Top 27 Best Japanese Beers to Buy Online 2019 – Tried and True!

Top 27 Best Japanese Beers to Buy Online 2019 - Tried and True!

Our editors searched Japanese e-commerce sites (such as Amazon, Rakuten, and kakaku.com) for the best beer. We then picked out the 27 most popular cans and bottles and tried them all. Lagers, ales, pilsners, Beglian whites, Sapporo, Kirin, Asahi–you name it and we drank it. (Testing was grueling, of course.)

We also asked experts in the industry about how to best enjoy a pint. We then sat down with all the beers, tasting and comparing, in order to find the most delicious of them all. Here are the brews that came out on top and how we decided.

Table of Contents

First, Let’s Get the Types of Japanese Beer Straight

Not all Japanese “beer” is beer.

What’s Considered a Beer in Japan?

What's Considered a Beer in Japan?

Beer comes in all sorts of colors; it gives off all kinds of scents, imparts many different flavors, contains varying levels of alcohol. And, depending on what country you’re residing in and what laws you’re abiding by, the definition of “beer” can change. It’s very difficult to come up with an all-encompassing description.

Even Japan’s liquor tax provides a pretty confusing definition of beer. But here’s the general gist of it: beer is a fermented beverage made up of malt, hops, and water (or other ingredients recognized by the government), with an alcohol content between 1 to 20%.

In any case, we kind of ignored the official definitions of beer in this article. We introduce all sorts of beverages that could be considered “beer,” even if they wouldn’t be categorized as such under Japanese law.

What’s the Difference between Beer, Low-Malt Beer, and Third Beer?

What's the Difference between Beer, Low-Malt Beer, and Third Beer?

Low-malt beer※1 (happoshu) and beer※2 are made up of the same basic ingredients; however, happoshu is either less than 50% malt or contains ingredients not recognized by Japan’s liquor tax. Think of this way: as long as the alcohol’s got some malt in it, it can throw whatever the heck else it wants in there, and it’ll still be happoshu.

“Third beer※3,” actually, is a term coined by mass media; our liquor tax recognizes no such category. It’s made up of two distinct types of beverage, which some may argue are not beer at all:

  • Other Types of Brew (Effervescent)※4
    Malt-free and made up of fermented alternatives, such as soybeans or peas
  • Liquor (Effervescent)※5
    Happoshu made up of less than 50% malt, with other spirits added in

Honestly, Japan’s the only country with these categories of beer–and we have them because each kind of drink is taxed differently. This difference in taxation in reflected in consumer prices. Beer and happoshu over 50% malt are the most expensive, 25-50% malt is a little cheaper, less than 25% malt is cheaper still, and third beer is the cheapest.

※1 発泡酒: low-malt beer (sometimes simply transliterated as happoshu)
※2 ビール: beer
※3 第三のビール: third beer (literal translation; may sometimes be transliterated as daisan no beer)
※4 その他の醸造酒(発泡性): other types of brew (effervescent)
※5 リキュール(発泡性): liquor (effervescent)

Top 27 Best Japanese Beers to Buy Online

We collected beers of every color and variety. We got ales and lagers, Belgian whites and pilsners, low-malt or Premium Malt. Then, based on our taste tests, we ranked the top 27 best Japanese beers available online.

A quick note: we use “sharpness” in the Japanese sense of the word. Drinks that are sharp possess crisp, clear, refreshing aftertastes.

※ As some states prohibit the shipping or online sale of alcohol, we’ve provided Japanese links. Some of these products are available exclusively in Japan and some boast international distribution.

1. Kirin’s Craftsmanship Grand Kirin White (350 ml x 24 cans)

Kirin's Craftsmanship Grand Kirin White1. Kirin's Craftsmanship Grand Kirin White

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Price: $56.42

A Beer for the Masses. No Odd Peculiarities–Simply Delicious

A refreshing ale even reluctant drinkers can enjoy. The standard for craft beers, a drink to be craved and had every day. This was the concept behind Kirin’s white ale, which reminded us of white wine. Little wonder, since it featured Nelson Sauvin hops–they’re tropical, spicy, and often likened to white wine grapes.

Even our tasters who didn’t like beer thought this one was pleasant and easy to swallow. Others appreciated that it didn’t have any overly peculiar flavors, and still others compared its fruity fragrance to Chardonnay and its sparkling flavor to champagne.

In Japan, there are plenty of convenience stores and supermarkets that stock it. It’s a beer we’d heavily recommend to new drinkers who want something good but haven’t discovered their preferences yet.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $2.36
Category Beer Alcohol 5.5%
Fermentation Ale Style White Ale
Overall Score 4.1

2. Yo-ho Brewing Company Yona Yona Ale (350 ml x 24 cans)

Yo-ho Brewing Company Yona Yona AleYo-ho Brewing Company Yona Yona Ale

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Price: $49.26

One of the Grand Cornerstones of Japanese Beer. If You’re Looking for a Sure and Safe Entrance into the World of Craft Brews

Yona Yona’s ale utilizes Cascade hops, and their citrus scent, reminiscent of grapefruit, was so strong we caught a whiff when our faces were nowhere near the brew.

After a sip, the scent traveled slowly up our noses and the taste of hops lingered in our mouths. The beer was also full-bodied, with a satisfying mouthfeel. It’d pair well with Western cuisine, including Spanish ajillo dishes.

It wasn’t malty at all, so it’s a good one to try if you’ve had pilsner in the past and didn’t like it. However, it was hoppy, so fans of IPA should also appreciate the brew.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $2.06
Category Beer Alcohol 5.5%
Fermentation Ale Style American Pale Ale
Overall Score 3.9

3. Suntory The Premium Malt’s Kaoru Ale (350 ml x 24 cans)

Suntory The Premium Malt's Kaoru AleSuntory The Premium Malt's Kaoru Ale

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Price: $46.60

If You’re Looking for an Easily Accessible, Delicious Ale. Suntory Wows with Its Citrus Notes

Suntory’s ale was fragrant with the scent of citrus and resplendent with fruity notes. It was nothing like its original, Suntory’s The Premium Malt’s beer.

Flavor was rich, but there was a lemony sourness to it that made the brew very easy to drink. It tasted elegant and well-rounded, so we thought it’d pair better with Western, rather than Japanese, dishes.

It’s available in convenience stores and supermarkets all across Japan. If you haven’t had a chance to drink Japanese ale yet and wanted to give it a go,  Suntory’s a good a bet as any. We also recommend getting the original Premium Malt’s and comparing the two.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.94
Category Beer Alcohol 6%
Fermentation Ale Style Japanese Ale
Overall Score 3.9

4. Kirin Beer Heartland (330 ml x 30 bottles)

Kirin Beer Heartland (330 ml x 30 bottles)Kirin Beer Heartland (330 ml x 30 bottles)

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Price: $67.31

Head and Shoulders above Other Domestic Pilsners. If You Want to Try Japanese Beer with a Bite

This was pretty easy to drink, similar to a Corona in that respect. However, it’s 100% malt and Hersbrucker hops (used for aroma), so you get a full face of the soft, round flavor of malt and the spiciness of hops.

On the other hand, the beer had a clear and refreshing aftertaste, so it never felt overpowering. We’d call Kirin’s Heartland one of the representatives of Japanese beer, so if you haven’t had a chance yet, make sure you take a swig.

Volume 330 ml Price per Item $2.25
Category Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Lager Style Pilsner
Overall Score 3.9

5. Suntory The Premium Malt’s (350 ml x 24 cans)

Suntory The Premium Malt's (350 ml x 24 cans)Suntory The Premium Malt's (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $42.81

Delicious When Had on Its Own. If You’re an Ale-Lover Who Wants to Try a Pilsner

We, of course, tried standard beers from all the famous brands–and this one came out on top. All the other brews had fans and detractors, but The Premium Malt’s earned above-average ratings from every one of our tasters.

The hops came out fruity. Overall, flavors were well-balanced, which made the brew easy to drink. It didn’t kick as hard as typical pilsners, and ale-lovers could appreciate it. And yet, it still had body and felt satisfying traveling down the throat. We’d recommend keeping this one off the dinner table and breaking it out when you want a nice cold beer and only a beer.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.79
Category Beer Alcohol 5.5%
Fermentation Lager Style Pilsner
Overall Score 3.9

6. Kumezakura Daisen Brewery Dai’sen G Beer Weizen

Kumezakura Daisen Brewery Dai'sen G Beer WeizenKumezakura Daisen Brewery Dai'sen G Beer Weizen

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Price: $5.28

Soft Yeasty Aroma. A Beer from Tottori that’s Already Earned the Title of World’s Best

Kumezakura Daisen collects its water 300 meters above sea level, at a spring on the slopes of Mount Daisen. Its Weizen brew won gold at the World Beer Awards in 2011, and we could see why–it was light with a good balance of flavors, making it very easy to drink.

There was a lot of froth, which lent itself to a soft, creamy mouthfeel. It was reminiscent of champagne–nothing too strong or unpleasant about the beer, which gave off a gentle yeasty aroma.

If you like yourself a strong, hoppy beer, you might find Daisen lacking. However, if you aren’t a big fan of beer or you prefer the white varieties, then this is a brew you’ll definitely appreciate.

Volume 330 ml Price per Item $5.28
Category Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Ale Style Hefeweizen
Overall Score 3.8

7. Sapporo Beer Premium Yebisu (350 ml x 24 cans)

Sapporo Beer Premium Yebisu (350 ml x 24 cans)Sapporo Beer Premium Yebisu (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $42.98

If You Want Something Refreshing and Easy to Drink, with Well-Balanced Flavors

Yebisu’s known for being a classy beer–it’s got a vivid fragrance that devotees can pick out blindfolded. Our tasters proclaimed the brew to be well-balanced, not overly complex, and easy to down.

It wasn’t too bitter, but it had just enough body and depth of flavor to feel rich. There were also sweet, wheaty notes, making this beer a good one to pair with savory foods.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.79
Category Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Lager Style Pilsner
Overall Score 3.8

8. Kirin Beer Tanrei Green Label (350 ml x 24 cans)

Kirin Beer Tanrei Green Label (350 ml x 24 cans)Kirin Beer Tanrei Green Label (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $28.37

If You’re Looking for a Good Low-Malt Beer

This was a low-malt beer, but it certainly did not disgrace the name of Kirin. There was a good balance of sweet, bitter, and sour elements, and the hops lent the brew a grapefruit-like flavor.

Even our heavy beer drinkers were left with nothing to complain about. They expected the brew to taste forced, artificial, but it was near indistinguishable from a “normal” beer, with decent body and a clean aftertaste.

That’s pretty good considering that it’s low malt and contains 70% less sugar than normal beers. Grab a case when you’re dieting or trying to save some cash.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.18
Category Low-Malt Beer Alcohol 4.5%
Fermentation Style
Overall Score 3.7

9. Miyashita Sake Brewery Doppo Beer Muscat Pils

Miyashita Sake Brewery Doppo Beer Muscat PilsMiyashita Sake Brewery Doppo Beer Muscat Pils

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Price: $4.56

Is This… Grape Juice? The Beer for Beer Haters

Comments we received from our tasters: “Tastes like sweet white wine.” “Chanmery!” (That is, champagne for kids.) “This is grape juice.” You get the picture. This was a beer that didn’t taste like beer. You could guzzle it, like juice.

We were left with two camps. Members that didn’t like beer thought it delicious and clamored for seconds, while members that did like beer grumbled that they might as well be drinking juice.

We did agree that this was the one of the best fruit beers around. It’s a good one to keep in stock for huge gatherings, where there’s bound to be one or two people who don’t like the taste of alcohol.

Volume 330 ml Price per Item $4.56
Category Low-Malt Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Spontaneous/Other Style Fruit Beer
Overall Score 3.7

10. Sapporo Beer White Belg (350 ml x 24 cans)

Sapporo Beer White Belg (350 ml x 24 cans)Sapporo Beer White Belg (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $25.05

You Won’t Believe It’s Not Belgian White. A Fruity Beer That’s Not Too Bitter

Our tasters were shocked to find out this was a third beer. It tasted just like a Belgian White. It had a fruitiness that came from coriander and orange peels, and the spiciness of hops was balanced against a light sweetness. The brew would go well with cold appetizers and salad.

It’s readily available in Japanese convenience stores and supermarkets. Pick up a box if you ever need a light beer for a light drinker.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.05
Category Third Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Style
Overall Score 3.6

11. Kirin Beer Ichiban Shibori (350 ml x 24 ml)

Kirin Beer Ichiban ShiboriKirin Beer Ichiban Shibori (350 ml x 24 ml)

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Price: $41.05

If You’re Looking for a Big Name Brand that’s Easy to Down

The three big names in Japanese beer are Asahi, Sapporo, and Kirin. We tried lagers from all three brands, and we’d say Kirin’s didn’t smell or taste too malty. It was crisp and easy to drink.

There wasn’t much funk and flavors were well-balanced, so this beer won’t overpower foods that it’s paired with. Body was light, so we’d recommend Ichiban Shibori for days or nights you just want to sit there and drink a lot of beer.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.72
Category Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Lager Style Pilsner
Overall Score 3.6

12. Kirin Beer Honkirin (350 ml x 24 cans)

Kirin Beer Honkirin (350 ml x 24 cans)Kirin Beer Honkirin (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $23.59

Full Flavor and Aroma That Do All Third Beers Proud

Honkinrin was one of our highest-rated third beers. Its defining characteristic? How it balanced the mellow sweetness of malt with just the right amount of bitterness.

Both aroma and flavor felt full, and each swig was satisfying. Many of our tasters were impressed, noting that though it was cheap, it lacked none of the essential elements of beer. It felt deeper and heavier than Suntory’s Rich Malt, which came in 13th, so we recommend pairing Honkirin with snacks or appetizers.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $0.98
Category Third Beer Alcohol 6%
Fermentation Style
Overall Score 3.5

13. Suntory Rich Malt – Kinmugi (350 ml x 24 cans)

Suntory Rich Malt - Kinmugi (350 ml x 24 cans)Suntory Rich Malt - Kinmugi (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $24.16

Has All the Hoppiness of a Typical Suntory. A Third Beer That Tastes Like Any Other Beer

Out of all the third beers we tasted, Suntory’s Kinmugi was closest to what you’d think of as a typical beer. There was a bright hoppiness to it that reminded us of Suntory’s star brew, The Premium Malt’s.

It wasn’t too bitter and had a pronounced sweetness, so it was easy to swallow. Our tasters said flavor was pretty close to the standard and that they could see why Kinmugi was so popular. Try it sometime, especially if you’re a beer lover looking to save some cash without actually cutting back on drinking.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.01
Category Third Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Style
Overall Score 3.4

14. Coedo Brewery Ruri (350 ml x 12 cans)

Coedo Brewery Ruri (350 ml x 12 cans)Coedo Brewery Ruri (350 ml x 12 cans)

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Price: $38.01

An All-Rounder to Be Paired with Any Dish. As Refreshing as Japanese Citrus Fruits, but with a Bitter Aftertaste

Coedo’s Ruri was a hit with beer-lovers. It was fragrant with a scent reminiscent of yuzu and other Japanese citrus fruits, which made us forget that this beer was a pilsner.

You’d think that, because it smelled so refreshing, it’d be easy to drink too, but it had a bitter aftertaste that came crashing down like a wave. Still, it paired well with all kinds of food, so try keeping a case around for house parties.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $3.17
Category Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Lager Style Pilsner
Overall Score 3.4

15. Yo-ho Brewing Company Indo no Ao Oni (350 ml x 24 cans)

Yo-ho Brewing Company Indo no Ao Oni (350 ml x 24 cans)Yo-ho Brewing Company Indo no Ao Oni (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $73.18

A Readily Accessible IPA. Strikes a Delicate Balance Between Hoppiness and a Clear Aftertaste

Ao Oni was hoppy–it tasted like your standard IPA. Not only was it heavy with the bitterness of hops, but it also had citrus elements, like orange and lemon.

You can find Ao Oni in many Japanese convenience stores. If you haven’t had IPA before but you want to give it a try, then this is a good, representative example to start from.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $3.05
Category Beer Alcohol 7%
Fermentation Ale Style IPA
Overall Score 3.3

16. Coedo Brewery Kyara (350 ml x 12 cans)

Coedo Brewery Kyara (350 ml x 12 cans)Coedo Brewery Kyara (350 ml x 12 cans)

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Price: $32.88

Has a Bitterness That Hits Hard and is Surprisingly Popular

This beer was a rich golden-brown with a faint blush. It was fragrant with hops–we could almost taste the bitterness without having put the glass to our lips.

And though the bitterness hit hard and fast, it left behind a lingering trail of citrus and spices. The combination of naughty and nice had us hooked. Plus, it had a light body, making Kyara another beer that was surprisingly easy to down.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.37
Category Beer Alcohol 5.5%
Fermentation Ale Style India Pale Lager
Overall Score 3.3

17. OH! LA! HO! Beer Captain Crow Extra Pale Ale (350 ml x 24 cans)

OH! LA! HO! Beer Captain Crow Extra Pale Ale (350 ml x 24 cans)OH! LA! HO! Beer Captain Crow Extra Pale Ale (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $67.69

A Better than Average Beer (According to Beer Lovers). Has the Vibrant Flavor and Aroma that Characterize IPAs

Though this brew had too much of a kick for the beer haters among us, fans of the drink deemed it above average.

Captain Crow packed more than double the hops you’d find in a typical beer, which gave it the strong, fruity aroma expected from IPAs. We didn’t detect any off flavors either. It was just good–a drink you’d want to have every day with dinner.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $2.82
Category Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Ale Style Pale Ale
Overall Score 3.2

18. Asahi Beer Super Dry (350 ml x 24 cans)

Asahi Beer Super Dry (350 ml x 24 cans)Asahi Beer Super Dry (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $40.29

If You Like Fizzy Beers with a Clean Finish. But May Taste a Bit Sour

Here, we have another poster child of Japanese beer: Asashi Super Dry. Our tasters liked the crisp, refreshing aftertaste and how it felt traveling down the throat.

We did hear negative reactions to the taste, however. “It’s too sour” or “I don’t like malty beers, so no seconds for me.” We’d recommend Asahi’s Super Dry mainly to those who like the smooth, light, sparkling mouth- and “throat”feel of beer.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.68
Category Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Lager Style Pilsner
Overall Score 3.2

19. Sapporo Beer Black Label (350 ml x 24 cans)

Sapporo Beer Black Label (350 ml x 24 cans)Sapporo Beer Black Label (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $40.29

Has a Strong Bitterness You Either Love or Hate. Try It If You Already Like Beer

Sapporo’s Black Label finished last among all canned lagers from famous brands.

Because it had such a pronounced bitterness, it was poorly rated by our tasters who don’t drink beer on a regular basis. However, it received positive reviews from tasters hooked on beer.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.68
Category Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Lager Style Pilsner
Overall Score 3.1

20. Sapporo Beer Mugi to Hop (350 ml x 24 cans)

Sapporo Beer Mugi to Hop (350 ml x 24 cans)Sapporo Beer Mugi to Hop (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $37.42

As Satisfying as Any Other Brew. A Third Beer Fans of Sapporo’s Black Label Will Appreciate

This was another top-performing third beer. It tasted like your typical Sapporo beers, with striking similarities to Black Label.

The umami of malt came out strong and the brew itself was medium-bodied, so it’d go well with rich, savory appetizers.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.57
Category Third Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Style
Overall Score 3.1

21. Asahi Beer Orion Draft (350 ml x 24 cans)

Asahi Beer Orion Draft (350 ml x 24 cans)Asahi Beer Orion Draft (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $42.99

A Pilsner for New Drinkers. Easy to Swallow with a Clean Finish

Orion makes up 60% of the beer market on Okinawa, where it was born. The sweetness of malt was apparent, but the finish was also crisp and light. There were no off flavors, making this brew very easy to drink.

If you want to introduce a Japanese pilsner to someone who doesn’t like beer very much, then Orion’s one of your best bets.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.79
Category Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Lager Style Pilsner
Overall Score 3.0

22. Yo-ho Brewing Company Suiyoubi no Neko (350 ml x 8 cans)

Yo-ho Brewing Company Suiyoubi no Neko (350 ml x 8 cans)Yo-ho Brewing Company Suiyoubi no Neko (350 ml x 8 cans)

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Price: $17.73

Has a Malty Sweetness. But May Not be the Best Example of a Belgian White

You can find this cute little cat at most convenience stores across Japan. The flavor and aroma is heavily characterized by wheat, lending it the sweetness of bread or rice.

It tasted quite strong and had a crisp finish. It was a bit powerful for a Belgian White, and some of our tasters found it just a tad difficult to swallow.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $2.22
Category Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Ale Style Belgian White
Overall Score 2.9

23. Asahi Beer Clear Asahi (350 ml x 24 cans)

Asahi Beer Clear Asahi (350 ml x 24 cans)Asahi Beer Clear Asahi (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $24.16

May be Too Clear… A Beer Whose Defining Characteristic is Its Crisp Finish

Asahi’s brews are known for having a light, refreshing finish. But that was pretty much all this beer had. It was so crisp, it felt thin and didn’t give us that satisfying swig.

Still, the flavors weren’t poorly balanced. You could have it on dense summer nights, when all you want is a little flavored sparkling water, or alongside delicate appetizers, like edamame or cucumber.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.01
Category Third Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Style
Overall Score 2.9

24. Suntory Rich Malt – Kinmugi – with 75% Less Sugar (350 ml x 24 cans)

Suntory Rich Malt - Kinmugi - with 75% Less Sugar (350 ml x 24 cans)Suntory Rich Malt - Kinmugi - with 75% Less Sugar (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $23.73

Characterized by a Sharp Sourness and Crisp Finish. Likely to Receive Mixed Reviews

Suntory’s Rich Malt, Reduced Sugar was met with a lukewarm reception. Some of our tasters thought it was too sour. Some thought that it was decently balanced and not half bad.

It did smell and taste similar to Suntory’s original Kinmugi. If you’re a fan of that brew and you’re trying to cut back on sugar and calories, then this would be your most obvious choice.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $0.99
Category Third Beer Alcohol 4%
Fermentation Style
Overall Score 2.7

25. Sankt Gallen Brewery el Diablo 2015

Sankt Gallen Brewery el Diablo 2015Sankt Gallen Brewery el Diablo 2015

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Price: $9.67

Only For Those Who Love a Strong Beer! Barley Wine with a Teeth-Clenching Bitterness

This was bright with the strong scent of alcohol, reminding us of brandy. It also had the characteristic dryness of barley wine.

Bitterness came crashing down upon us with the initial sip, but it mellowed down to a gentle, lingering sweetness. It wasn’t bad, on any account, but we wouldn’t recommend El Diablo to anyone who doesn’t already love beer.

Volume 300 ml Price per Item $9.67
Category Beer Alcohol 10%
Fermentation Ale Style Barley Wine
Overall Score 2.7

26. Kirin Beer Nodogoshi Nama (350 ml x 24 cans)

Kirin Beer Nodogoshi Nama (350 ml x 24 cans)Kirin Beer Nodogoshi Nama (350 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $24.16

No Beer Should Smell This Strongly of Soy. A Third Beer That Wasn’t Bad, but…

This is actually one of the best-selling third beers around. But we found the aroma of soy too powerful, effectively overshadowing the hops.

Overall, it tasted thin and was quite sour. We think there’s better-tasting third beer around, so this one doesn’t get a recommendation from us.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.01
Category Third Beer Alcohol 5%
Fermentation Style
Overall Score 2.4

27. Asahi Beer Style Free 0 Sugar (250 ml x 24 cans)

Asahi Beer Style Free 0 Sugar (250 ml x 24 cans)Asahi Beer Style Free 0 Sugar (250 ml x 24 cans)

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Price: $30.30

Smelled like Beer, but Tasted Like… Sour Sparkling Water?

It had the complex scent of beer but the taste of sour sparkling water. We realize that it is sugar-free, but we still wouldn’t recommend it.

Volume 350 ml Price per Item $1.26
Category Low-Malt Beer Alcohol 4%
Fermentation Style
Overall Score 1.9

How We Tested Our Products

Simple–by tasting them.

We Rounded up Six Members from Our Editing Department and Conducted a Taste Test

How We Tasted the Beer

When it all comes down to it, a well-made beer is one that tastes good. As buyers, we want to know how a brew tastes and what its defining characteristics are.

So we gathered six editors–some of them loved beer and some were merely curious–and had them taste-test all the products. They then rated deliciousness on a scale from 1 to 100, which we reflected in the overall scores (which themselves were on a scale from 0.1 to 5.0).

A Note About Our Charts

About Our Charts

Of course, our tasters’ personal preferences played a big role in how they rated the beer, so to make everything a bit more objective, we added in flavor charts as well. We measured six elements: bitterness, sourness, sweetness, body, sharpness, hoppiness, and fragrance.

  • Body referred to how the beer felt going down the throat–a heavy body meant the beer had a lot of presence and felt “satisfying” to drink, whereas a light body pointed to a clearer beer that may be easier to swallow.
  • In Japanese, when a beer is considered sharp, it means it has a crisp and refreshing aftertaste, as opposed to one that lingers.
  • A hoppy beer can often be described as spicy, bitter, or fruity. Basically, if you’re looking for some zest, you’re looking for the hops.

There’s a good chance you’ll love a beer that wound up at the bottom of our rankings, so when browsing through the top 27, make sure you give the charts a good hard look.

Tips on How to Choose Japanese Beer – Buying Guide

Choosing beer is just about knowing what the options are and discovering your own preferences.

① If You Haven’t Already, Learn about the Different Types of Fermentation

How a beer was fermented will affect how it smells and tastes.

The Standard: Bottom-Fermenting (Lager)

The Standard: Bottom-Fermenting (Lager)

Out of the three methods, bottom-fermenting is the most common in Japan. It utilizes lager yeast strains, and though the end product is greatly swayed by the specific type of strain and the temperature at which the drink was brewed, we can make the following generalizations.

Lagers tend to be less complex and taste clean, clear, refreshing. Hops will lend lagers a crisp bitterness. They also foam easily, resulting in a creamy mouthfeel. If you like Japanese lagers, we recommend picking up a few different brands and brews to taste and compare.

The Richly Fragrant: Top-Fermenting (Ale)

Richly Fragrant: Top Fermenting (Ale)

Ale yeast is top-fermenting. Ales are often fermented at warmer temperatures than lagers, which produces more esters. Esters are a flavor compound, which lend ales a fruity aroma and mild sweetness.

Ales have a thick umami and are less frothy than lagers. Since they also tend to feel lighter and easier to swallow, we recommend introducing ales to people who may not like beer.

The Unexpected: Spontaneous Fermentation and Other Alternatives

The Unexpected: Spontaneous Fermentation and Other Alternative Forms

Ale and lager may be the most common, but they certainly aren’t the only kinds of fermentation. Brewers have always and are still experimenting with different microbes, sometimes choosing alternatives and sometimes allowing them to drop in at random and contribute their own unique flavor profiles to the hot pot.

This handing over of the reins to wild yeasts, instead of cultivated ones, is what gives spontaneous fermentation its name. Spontaneous and other forms of fermentation can result in fun and unexpected flavors. Some are densely sweet, almost like juice, which make them perfect brews to introduce to “beer haters.”

Sour beer, often Belgian, is another form of spontaneous fermentation. The brewers allow wild yeast strains to pop in and sour the beer, giving it a tart acidity you wouldn’t otherwise come by.

② Then, Consider the Different Styles of Beer

There are over 100 different styles of beer around the globe. Here are a few of the most famous, along with their defining characteristics.

For New Drinkers of Beer: Hefeweizen and Belgian White

For New Drinkers of Beer: Hefeweizen and Belgian White

If you’re not into beer with peculiar flavors or you don’t like the taste of hops, then you should try pale brews like Hefeweizen and Belgian White. They’re both perfect for neophytes.

Hefeweizens are over 50% malted wheat. The spice and bitterness of hops are muted and the brew itself is foamy, so it’s very easy to drink.

Belgian whites are always spiced, usually with coriander and orange peels, which give them a certain tanginess. They tend to be invigorating in flavor, a bit sweet, and give off a bright aroma.

For Fans of Standard Japanese Lagers: Pilsner and Pale Ale

For Fans of Standard Japanese Lagers: Pilsner and Pale Ale

If you like Asahi’s Super Dry, Kirin’s Ichiban Shibori, Sapporo’s Black Label, or Suntory’s The Premium Malt’s, then you’ll be sure to appreciate pilsners and pale ales.

The Japanese lagers we listed above are all pilsners. Pilsers are a transparent gold in color and fragrant with the spiciness of hops. They may be the most popular kind of beer not only in Japan, but around the world.

Pale ales originated in England. They’re bitter, refreshing, and dry but also have a fruity, banana-like fragrance that originates from esters. If you’re looking to try something different from your typical lager, then pale ale’s a good place to start.

For Those in Search of a New Taste: IPA and Sour Ale

For Those in Search of a New Taste: IPA and Sour Ale

If you’ve already tried every beer at the convenience store and supermarket and you’re looking for something new, how about trying IPA and sour ale?

If you like bitter, dry alcohol, then you’ll appreciate India Pale Ale (IPA). Depending on the brewery, IPAs can differ in flavor, fragrance, and alcohol content, but they’re generally characterized by the fruity aroma of hops and a clear bitterness.

Sour ale‘s not very common in Japan, but it’s still a fun one to try. Thanks to the wild yeast strains in it, it’s sour–so sour, in fact, that you might just start giggling. It’s fun to drink and all too easy to get hooked.

③ To Save Cash, Look for Low-Malt or Third Beer

To Save Cash, Look for Low-Malt or Third Beer

Beer’s delicious, but it can really take a bite out of your wallet. If you want to save some cash but don’t want to cut back on drinking, consider stocking up on low-malt or third beer. They aren’t taxed as highly as normal beers, and that’s reflected in the lower prices. (As of March 2019)

While it’s true that low malt and third-beer are made from different ingredients and brewed in different ways, there are examples that don’t pale in comparison to “real” beer. Of course, you’ll also come across inferior products, so we recommend playing it safe and starting off with popular names.

How to Best Enjoy Beer

There’s a right way and a wrong way to go about everything, it seems. Here are some tips from a Japanese blogger and beer influencer.

Things to Do Beforehand

To make sure you’re having beer at its best.

① Make Sure the Beer’s Less than Two Months Old

Make Sure the Beer's Less than Two Months Old

Beer’s best had fresh. Check the date of manufacture and get whatever’s most recent. If the beer’s in a can, the date of manufacture’s printed on the bottom; if it’s in a bottle, then it should be on the label.

Generally speaking, you don’t want anything that’s over two months old.

② Let the Beer Hang out in the Fridge for a Day before Drinking

Let the Beer Hang out in the Fridge for a Day before Drinking

Ever notice that your beer cans are inflated after you get home? That’s because of carbon dioxide. When you shake a can of beer or when temperature rises, the carbon dioxide tries to escape from the brew. Of course, CO2 is an important element of flavor and mouthfeel, and when you let too much of it go, the beer loses its integrity.

So, if you can, let your beer sit for the fridge for two days; at the very least, let it rest for six hours. And to make sure that the beer isn’t shaken after it’s put in in the fridge, don’t store it against the door–place it on the inner shelves.

③ Pour into a Glass that’s Clean–but It Doesn’t Have to Be Chilled

Pour into a Glass that's Clean--but It Doesn't Have to Be Chilled

If you want to enjoy beer at its best, don’t drink straight from the can or the bottle. Instead, pour it into a pristine glass–no lint or dust or funny business. If the glass has been sitting around for a while, wash it out with a sponge and rinse well.

A clean glass ensures that the CO2 in your beer won’t get caught on anything and will spread as it should throughout the brew, contributing to mouthfeel, aroma, and a nice topping of foam. You’ll also get to see some lacing (the ring-shaped residues of foam left after each successive swig of beer).

Some people also enjoy pouring into a chilled glass, but that may change the flavor of your beer. A chilled glass can, however, give you better mouthfeel and make each gulp more satisfying, so it’s up to you whether or not you want one for yourself. If you do choose to chill your glass, we recommend doing so by rinsing it out with ice water.

Ways to Pour Your Beer

You’ve heard it time and time again. 45 degree angle, aim for the middle of the glass, right the glass once you get to the halfway point. But there’s more to pouring beer than just that.

You can actually fill your glass in one, two, or three goes–that is, single-pour※6, double-pour, or triple-pour. How many times you pour will determine how much foam you get. And foam not only contributes to mouthfeel, but also acts as a lid for your beer. It keeps aroma from escaping and makes sure your brew doesn’t oxidize.

It also softens bitterness–the bigger the foam head, the milder the beer.

※6 一度注ぎ: ichido sosogi or single-pour (double- and triple-pour are known respectively as 二度注ぎ and 三度注ぎ)

Single-Pour

One-Fill

You’re familiar with this one. You tilt, pour, and right the glass, moving along at a brisk pace. And that’s it.

Because you’ve just filled your glass in one go, you lose some carbon dioxide. Foam gets a little thin and coarse, and the beer goes slightly flat. However, you can also get beer that smells and feels lighter and is easier to drink–basically, the quicker you fill your glass, the quicker you can empty it as well.

Double-Pour

Two-Fill

This is how you double-pour in Japan.

  1. Pour quickly, letting the beer hit the bottom of the glass, until it’s about one-thirds full.
  2. Once the foam has settled a bit, tilt the glass and top off–gently, as to not create any more foam.

The foam head on double-pour beer is creamier than that on single-pour, but the brew itself tastes crisper. It’s because that thick foam is trapping carbon dioxide in the beer, giving you a fizzier drink.

Triple-Pour

Triple-Pour

Finally, the triple-pour.

  1. Hold the can or bottle a good distance away from the glass and pour quickly until the foam head hits the top of the glass.
  2. Wait for the foam to settle. Once you’ve achieved about a 1:1 ratio between foam and liquid, fill your glass again, but more gently. (※Don’t tilt the glass for this step.)
  3. Wait for about a minute, or until 60% – 70% of your foam dissipates back into the beer.
  4. Gently top off your glass.

With the triple-pour, you’re letting the foam soak up a lot of bitterness from the beer. That means the foam head will be extremely bitter, but the beer itself will taste milder.

How to Pair Food with Beer

How to Pair Food with Beer

There’s actually a shortcut you can use when matching foods with beer–just choose pairs that are similar in color. So if you’ve a pale brew, then try pairing with cheese, pizza, and fries. Dark brews go well with demi-glace sauce and chocolate. Amber brews complement fast food and beef.

You can also pair styles with dishes from their home countries. So German pilsners are often matched with potato dishes (mashed potato, knodel, fries, ect.) and sausages. British pale ales are often stuck together with fish and chips. And, apparently, IPAs make a killer companion to English muffin sandwiches.

Some Other Japanese Alcohols to Try

Some Other Japanese Alcohols to Try

Japan’s not all about beer and sake–recently, its winemaking industry has been booming. If you haven’t tried Yamanashi wine before, you’re missing out. Below, you can read our reviews and learn more about this delicious alcohol.

Summary

We rounded up members from our editing department, purchased the 27 most popular Japanese beers, and tasted them all.

Just looking through our rankings, you get an idea of all the different kinds of “beer” there are, from sweet to sour to bitter, from white to amber to black, from malt-free to very malty. And brewers are always experimenting, coming up with new twists.

So before you label yourself either as a “pure pilsner person” or a “beer hater,” take some time to hunt around because you could be shutting out some very delicious options.

Original by Rikako Miyazaki; Translation by Jasmine Li

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