Friday, June 25, 2010
This week I'm doing something slightly different. I wanted to write something about Japan to ease the pain of their exit from the World Cup. Japan produces some great beers and beer has been produced in Japan since the 17th century. That being said, Japan also produces some other products which are similar to beer and to a tourist who can't read Japanese could be mistakenly purchased as beer. But BEWARE, these alternative products are not beer, in the purest sense, but are other malt beverages brewed to sidestep Japan's alcohol taxation laws (Japan's alcohol tax system divides beer-like malt beverages into four categories based on malt content: 67% or higher, 50 to 67%, 25 to 50%, and less than 25%). As a result of the strict alcohol laws, Japanese brewers have responded by subdividing the beer market into 3 different malt alcoholic beverages; Bīru (containing more than 67% malt), Happoshu (beer-like beverage with less than 67% malt), and the relatively new dai-san bīru (non-malt brews made from soybeans and other ingredients).
As was previously stated, Japanese beer can be great. The major national brands (Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo) are all capable of producing a fine range of bīru in addition to the many microbreweries putting out quality brew. Asahi's headliner is Asahi Super Dry but they also produce a range of beer styles from stout to German pilsener. Sapporo is now known for its signature Sapporo Beer, as well as Yebisu and its Black Label range. Kirin's main beers are Kirin Lager and Kirin Ichiban. A great craft beer which I had the pleasure of trying in Tokyo was Coedo, Shiro. Coedo is a small craft brewery that produces a range of foreign styles. The "Shiro"(white)beer which I tried was a non-filtered wheat beer. The beer was excellent and I found it refreshing with fruity overtones. Coedo is one of the hundreds of Craft breweries springing up all over Japan, So be sure to seek out some of the lesser known brews in addition to the big 3.
Happoshu is a slightly different animal. Introduced in Japan in the 1990's and steadily gaining poularity, today, the majority of happoshu contains less than 25% malt thus allowing up to 75% adjuncts including rice, corn, potato, starch, and sugar). I tried several Hopposhu products while in Japan and as one might expect they were not particularly good. To the un-informed beer drinker, these beverages taste like regular (bad)beer but have the extra appeal of a lower price.
Dai-san bīru is just terrible. Containing no malt, these beverages are not technically classified as beer. They contain soy, corn, or pea protein instead of malt. The advantage to drinking Dai-san bīru is price, even cheaper than Happoshu it is the perfect for the extremely money conscious drinker.
So what's the takeaway from all of this? If you are in Japan and looking for a few casual and nice tasting beers try a premium beer from one of the major brands or look for a craft brew; however, if your looking to get pissed up I recommend starting with a nice beer and moving on to a dai-san bīru as the drunkenness deplets your sense of taste along with the thickness of your wallet.