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Asia Stuck in Japan With No Good Beer

Discussion in 'The Rest of the World' started by Plasmamonkey, Jan 6, 2013.

  1. I just moved to Japan - Okazaki, Aichi to be specific - and am having a bit of a hard time in regards to the beer culture here, or should I say lack thereof. I'm originally from California, where I would imbibe daily on Russian River, Stone, Ballast Point, Deschutes (One of my favorite breweries), Goose Island, and so much more. You know, just like the rest of my fellow BAs. Well, here in Japan it's a completely different story. Sapporo, Kirin, Asahi, and Suntory rule the beer industry, even more so than AB-InBev and SAB combined. Really, it's that bad. What's worse, and I just learned about this, is that Japan taxes beer based on how much malt is used in the ingredients. That means that a six-pack of Sapporo, for example, will cost about 1,300 Yen, or roughly $15. INSANE, right?!?! Now, I'm living on a budget, since I'm here as a student and can't really splurge, so even that is out of my price range. I've resorted to buying TopValu Barreal, which is a daisan (third-tier) happoshu (Beer that uses malt substitutes such as soy) because it has little malt content and is cheap as crap. Today though, I went into Aeon, which is the local supermarket/mall, and found a store that actually has bottles of Stone Pale Ale, Oaked Arrogant Bastard, Sculpin, Anchor Steam, and a few other American craft beers. The ridiculous part though? Each 12oz bottle was priced at about 800 Yen, which translates to about $8.50 per. It's like the universe throws me a bone one second, and then slaps me in the face with its big fat dick the next.

    Luckily, there's a fantastic craft brewery called Baird (They collab'd with Stone for their Green Tea IPA a few years back), which I am close by, but it will still only be a once in a while thing considering a shinkansen ticket to get there will cost about $60. I'm drooling at the thought of visiting their taproom, and the brewers even returned an email to me expressing their excitement at having me come. I gained some solace from that, at least.

    So my fellow BAs, what I am asking of you is this: how do I cope with not having any good, decently priced brew around? Have any of you been in this predicament, be it within Japan or another country, and if so, what did you do? Should I just suck it up and dream of my cellar back at home, or should I sink to the lower depths and just stick with what I have? Your wisdom is greatly appreciated.
    JoeAmerican77 likes this.
  2. Taxes on alcohol are crazy in Japan. Dunno what to tell you. As you've found, there's some good beer around if you look for it but it'll cost you. When I'm there I always keep an eye out for Yona Yona Ale. A very decent pale for a decent price and often found in 7-11s. When I was slumming it I bought cases of a no-name German lager from a liquor store chain in Tokyo that sold it for less than the macros. Maybe there's something similar in Nagoya.

    If you're gonna do a beer trip on a budget I'd just go to Tokyo. I've heard the night buses are pretty cheap and there are lots of budget hotel options once you get there. There are some great beer bars and at least one really good bottle shop there. Baird has a taproom in Harajuku that I visited the last time I was there.

    While you're there I would recommend branching out from beer. Shochu is cheap, mixes well and gets the job done. I love sake (as my avatar will attest) and am jealous of what's available to you there. Sakes are often twice the price if it even makes it over here. Do wander around the department stores when you can and avail yourself of the free tastings they have. Act like you're serious about buying, but not sure about each selection they pour :)
  3. smutty33

    smutty33 Advocate (705) Connecticut Jun 12, 2009

    Wow,I feel for you.Although,not surprised at all.
    Seems like a complete beer wasteland......

    Hope something turns for the better,and the beer gods bring you some good fortune.

    Plasmamonkey likes this.
  4. Hanzo

    Hanzo Champion (965) Virginia Feb 27, 2012

    Is Kiuchi stuff not available there? I could easily live off their stuff if there was nothing else.
  5. socon67

    socon67 Champion (780) New York Jun 18, 2010 Verified

    You go cheap and save up to splurge on a trip to Baird or to hoard 12oz bottles of the good stuff.

    Curious: Any chance you could try to get a tasting group started? That would help reduce the cost of drinking the good stuff and the networking could give some leads on better options.
  6. For some reason, I can't find any Kiuchi in my town. I'd probably have to go to a bottle shop in Nagoya to get the stuff.

    Yeah, I'm planning to go to Baird in the next month or so, but it'll cost me $60 just to get to the fishmarket taproom. I'll probably stock up on bottles when I get there.

    I've met a few people here that are into craft beer, but they're pretty unfazed by the lack of brew. I seem to be the only one who's suffering haha.

    The nice thing that I found out though is that Belgian beers are considered Happoshu, so it's comparatively priced to those sold in the US. I just wish I could get my hands on some good West Coast IPAs. That's what I miss the most.
  7. Duffman929

    Duffman929 Savant (415) Illinois Nov 27, 2010 Verified

    VonZipper and boddhitree like this.
  8. boddhitree

    boddhitree Advocate (640) Germany Apr 13, 2008

    High prices in Japan? Who woulda thought? Come on, this is known known for decades. And beer? You left beer Nirvana and expected everywhere in the world to be the same? Welcome to the rest of the world.

    Besides, I lived in Japan for 5 years and really got into the culture of Nihonshu (saké). Visit some old sake factories if you can, try different kinds... that's where the real experience lies. You will learn a lot about brewing, too, for saké is technically a beer.

    Also, stay away from Asahi Super Dry, for it's made with lots of rice adjuncts which result in a helluva headache the next day.
    tbeckett and drtth like this.
  9. There is actually some pretty good beer coming out of Japan as quite a few of the sake brewers have started brewing beer.
    boddhitree likes this.
  10. boddhitree

    boddhitree Advocate (640) Germany Apr 13, 2008

    Yup, he's right. NPR did an article on it here.
    And you still can't find craft beer in Japan? Either you're not trying very hard, or you haven't asked Japanese folks for help. I remember drinking in a brew/pub in Wakayama-shi, Wakayama-ken in 1997, so Aichi-ken can't be that backward in 2013. Have you tried local department stores' basement where they have gourmet products?

    BTW, my favorite quote from this article is
    I know what he's talking about; I'm fermenting sake in my cellar right now after 3 weeks of working up the fermenation process.
    yamar68 likes this.
  11. And everything I've had from the sake producers have been VERY clean well made beers. (Japanese being Japanese.) Other reference guide, though don't know if they hit up areas you are in: http://danandesther.com/ (Though if you email them Daniel is a pretty good guy who will give you recommendations.)
  12. tbeckett

    tbeckett Champion (805) Ontario (Canada) May 17, 2009 Verified

    I met Mr. Hitachino in Australia. He's such a boss old Japanese man.

  13. LambicPentameter

    LambicPentameter Champion (940) Michigan Aug 29, 2012 Verified

    Someone mentioned Yona Yona Ale, which is made by the Yo-Ho Brewing Company:


    As you can see, they make an IPA, Pale Ale, Porter, Belgian White and a Strong Ale. The writeup on the website I linked to suggests that they specifically went with American and British styles to push back against the dominance of the light, tasteless (imho) beers that dominate Japan (or at least dominate the Japanese style beers available in the U.S.) I've never had any of them personally, but I've been trying to figure out a way to get them over to the U.S. to try them. I also like the fact that they are canned.

    By the way, if you do happen to find any Yo-Ho brews over there, I would certainly be interested in trying to trade. Not sure how the logistics of that would work out, as I've never shipped something to or from Japan, but from what I've been able to find, it's pretty difficult to get a hold of any Japanese beers that aren't Sapporo, Asahi, Kirin, or in the micro side of things, Kiuchi (also mentioned already here). I would love to sample some of those beers--especially from Yo-Ho.
  14. Yo-Ho is distributed in the US. There are a number of Japanese micros here, including Baird.
  15. LambicPentameter

    LambicPentameter Champion (940) Michigan Aug 29, 2012 Verified

    Any suggestions on where to find it? I spent some time looking online, but couldn't ever find any distributor information about how to get a hold of some.
  16. Try http://www.thewinecountry.com/. Dunno if they can/will ship it to you, but I've bought it there in the past.
  17. LambicPentameter

    LambicPentameter Champion (940) Michigan Aug 29, 2012 Verified

    I'll check that out. Thank you
  18. Relax, drink cheap light lagers and go big when you get back to the US, problem solved
  19. Lutter

    Lutter Advocate (660) Texas Jun 30, 2010

    I just had the thought that you're in Japan and can't get Kuichi and yet I read a few weeks ago that we're going to start getting it in Texas. That's quite dumb.
    Dude. if Belgians are considered bullshit low-priced beer in Japan, jump on that train! Nothing wrong with Belgians. That's how I'd slum it.

    What are you doing in Japan anyways? It sounds like student work or something based on the budget.

    Definitely visit Baird.
  20. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Savant (430) Germany Mar 21, 2005

    If you can't find any decent beer, which, considering the answers so far seems not to be the case, you can always start breweing your own. As a "lazy student" you should have plenty of time :)
    boddhitree likes this.
  21. Duffman929

    Duffman929 Savant (415) Illinois Nov 27, 2010 Verified

    Remember, not legal to homebrew, but like the article says...how will they really catch you?

  22. Stahlsturm

    Stahlsturm Savant (430) Germany Mar 21, 2005

    I wasn't aware of that legal detail. As a guest in Japan he should probably not risk getting in trouble, however miniscule the risk of getting caught. Brewing can cause quite the odor and in crammed japanese student quarters it'll be hard NOT to notice that something's afoul.
  23. tofuspeedstar

    tofuspeedstar Savant (290) Texas Jul 12, 2012 Verified

    You're in Japan, get into Sake, you won't regret it!