am not entirely sure yet.     Since the 17th Century Japan has been brewing beer and it's no secret that  beer is the most popular drink in Japan, even more so than my beloved nihonshu.    

When Happoushu, low malt beer, was first introduced to the market it was even cheaper to produce than regular beer, as tax was lower and cheaper to buy.     Beer simply became the drink of choice for brewers and drinkers..   I remember asking Japanese about this and often times they would tell me the main reason they drink beer is because it's cheaper to buy than distilled spirits and rice brews, and that their ultimate aim was to just get wasted, cheaply, and not necessarily for the taste.      Times have changed I believe as younger drinkers are starting to expand their range of preferences and tastes, and are beginning to take an interest in craft beer, in spite of it not being as cheap as low-malt beer.     Craftbeer is more expensive and a like the fact that Japanese, especially younger ones are starting to take an interest paying more for extra quality, and that they are starting to drink for taste and not necessarily for affect.         

 But here is where I digress a little,  the other day I was invited to lunch by an elderly couple / client over at the newly renovated sushi-ro in Higashi-Kanagawa, a conveyor sushi place.    As we sat looking at all the plates move passed us,  we honed in on all the freshly caught tuna ( maguro ).     Now, I love tuna when it's in season, not the imported stuff you can get year-round.   Who wants to eat tuna imported  from India and Africa?   This is Japan.    Fresh tuna has a slippery oily sheen on it and melts in your mouth practically.     Another point was that it was room temperature which is partly due to the freshly made vinegar rice used for making sushi.    There is nothing like the heavenly goodness of tightly packed sushi over rice with a tender slab of fatty tuna on it.      Are you with me?     At any rate,  the matron asks if I wanted a beer, and that she would be ordering one for herself too, along with  tuna.   I was a little reluctant at first because I was happy with just the hot green tea, but I remember back in the day when I used to take sushi jaunts around route 15 with some friends.   We'd always order ice cold Suntory premium malt beer with tuna.   No  better combination in the world, actually.    So I obliged her and accepted her generous offer.   It was the cold crisp goodness of that beer that really got me in the mood for tuna.    

No other beer on the planet, craft beer, what have you, can touch an ice cold Japanese Suntory Premium Malt / pilsner with the oily goodness of domestic fatty tuna.    It's cleaner and more refreshing.     Pale lager or pilsner produced by Suntory was made for tuna, and a whole host of other Japanese favorites.    Japanese brews such as beer and nihonshu always work best for Japanese cuisines.     This is where I believe there may be a gap between what craft beer brings to the Japanese consumer, and what already works best for Japanese food.     Binge drinking isn't a custom in Japan like it is in Europe, so let's not confuse drinking parties with beer pounding belligerence, and neither should we associate a dark ale, lager, Helle with the light flavored, non-seasoned fish dishes most associated with Japanese cuisine.    Europeans and Americans can drink and eat almost anything and not care about the flavor profiles when they have drunk themselves into a stupor, or even better, not eat anything at all and just drink themselves into a stupor.     I remember at a beer event in Tokyo.   I was sitting at a table with two geeky foreigners, one fat and the other skinny,  a Japanese couple, and they were all experimenting with pizza and craft beer.      One complaint that I remember both of them having was that the beer had no flavor profile, even though the craft beer was relatively fresh.     The Japanese man sitting across from me couldn't identify not one single flavor  profile…….    So I am wondering what it is that turned him on to craft beer in the first place?   What was the initial draw to craft beer for him?   And, why is he paying 900 yen per glass for something he isn't enjoying?    Could this be just some passing fad?

It's the Japanese restaurateur  who has to create food that works best with whatever alcohol he has in his fridge.   If you were to ask him to sell micro-brews then he would need to modify his menu to heavier, savory, and more oily foods, stuff foreigners tend to love,  and although the Japanese palate is changing, the old favorites will always win out over the newer cuisines from the West.     A German brewed pilsner may work with yakitori, but a Japanese brewed pilsner malt will always work better, that cannot be argued.    How will craft beer etch out a place for itself in Japan?   Will it simply be just a stand alone drink that people just binge over?    Or will there be a culinary connection between it and food - Japanese food.   

Where I see a clear advantage for these newer craft brews domestically and internationally though,  is the wider range of foods they can accommodate - non-Japanese food.     Oily dishes, spicy, and so forth and so on.   But are Japanese people ready ?    Or, is this just some passing fad?   I think that with the focus being in places like Tokyo, which are hubs for culinary innovation, the craft beer-scene will take off.     Especially as more Japanese chefs experiment with different tastes.     Tokyo sophisticates are always game for the next big thing to hit the weekend scene.     They will try anything and craft beer is one of them.     

Still,  I am not convinced how long the beer bug will bite.     And I am not sure if they know what they are looking for in taste, quality, and aroma, like with the Japanese drinker I mentioned above who paid a pretty penny for something he obviously didn't enjoy.   Even though newer tastes are acquired through time may not hold true in time.       If a beer is supposed to taste like apple, then I had better taste apple, in other words..    What does craft beer bring to the table?     Well, it brings a kind of eclecticism that Tokyoites are known for indulging themselves in, especially with European dishes, and appearing cool and worldy savvy…..     These never hold nor stand the test of time.     

What I think will eventually happen is that Japanese brewers and sake houses will tap into the micro beer market, like they have been already, and making much better beer at cheaper prices.    The European imports will struggle to match the production and quality of Japanese craft beer.  Sure Europeans will continue exporting hops and malts, but this too will not remain as Japanese brewers begin experimenting with red rice, sweet potatoes, and rare fruits.     Eventually, small sake brewer's will begin to reinvent traditionally brewed Eurocentric beers to match the Japanese palate, the Japanese way, while Europeans and American reinvent Japanese sake their way.    Culture swap.       Or, all together ditch Eurocentric beers for something completely unique only to Japan.   One example would be KAGUA craft beer.   A pure Japanese craft beer made with Japanese cuisine in mind, using all homegrown ingredients from right here in Japan.   I was surprised when I found out that they use Sansho and Yuzu, which are all rare in brewing craft beer.       They are forecasting to expand their accounts to over 350 restaurants in Japan, and this is after their first year in business!

I dig the fact that younger drinkers are willing to try new things, and I like that they are willing to spread the coin a bit for it.      Craftbeer is here to stay, the Japanese way,  because Japanese craft beer is what I believe will hold the masses while others ride the wave success of better brewed beers.    I am excited to see how beer evolves  and what  the market holds for the drinker.    Imported craft beer will have its place, too.    And with a modest following I believe.     

Popular posts from this blog

Shin-Okubo: Little Korea

So I finally got around to going up there to Shin-Okubo,  the land of Seoul via the Yamanote Line.  Been putting this trip off for years for personal reasons;  I am not a fan of Hanlleyu.      I knew why I came up this way, and for none other reason than the food, and maybe to bask in the nausea of Korean romanticist who steal Japanese Jukujo's souls.    But honestly, I like spicy food and stews and pickled vegetables that challenge my taste buds.    I also love the little funky cafes that line the main thoroughfares and alley ways, each with their own little eclectic menus and interior decor.     This place is Korea.  

Shin-Okuba represents more than just a place to relish in Korean culinary delights and K-pop culture, but a place where Koreans can express themselves through their culture.    You can feel the local vibe in the air as you're walking down narrow walkways and footpaths.    I have personally been to mainland Korea six times, so a lot of the nostalgia was there …

August: The Return of Souls

August is peak summer season in Japan.  We can look forward to some of the most spectacular fireworks displays and festivals in the world, especially  in places like Tohoku and Kanto regions.  August is also  the most contentious month of the year in Japan; with the end of the war and war-related guilt.    Then there's the great exodus back home for millions of Japanese.   Obon season is what it's called in Japan, and it's  where families return to their hometowns to remember their ancestors and to spend time with loved ones.  Gravestones are visited, cleaned, and washed; rice or alcohol is often placed on  miniature altars next to a  headstone.  This is a way for Japanese to reconnect with their roots; a way for them to stay grounded and founded in the ways of tradition and cultural protocol.   

For the foreign tourist, some places will be overcrowded and expensive to reach; for Japanese, this is normal and can't be helped.   Wherever you go there will be lines and h…

Japan Board of Education: Amazing Grace...?

Japan Board of Education Textbook.
Amazing Grace
Shuken Shuppan  Polestar textbook English Communication

Preface:  Japanese / Japan is  one of the leading donors in humanitarian aid around the world.   They have donated billions of yen to charities, developing countries, and startup business to just about every country on the globe.  Some Japanese have even taken matters to the extreme  to the point of poking their noses into hotspot areas like Palestine and Isreal, things the Japanese may want to avoid.  Had Japan shared its borders with an ethnic minority with its own government, the relative peace and calm of this country would be questionable.   No other country can be like nor emulate Japan.   So, where does this spirit of charity and altruism come from exactly?   Why do the Japanese feel they need to save the whole world, while caring very little for its own people?   It's the Board of Education...?  The essay below is one such example of what Japanese kids learn in school,…