Japanese brewers are starting to broaden their offerings and produce some world-class varieties in recent years. If you love dark beers, known in Japan as "black beers," you have a good selection of quality homegrown Japanese beers to choose from.
Our editors searched Japanese e-commerce sites such as Amazon, Rakuten, and Kakaku.com for the best Japanese black beers available online. We then picked out the most popular products and taste-tested them.
We rated their taste on 7 things:
We then ranked the products and put what we learned into a buying guide to help you choose the best Japanese black beers available online.
Dark beers (or "black beers"), generally speaking, are dark brown beers brewed using charred barley malt. The malt is first roasted to stop germination, and then subjected to temperatures of 212℉ or higher to give it a savory flavor and burnt color.
Depending on the grains and techniques used, malts are given names such as crystal, caramel, chocolate, black, or roasted barley. They all produce different flavors and aromas; for example, toasted wheat, coffee, chocolate, or nuts.
Here's a quick look at the radar charts we used to rate the beers, with a translation to help you understand them. We explain it in more detail in our "How We Tested" section which follows the product list.
We picked out some of the most popular products and taste-tested them for bitterness, acidity, sweetness, body, sharpness, hoppiness, and aroma. Then we ranked the top 13 Japanese dark beers available online.
Japanese prices for some of the products are given, but they've been converted into US dollars to make it easy for you.
|Notes||Contains additives (aromatics)|
|Bottled in||Nasu, Tochigi|
|Notes||Contains additives (corn and starches)|
|Notes||Daisan beer (blend of malt and alcoholic spirits)|
Miyazaki Hideji Beer
Shikkoku (Jet Black)
Ichiban Shibori Raw Black
Moonlit Night Sky Dunkel
Asahi Dry Black
Barley and Hops Black
Yebisu Premium Black
|Features||mybest's Top Choice! You've...||Recommended to Drink Slowly...||A Great Introduction to Dar...||A Sweet and Caramelly Beer||For Lighter Beer Enthusiast...||Recommended for Dark Beer L...||A Reliable Taste to Enjoy E...|
|Japanese||宮崎ひでじビール栗黒||コエドブルワリーCOEDO漆黒||キリンビールキリン一番搾り 黒生||サッポロビール空模様 月夜のデュンケル||アサヒビールアサヒスーパードライ ドライブラック||サッポロビール麦とホップ 黒||サッポロビールヱビス プレミアムブラック|
|Volume||11 oz.||11 oz.||12 oz.||12 oz.||12 oz.||12 oz.||12 oz.|
|Bottled in||Miyazaki||Saitama||Japan||Nasu, Tochigi||Japan||Japan||Japan|
|Notes||Contains additives (aromatics)||Contains additives (corn and starches)||Daisan beer (blend of malt and alcoholic spirits)|
And why they didn't quite make it. But we think they're worth a taste anyway!
Yasugatake Beer Touchdown Chocolate Schwarz is a lager bock created by renowned brewer Kazumi Yamada. It has an elegant, high-end taste that was unexpectedly clear and easy to drink. Brown sugar flavors spread out on the palate and left a pleasant aftertaste.
Yaho Brewing's Tokyo Black is a robust porter with a good balance and a moderately roasted malt aroma. The bittersweet combination of dark lager presents sharply and smoothly. We think it would be fine for people who are occasional drinkers, but it may not have enough punch for regular dark beer lovers.
Shiga Kogen Porter from Tamamura Honten is easy to drink and has a light taste. The feel of the roasted malt is moderate and it has a coffee-like aroma. The taste is clean and clear. However, many of our tasters thought it was a bit too thin and unsatisfying.
Unazaki Beer's Antelope Bock is well-balanced but lacks personality. The acidity and sweetness play off each other, and some of our tasters really liked that aspect. It's easy to drink with a light taste that may appeal to people who aren't total black beer converts.
Gassan Beer Munchener from Michinoeki Nishikawa is a dunkel brewed with spring water from Gassan, a region of Japan with tremendous snowfalls. But, it's a little too sweet, and the malt roast was lacking. Nothing really stood out about it, but it can be drunk as easily as water, so it may be good on a hot summer day.
Fuji Sakura Kogen Beer's Schwarzweizen had a sweet taste like brown sugar. It's light with no punch and a fuzzy taste. We don't think it's an acquired taste necessarily, but we don't recommend giving it as a gift until you try it yourself, because it's the kind of beer people would either love or hate.
No one wanted to call in sick to work this day! In fact, our six members of the editorial department who tested the beers probably would have been more than happy to work overtime. Our resident beer lovers took their job very seriously, though.
They rated each beer using a 100-point scale (you can see each radar chart in the rankings) and then converted it to an overall score out of 5 points.
Our tasters liked beers that were balanced; they were strong enough to leave an impression without being too in-your-face. We looked for a good body and drinkability. We also wanted brews that appealed to everyone and were not so specialized in their taste that they'd only impress experienced drinkers.
However, each of these beers had their supporters- some of us really liked the more distinctive, unique offerings. Please read the descriptions to find the best one for your tastes, and don't just go by the rankings!
We've included the radar charts of each beer for you to see. The categories, clockwise from 12:00, are bitterness, acidity, sweetness, body, sharpness, hops, and aroma.
When the charts are overlayed, you can see that beers from the top-scoring group (3.5 out of 5 or higher) were moderately bitter and fairly sweet. In addition, most of them were medium- or full-bodied. They were not very hoppy, and the smell of the roasted malt was pronounced.
We recommend considering the following points when choosing a black beer.
There are two types of black beer: ale and lager. They're differentiated by their brewing techniques. Let's look at ales first.
Ales are made by a method called top fermentation which is common in beers from the UK. The process takes place at room temperature or higher temperatures. It produces a fragrant, tasty beer which is good for sipping and enjoying slowly. Examples include Tokyo Black, Sapporo Barley and Hops Black, and the famous draft Guinness.
Lager beers use a low-temperature bottom fermentation method that originated in Southern Germany. They have more hops taste, are clear and refreshing with a light mouthfeel that makes them easy to drink. Many Japanese beers are lagers. Some black lager choices are Asahi Super Dry Black, Kirin Raw Black, and Yebisu Premium Black.
Aside from the brewing techniques, black beer can also be grouped by the method of roasting the barley for the malt. We'll look at four:
Stout is perfect if you like a strong roast. It's characterized by its dark, almost black color and smooth, creamy head. The aroma and bitter taste of stout are what many people imagine when think of when they think of dark beer. Stouts often have a high alcohol content, some approaching 10%.
With moderate bitterness and a rich taste, porter is a bit less full-bodied than stout. It still showcases the burnt malt and bitterness of hops unique to dark beer. Originating in the UK, it has lower alcohol content than stout and an exquisite balance. The head is less dense and it's a refreshing choice for those who prefer fewer bubbles.
Schwarz is lighter still than porter. It has a subtle sweetness and refreshing bitterness. The technique of roasting fermented black malt on the bottom originated in Germany. These lagers feature a good throat and refreshing aftertaste with mild sweetness.
Dunkel is another lager style from the Munich area of Germany. It's less bitter than schwarz brews and is light and mellow. It's popular because it's easy to drink: the sweetness and bitterness of the roasted malt are well-balanced. If you prefer lighter beer that isn't bitter, you'll enjoy dunkel.
To enjoy the pure taste of the beer itself, choose one with no additives. Additives can include flavors, bitters, and seasonings. Sometimes these have a purpose, like our top choice brew containing chestnut flavor, but often they just are to improve the appearance and aroma and aren't strictly necessary.
Other have antioxidants to extend their shelf life. Look for simple products containing only barley, malt and hops to fully appreciate your dark beer.
Dark beer has a higher alcohol content than other beers, ranging from 5% to 11%. The Japanese Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare recommends no more than 20 grams of alcohol per day, which works out to about a beer and a half if it's 5% alcohol. When the percentage goes up to 6%, you're looking at less than a whole bottle or can if you still want to keep these health guidelines.
We'll give you some advice so you can get the most enjoyment from your black beer!
Never, ever drink a dark beer straight from the can or bottle! Admit it, you've done it - but, shame on you. When you pour the beer, tilt the glass, pour it slowly, and then wait for 90 seconds to two minutes before taking your first sip. During this time, a process called surging takes place. Bubbles released from the beer collect at the surface, forming the head and giving a creamy, rich mouthfeel.
Drinking from a glass also allows you to thoroughly enjoy the solid bitterness and sweet aftertaste, as it will expose your palate to the aromas more easily. If you've noticed that people seem to have very different opinions about dark beers, it could be that some of them are drinking them wrong. Pour correctly and enjoy!
If you are on the fence about dark beer, or a true lover who wants to try something different, how about a black beer cocktail or dessert?
Here are some cocktails, both traditional and innovative.
Or why not try some adult dessert cocktails that balance bitterness and sweetness?
The gourmet experience doesn't have to end here. Have some other goodies!
Black beers are delicious regardless of the season. Try refreshing lagers in the summer and rich ales in the winter. And don't stop there- mix things up with some cocktails and desserts! Japan truly has some great black beers on offer. Remember that our tastes are individual, so please read all the descriptions to help you choose the best beer for you - and then try a different one too!
Author: Rikako Miyazaki/Translation: Susan Lucier-Ogawa/ Photos: Koichi Miura, Yamato Muraoka
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