Translated by Lester Somera
What's In That Can? A Guide To The Taste of Japanese Beers
Written by Keisuke Yamada
In this article, we profile some Japanese beers and their differences: Asahi Super Dry, Kirin, Sapporo Black Label、Suntory Malts, Ebisu, and Orion.
In Japan, there are myriad of alcoholic beverages sold at places like supermarkets and convenience stores. From normal and low-malt beer to chu-hai, wine and shochu liquor, there really is a huge selection to choose from. But of course, your gaze still lands on the beer cans first. Japan has several brands of canned beer, with their own unique taste and characteristics.
In addition, izakayas will generally have several brands on offer, so you can use this convenient guide to learn about some different beers in advance.
Released in 1987 as Japan's first karakuchi (※1) beer, Asahi sparked a revolution in the world of Japanese beer. With a pure flavor free from any strange aftertastes, but still possessing kire (※2), Asahi is accurately represented by its brand slogan: "a refined and clear taste... karakuchi."
（※1）Karakuchi beer does not taste sweet. When malt is used during the process of making beer, some sugar is left behind as a byproduct. Karakuchi refers to a beer that contains very little sugar.
（※2）A beer with kire (sharpness) has very little aroma, but is refreshing and has a notable acidity. This quality is loved by many Japanese people. A beer's aftertaste typically lingers on the tongue for a while; a beer that leaves only a short aftertaste is said to have good sharpness.
Suntory is the revolutionary brewer of "The Premium Malts", which established Japan's premium beer status; made only with high-quality aromatic hops, two-rowed barley, diamond malt, natural water, and other ingredients selected with the utmost care. With "The Premium Malts", you can enjoy both a deep, rich flavor and a splendid aroma.
A popular product, it is the longest-selling beer on the Japanese market. Replicating manufacturing methods from Germany, the birthplace of beer, "Malts" has a depth and natural sweetness that you can only get from something made from 100% barley.
Sapporo beer got its start in 1876, at a brewery in the Hokkaido city of the same name. With the creed of "only beer using the finest raw ingredients", this beer maker endeavors to get the best materials for its beverages, working with producers to cultivate its barley and hops from scratch.
This is Sapporo's flagship product, Sapporo Beer Black Label. With an invigorating taste and brewed using a proprietary malt with long-lasting flavor, you can enjoy its three-part harmony of sharpness, depth and bitterness.
Japanese Kirin beer has an international reputation. Its brew has a history dating back to the Meiji era. With its longstanding lager beer and classic lager recipes, Kirin is highly regarded all over the world. Kirin "Ichiban Shibori" is also famous overseas.
It has a balanced and refreshing taste, while still retaining the bitterness of hops that Kirin beer is known for. A Kirin beer goes well with any meal, so make your first drink a Kirin.
Ebisu was established in 1887, but World War II forced it to temporarily shut its doors. However, the company was revived in 1971 along with its 100% malt beer, and produces beer that makes the best use of each individual ingredient. Ebisu beer has abundant hoppy flavor and goes down smooth, with a substantial bitterness you can enjoy.
Orion Beer got its start in July 1960. The company has continued to pursue beer which suits the climate and natural features of Okinawa, Japan's southernmost island. Orion is not often found in shops outside of Okinawa, so pick up a can if you see one.
There are many delicious Japanese beers that are only sold locally and still others that are difficult to procure. For example, some of these beers use rice, smoked barley, tangerines and even miso in their recipes.
Start with some well-known Japanese beers first, then enjoy what the rest of the Japanese beer world has to offer.