These Are the Most Popular Japanese Beer Brands and Breweries from Big Bottle to Craft Beer

In the U.S., we have our wife-beater beers (Budweiser, Pabst Blue Ribbon, to Coors), but Japan also has their lagers although I’m not sure if anybody is wearing a wife beater demanding that somebody fetch them another beer and a rice ball.

It seems as tho every country has their standard lagers from the Canadians (Molson), Belgians (Stella Artois), Germans (Beck’s), Mexicans (Corona), Chinese (Tsingtao ), Thai (Singha), South Koreans (Hite), Dutch (Heineken), to the Italians (Birra Moretti). Except within the last decade, not only in the U.S, but Japan not only has their large Japanese breweries, but also a fast-growing craft brewery market that makes me wonder how I look with a wife beater and skinny jean combo.

Photo Description: Futura Bold font "Market Share Amongst the Four Major Beer Brewers in Japan" (white on red background). In a lighter font, the text "1. Asahi 31%, 2. Kirin 34%, 3. Suntory 16%, 4. Sapporo 12%, as of 2018. the last bit of copy includes the Oishii-desu URL.
These numbers are meant to be approximated numbers for the most popular Japanese beer brands in Japan (I say approximated because once you see my math grades, you’ll understand).

If you were wondering what the most popular Japanese beer brands are, now you know by market share. Oh, and if you are from Colorado where Orion is thought of as a major Japanese beer, you will want to know that they only account for a 0.9% market share (the smallest of the major beer brands). If you are looking for additional stats, there is only the Japan Times article from January 2020 which you have to be a subscriber.

The Big Japanese Beer Brands in the land of Burgers.

Sapporo Premium has been the #1 selling Asian beer in the United States since Sapporo U.S.A., Inc.

If you do not know what I mean by “the land of burgers,” I mean Murica bro, and I am doing this post for you, me, us as fellow yanks. Not only will you learn who the big four Japanese beer producers are, but I will also drop some knowledge on how to pronounce each brand (so you sound natively Japanese, ok, not Japanese, but Japanesey). Along with the established date of the company and my ramblings that make it sound like I may have had a few beers, and I just may have.

Photo Description: The letter "A" (for Asahi).


Asahi is the largest of the Japanese of the beer breweries in Japan.

Photo Description: Asahi Beer bottle set against a night time city skyline with a red neon Japanese kana with the word "Asahi." in English "discovery is calling."
I’m kind of shocked how I haven’t drinken more Asahi (I suppose I am fairly committed with my Japanese beer preferences). Image courtesy of Asahi International.

How to Pronunce Asahi: uh-sa-ee
Established: in 1889 in Osaka, Japan as the Osaka Beer Company.

As a beer drinking Murican (drunken ramblings): They need to work on their marketing copy because right into it, they start off with “discover the crisp, dry karakuchi taste.” Yea, they’re just going to drop random Japanese words here and there like “yo bro, my beer tastes so karakuchi when I butt chug it, braaaaah.” Not to mention, “super dry,” if that does not sound like female hygiene product or have the words “roll on with no mess” after it, I do not know what is a better match (you’re welcome Asahi marketing department).

Photo Description: The letter "K" (for Kirin beer).


The symbol of KIRIN Brewery —The KIRIN— derives from ancient Chinese mythology and is revered as a harbinger of luck. The story says that when Confucius was born in 6 B.C., the KIRIN appeared before his mother.

Photo Description: the Kirin beer logo of the mythical harbinger of luck which looks like a horse and a dragon (it's a silhouette). In the silhouette is an image of a sushi chef brushing on the nikiri which is a soy sauce based mixture onto a piece of sushi. In the foreground is a glass of Kirin beer and a beer bottle with the text "Crafted to Detail."
My default beer when Sapporo isn’t around, my “side chick.” Image Courtesy of Kirin Ichiban.

How to Pronunce Kirin: kee-een
Established: The Japan Brewery Company, the forerunner to KIRIN, was established in 1885, and by 1888 they began brewing KIRIN. The market welcomed KIRIN, recognizing the beer’s authentic German brewmasters who used German ingredients. In 1907, the Japan Brewery Company changed its name to KIRIN Brewery, continuing its high standards in securing the best malt and hops and investing in facilities.

As a beer drinking Murican (drunken ramblings): the website has a big focus on ingredients which is a nice focus although the overall look does not look that current like the Sapporo website (it’s that fake brushstroke typography that makes it look lame).


New to the U.S. market as of 2020 (initial offering is non-alcoholic).

Photo Description: a picture of the Suntory beer cans which have text in English that says "The Premium Malt's, Premium PIlsner" and "Suntory". The cans are either primarily a royal blue or a golden yellow.
This is something you won’t find stateside although you will find Suntory whisky products everywhere… what’s up with that bro.

How to Pronunce Suntory: sun-toe-ree
Established: If you are wondering where is Suntory (Beam Suntory), well, they currently are not in the U.S. market with beer, but do not worry. They announced on July 17th, 2020 that they will start with selling non-alcoholic beer through e-commerce channels… yea, ok, I guess they are going for relaxing *yawn* times.

As a beer drinking Murican (drunken ramblings): I don’t plan on picking up a 4-pack of non-alcoholic beer, so this is all on you.

For the latest beer and beverage news, check out INSIDE Beer.

Photo Description: The letter "S" (for Sapporo).


Sapporo beers are brewed, canned, and bottled for Sapporo brewing company by City Brewing Company in La Crosse, Wisconsin, for Sapporo U.S.A.

Photo Description: the icon Sapporo can which is silver in finish with a very unique can design that is multi-faceted with the Sapporo logo.
I can’t help but want to save my Sapporo cans because they are just too cool to throw out. Image courtesy of Sapporo USA.

How to Pronunce Sapporo: sa-po-roh
Established: “Sapporo is the oldest brand of beer in Japan, founded in 1876. The legend of our beer began with the adventurous spirit of Seibei Nakagawa, Japan’s first German-trained brewmaster, but our story starts much earlier.”

As a beer drinking Murican (drunken ramblings): I am biased towards Sapporo, and I drink it all the time. I also can not tell you how many cases, bottles, to how many draft Sapporo’s I have ever drank in my life, but I think it’s a lot (I like to sound understated).

Wife Beaters Not Your Thing, Then Maybe Skinny Jeans and Japanese Craft Beer Brands Are

Beyond lager, the Japanese craft brew scene has been growing faster than ever since the deregulation in 1994. Also, just like the U.S., the craft breweries have significantly impacted the sales of the big four which have been dropping for the past 14 consecutive years, although I’m sure once you try a Japanese craft beer, you will know why that is.

Photo Description: Letter Block to demarcate Coedo. The graphic is a square that is 150x150px, the letter C in Futura Bold white font is depicted atop a background utilizing the Coedo graphic elements which include the word "Coedo," along with the logo for Coedo.


Coedo Website
Parent Company
How to Pronunce Coedo: co-eh-doh
Established: “COEDO was founded by a family which started organic farming with the concept of “peace, safe, and delicious” early in 1970s in the city of Kawagoe where agriculture is one of the core industries for some hundreds years. There is a historical approach to keep the soil healthy by growing barley as a green manure in the area of Kawagoe, Saitama.”

As a beer drinking Murican (drunken ramblings): I’m glad they color code their different types, so that I can simply say the green, blue, brown, or mahogany brown on an autumns day (yea I get fancy with the way I describe my colors).

Photo Description: Letter Block to demarcate Echigo. The graphic is a square that is 150x150px, the letter "E" in Futura Bold white font is depicted atop a background utilizing the an illustration from Echigo of a farmer bent over planting rice in a rice field.


How to Pronunce Echigo: ee-chi-go
Uehara Brewery was founded in 1862, and Echigo was established in 1995.
Product Lineup:
Koshihikari Echigo Rice Lager, Echigo Red, Echigo Stout.

As a beer drinking Murican (drunken ramblings): when I drink, my level of feedback is “good, I like it, I”ll take another, to that’s gross, but I can still drink it which means I will let Echigo tell you in their own words how their Echigo Red is: “pour will blow you away with a brilliant ruby red color. Medium bodied and expertly balanced. Enjoy this beer slowly in a wide rimmed glass to best savor the fine aroma and deep flavor.”


How to Pronunce Gingakogen: geen-ga ko-ghen
Established: GINGA KOGEN BEER started in 1996 with the aim of creating an authentic weizen beer that can be enjoyed daily in any occasion. Our signature unfiltered weizen “GINGA KOGEN BEER Hefe-Weizen” has been loved for over two decades now.
Product Lineup: Hefe-weizen

As a beer drinking Murican (drunken ramblings): “Ginga Kogen Beer is Japan’s favorite weizen beer,” and they only have one product offering? Who cares, when they have such a cool website with their caribou? looking logo, a ballet dancer dancing against the backdrop of a starry night, tree silhouettes, and an astrology theme going on.

Photo Description: the letter "H" which stands for Hitachino. In the background is the Hitachino owl.


How to Pronunce Hitachino: he-ta-chi-no
Established: Hitachino Nest Beer is brewed by Kiuchi Brewery that used to brew Japanese sake since 1823, and they are now a 8 family generations in.
Product Lineup: While Ale, Nest Lager, Saison Du Japon, Pale Ale, Weizen, Sweet Stout, Red Rice Ale, Extra High (XH), Japanese Classic Ale, Amber Ale, Real Ginger Ale, Daidai Ale, Espresso Stout, Non Ale, Nipponia.

As a beer drinking Murican (drunken ramblings): this has got to be one of my first Japanese craft beers, and I still have not gone to their tasting room over in the Tenderloin in San Francisco where they serve up beer and Wagyu (how could you crap on that combo).

Photo Description: the letter "I" stands for Iwate kura. In the image shows a bunch of Japanese kana.


How to Pronunce Iwate: ee-wah-tay-koo-rah
Established: Launched in 1996, Iwate Kura Beer has the backing of five different companies. Like other countryside breweries, Iwate Kura Beer also has its history in sake manufacturing from the parent company Sekinoichi Shuzo. All of Iwate Kura Beer’s are fermented at room temperature and also do not undergo pasteurisation or filtration at any time during the brewing process.

As a beer drinking Murican (drunken ramblings): yea, I had their sansho beer… yup, and they also have an oyster stout beer, well ok.

Photo Description: the letter K for Kawaba with hand drawn mountain range.


How to Pronunce Kawaba: ka-wah-bah
Established: another brand where there is not much about them, and I am sure they had to rely on their local importer/distributor in the U.S. (Pacific International Liquor, Inc.) to provide all the information on the company.

As a beer drinking Murican (drunken ramblings): The tagline is “taste and feel the joy of Kawaba village” because this is a craft beer from Gunma, Japan which is in the Kanto region (near Tokyo). The cool thing about it is that Gunma has a very iconic and well known onsens (hot spring resorts), so how could you not want a beer from a small village of 3,400, surrounded by hot springs, and a beer name meaning “the place of rivers.” So if that doesn’t do it for you, do know that they offer a snow weizen, sunrise ale, pearl pilsner, and a twilight ale.

Photo Description: the letter "K" which stands for Kyoto Brewing.


How to Pronunce Kyoto: kee-yo-toe
Established: Yea, after reading through their history, philosophy, etc, I have determined they were established in “no eff’n clue.”
Product Lineup: Ichigo Ichie, Ichi Senshin, Kuroshio No Gotoku.

As a beer drinking Murican (drunken ramblings): very eff’n cool, this company was started by Benjamin who is from Wales. He started it with Chris Hainge, who is also the head brewer and that is from the US of A (USA!, USA!, USA!, ok, enough with my Trump rally). The other dude who is part of the trio is Paul Speed, he is a Canadian. Although beyond the joke of a “a Welshman, a Canadian, and an American walk into a bar…”, their original labeling was on the lame side, but the new packaging is so distinctively cool.

Photo Description: the letter white which stands for Yoho Brewing.


How to Pronunce YOHO: yo-ho
Established: YOHO Brewing was founded in 1996 in Nagano, Japan, and has since grown into one of the most renowned craft beer breweries in Japan.
Product Lineup: Yona Yona Ale, Suiyoubi No Neko, Aooni, Tokyo Black, Sorry Umami IPA

As a beer drinking Murican (drunken ramblings): this brand feels like an anime acid trip.

More of My Drunken Ramblings

Ever since the ’80s, Japan has been stagnant and the countries peak of innovation and influence was with Sony, Honda, Panasonic, to Nintendo. Now those days are nowhere near what they are now, except I think I see a glimmer of hope coming through with all the craft Japanese beer companies, so I will raise my glass of Sapporo, Coedo, Hitachino, and my dram of Nikka whisky and have a drink to that. Also, if you can, fetch me a turkey pot pie.

Also, if you’re a beer drinker, you’re probably also a Japanese whisky drinker, and these are the Japanese whisky distilleries/brands.

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