The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about “craft beer” which is becoming popular in Japan.
Question: I heard that the new home stadium of the Hokkaido Nippon Ham Fighters professional baseball team is popular for its “craft beer.” When did such beer first become widespread in Japan?
Answer: The deregulation of the liquor tax law in 1994 was the beginning. Until then, the amount of beer required to obtain a production license under the law was set at 2,000 kiloliters per year, but this was lowered to 60 kiloliters per year, the same as sake. This led to the establishment of a number of small-scale breweries and a boom in “ji-beer,” or local beer. By 1999, the number of breweries had increased to 313.
Q: But I don’t hear the term ji-beer used much anymore. Why is that?
A: Tasty ji-beers, including “Echigo beer” from the city of Niigata and “Coedo beer” from Kawagoe, Saitama Prefecture, are still popular today. However, at the time, small-scale brewing techniqies were not yet developed and quality varied. In addition, such beer was expensive because of its nature as a souvenir to promote the local area, giving it an image of being “expensive but not that good.” The number of craft breweries in Japan fell to 215 in 2011.
Q: So why is such beer so popular now?
A: The name “craft beer” was a big factor. The term was originally used in the U.S., but it became popular in Japan in the early 2010s, and its handcrafted feel, diversity of flavors, and special care in the brewing process, which are different from major breweries, spread through social media and other means. Breweries that had been producing microbrews since the “ji-beer” boom period improved their techniques, and major breweries also entered the market. The demand for “drinking at home” in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic was also a tailwind. In 2021, there were 559 craft breweries in Japan, and the number is increasing.
Q: Is this boom rippling through to other alcoholic beverages?
A; Yes. Recently, the boom has spread to “craft gin,” a handmade distilled spirit, and “craft sake,” a sake made by incorporating craft beer production methods into sake, enriching the food culture.
(Japanese original by Yuichi Nishigori, Regional News Department)