Here are some of the other Japanese craft brewers worth mentioning for one reason or another:
- Swan Lake – Based in Niigata, Swan Lake makes some quality beers, but I find them to be very pricey. They also don’t make too many different kinds of beer.
- Recommended year-round beer: Amber Swan Ale
- Recommended seasonal/limited beer: Black IPA
- SanktGallen – A brewery in Kanagawa that focuses mostly on either sweet stouts or fruit beers. I find their sweet stouts to be excellent and their fruit beers not so great, but their stouts are good enough to merit their inclusion in the Hall of the Very Good.
- Recommended year-round beer: Sweet Vanilla Stout
- Recommended seasonal/limited beer: Imperial Chocolate Stout
- Y Market – A relatively new (est. 2014) brewery in Nagoya. To be honest I have not been too impressed with their offerings so far, but I like their boldness and willingness to make a lot of different styles in a short amount of time. They are relatively popular already, just started bottling in March of 2015, and seem to be a good bet to improve.
- Kyoto Brewing Company – This is a very very new brewery based in Kyoto as their name would imply. They are already starting to gather some buzz within months of releasing their first beer, and while I have no inside information on them their mission statement would seem to make them the best bet by far to be the first brewer here to really be making sour beers.
The Old Guard:
- Minoh – Minoh is considered by many to be the granddaddy of modern craft brewers in Japan. While I personally am not a huge fan of most of their beers, they do deserve credit for being at the forefront of the craft beer movement in Japan. When their founder (Masaji Oshita) passed away in 2012, almost every major craft brewer in Japan got together to create the Masaji Beer Project, in which they each paid homage to the Minoh boss by brewing a special beer in honor of him. In fact, some of those breweries still brew those Masaji Beer Project beers every year.
- Hitachino Nest – This is the brewery that up until now has gotten around the most outside of Japan. Due to their exporting chops they are the most well-known Japanese brewer globally, but I personally find most of their beer quite mediocre, although they do have a couple of decent ones.
- Coedo – Another brewery that manages to get around a bit, although perhaps with more of a domestic focus. What I mean by that is that Coedo have done a good job of getting their product into places where normally you wouldn’t find any craft beer (at least in Japan) – i.e. supermarkets, hotel bars, etc. Overall their product quality is not so exceptional, so I wonder how their strategy will change as craft beer grows and supermarkets and such start to carry better craft beer.
- Yo-Ho Brewing Company – This is an interesting test case for the macro/micro conflict that is already well underway in the US (see Goose Island, Elysian, etc.). Like Coedo, Yo-Ho have managed to get their brands (Yona Yona, Tokyo Black, and Aooni are the most popular) into supermarkets and convenience stores where no other craft beers exist, and like Coedo also have fairly mediocre beers. What makes Yo-Ho interesting is that Kirin took a 30% stake in Yo-Ho in 2014, which is the first instance in Japan of a large brewer buying part of a craft brewer. It remains to be seen how much this will help either company, but as for my take, I’m not a fan of either Kirin, Yo-Ho, or large brewers buying small ones.