The stereotype concocted to describe Japanese industry asserts that Japan is very good at copying what others have done and introducing marginal improvements and cost-cutting techniques to make quality products at competitive prices. The stereotype suggests, however, that Japan falls short in the area of innovation and that, in recent years, the economy has suffered as a result. The emerging Japanese craft brewing industry, however, undermines this stereotype comprehensively.
During my first visit to Japan five years ago, the beers available reminded me of the bad old days in the US prior to the craft brewing revolution that has reshaped the industry and refined the palate of at least a few of my compatriots. Kirin, Asahi, and Sapporo were the Japanese equivalent of America’s BMC (Bud/Miller/Coors) affliction. I remember wandering around Shinjuku looking for some local brews and resorting instead to a few overpriced imports to satisfy my cravings (Bishop’s Finger at $15 equivalent was more than overpriced, but most certainly hit the spot).
Fast forward five years, and the landscape has changed completely! Craft brewers have carved out a niche for themselves with some adventurous and delicious lagers and ales that are every bit on par with American and European niche market brews.
Tokyo Station offers a conucopia of these brews, but they’re widely available in other cities.
Look especially for Yo-Ho Brewing’s Aooni IPA. There is an excellent trade publication now available to lavish some of these brewers with the praise they so richly deserve, and a pub crawl map can be had in Osaka to guide you from one brewpub to the next (we called on Craft Beer House Molto for dinner and a great view of the city).
If you have any doubts about quality, you can compare with some of the better craft beers brought in from the US at Antenna America, just steps away from Yokohama Stadium, home of the BayStars.
We went up to Japan so that I could share my previous experience with Ms Chris (sakura and baseball) and stock up on yatsuhashi: happily, we can now add craft beer tasting and brewery tours to the itinerary. Prost!