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Finding good beer in Japan

17 July 2009
Online retailer, Sugaya Beer

Online retailer, Sugaya Beer

Beer in Japan isn’t perfect. It’s difficult to track down all the bars that sell craft beer, and listing the stores would be even harder. This guide will show you how to track down places in Japan that sell craft beer and where to buy it online.

1. Finding a bar/off-license/liquor store in Japan

First check the Beer in Japan listings:

If there’s nothing near you, here are some more ideas of places to look – if you find somewhere good, please do get in touch so the listings can be updated!

  • Real Ale has a list of bars that have Yona Yona and/or Tokyo Black. Many of the bars listed wont have anything more in the way of craft beer – but Yona Yona is better than nothing, right? (although, to be honest, while I like Yona Yona in cans, I am not a huge fan of it on draft.)
  • Some Yamachan branches – an izakaya chain specialising in spicy Tebasaki chicken wings - have Ginga Kogen draft beer. Branch list here in Japanese.
  • Natural Lawson stores often have a few craft beers such as Yona Yona, Aooni, Ginga Kogen, and Hokkaido Beer – though not all stores have them. Store list is here.
  • Seijo Ishii and Yamaya have branches outside Tokyo. Department store supermarkets/food centers are also a good place to look.
  • Bento also does bar reviews, some of them outside Tokyo.
  • Rate Beer has a partial list of bars/stores in Japan. It’s very “partial” though – for example it doesn’t have Okadaya in Nagoya (Google Map).
  • Brewery sites often list retailers that have or may have (ie. occasional guest beers) their beers – this can be a good way to find somewhere near you. Minoh has a list in Japanese (they also have their own Beer Belly bars in Osaka). Helios also lists places here and here.
  • Breweries also often have their own bars – Hitachino, Minoh, Isekadoya, and Gotemba Kogen do, for example. Brewery bars are usually pretty cheap.

2. Buying online – Online off-licenses/liquor stores

Please remember that since I live in Tokyo, I have not bought from most of the websites listed myself.

  • Ezo Beer: Importers of Rogue and Ezo Beer. At under 400 yen a bottle, it’s not only priced well – but delivery is free if you order 48 or more bottles. Less than 48 and the charge depends on where you live, but is between 420 and 1720yen.
  • Nagano Trading: Importers of Ballast Point, Bear Republic, Stone, Green Flash, North Coast Brewing, and wine. While you can buy some items online (mostly wines), the beers are always “unavailable”, and I have an incling they don’t actually update the website for beers. Best bet would be to check Beer House Ken (below) or use the contact link to ask Andrew Balmuth directly.
  • Good Beer: A Japanese only website which sells Hitachino Nest, Minoh, and plenty of other Japanese beers. They have several set deals – by brewery and mixed – which while you don’t save much money, are good if you want a quick and easy way to sample a whole load of Japanese beers.
  • Beer House Ken: They have Youngs, Newcastle Brown, Anchor, Kona, Rogue, Brooklyn Lager – and flat rate shipping.
  • Sugaya Beer: The have a better selection than Beer House Ken including Stone, Flying Dog, Sierra Nevada, and some Scottish beers I’ve never seen before. Orders over 30,000 yen are post free – otherwise there’s a per case charge.
  • Shinanoya: A selection of Japanese and imported beers. At the moment the have Nogne, Mikkeller, Hobgoblin, Guinness, Chimay, Old Speckled Hen, etc. They have stores in the Tokyo area also – see this webpage.
  • Okadaya: They also run Craft Beer Keg, a bar in Nagoya (see listings). They used to sell beer at their store in Nagoya also (Google Map; Website) but no longer do I’m told.
  • Beer Cafe Ueda: Free delivery over 6000 yen.
  • Bento also has a list of online retailers but it’s of date and some of the links don’t work.

Brewery websites also often list online retailers.

3. Buying online – Monthly schemes

There are three monthly schemes that I know of in Japan – details are incomplete at the moment on the last two but I will update when I know more.

  • Beer Festa: This is a beer fan club. For 3000yen a month, you get 6 bottles sent to you every month. This month they are sending Umenishiki beer, next month Romanticmura beers. I’ve signed up for this and I’m awaiting my first batch.
  • Minoh: One year, six deliveries. For 17,500yen you get 2 x 3 bottles each delivery. Unfortunately you have to sign up for a full year which isn’t ideal if you don’t know how long you’ll be in Japan.
  • Beer Hanpukai from Yonekyu (Gotemba Kogen and Mori-no-beer Brewery). I picked up a leaflet about this when attending the Japan Craft Beer event in Ebisu a few weeks ago and signed up for it. It’s 2500yen + 500yen delivery a month for 6 bottles – two different beers.

I like the idea of these monthly schemes – getting random beer sent to me that I probably wouldn’t otherwise try is a good thing. My only concern is perhaps it will be a hassle having to be at home to take delivery.

4. Buying online – Individual breweries

Many of the breweries in Japan have their own online shops. Here is a selection:

Rate Beer has a partial list of Japanese Breweries. There’s also the Brewers Association of Japan list. Bento also has a list of breweries, include some that sell online.