There’s more to Japanese beer than Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo, you know. Japan is actually full of quality local micro breweries producing characterful craft beers.
And with such refined and rich tastes, naturally there is also a wealth of beer label and logo design out there too. And when something combines two of the PingMag’s editorial team’s biggest loves — beer and design — we were scrambling over who would get to do the write-up!
We’ve deliberately just focused on aesthetic — we’ll leave the minutiae of hops and flavors to the real beer experts — and have tried to make a fair selection of beers from all over the country. But be aware that there are so, so many more out there!
All right, so here (in alphabetical order) is our choice of great craft beer design in Japan.
One of the leaders in the market, not least because the Shizuoka brewery also operates the popular chain of Taproom bars, we love the surfers’ vibe of the logo and the rustic grooviness of the label art.
A taste of history now with this pair of beers made by Kizakura in Fushimi in Kyoto using local water. The man on the label needs no introduction for Japanese readers; it’s Ryoma Sakamoto, who played a pivotal role in the fall of the Shogun government in the nineteenth century and was assassinated in Kyoto in 1862. The name means “adventurer of the Bakumatsu“.
Smooth and sleek is the look to this line from Kawasaki that has been served since 2011. The labels’ blue and purple background colors exude the perfect mood for a quiet evening chilling with a beer or two.
Perhaps the most famous beer in our line-up, Coedo has won many awards and is drunk everywhere from its modest home in Kawagoe to America and elsewhere. Its design used to be more old school but it went through a chic image change a few years ago, which has paid dividends to the brewery’s reputation.
Über-luxury is the keyword here with the Kagua beer, a refined and minimalist design for a scented ale brewed to complement Japanese food.
No visit to Kamakura is complete without seeing the Daibutsu, a walk along the beach and a swig (or two) of Kamakura Beer. The range of beers, including Hayama and Enoshima beverages, come in straightforward, authoritative bottles, with gentle colors and nice retro fonts. Look out for the mermaid or turtles on the labels.
One of the most popular craft beers in Japan, the real charm of these beers from the Kiuchi Brewery in Ibaraki lies in the fantastically cute owl mascot who adorns all the labels.
The well-established Osaka beer goes for strong, bold colors with English lettering, though the familiar-looking labels are offset by the occasional monkey (Minoh is famous for its primates).
Tokyo-based Nide’s beverages are actually brewed by Baird Brewing Company (see earlier) — the craft beer market can seem pretty small at times! — but its black-and-white “sun ray” design makes these beers very distinct.
The bottles are fairly ordinary but we love the metallic cans that this beer from Oirase in Aomori prefecture also comes in — understated but snazzy.
Continuing the theme of exclusive designer beers comes the bottles for this beverage, created by top design studio Nendo. But don’t jump to the conclusion that this is a drink for posers. It’s actually a charity project by a coffee company and sake and beer brewery from two areas devastated by the 2011 tsunami.
Anyone who has patronized one of Tokyo’s many craft beer bars will likely have come across this series of smooth beers. We love the bold colors and that dragon.
The expat community has made a very healthy contribution to Japanese craft beer culture (both in terms of consumption and manufacturing). Here’s another example. Tokyo Ale has a cool pale blue background, offset by its vibrant red type. Best enjoyed at Roppongi’s Super Deluxe!
Japan’s most widely available craft beer come in a series of cheerful and cute cans. The Karuizawa-based brewery, Yo-Ho Brewing, has four main ales, including the most famous, Yona Yona, plus Tokyo Black and the super friendly-looking Aooni.
We also particularly love the Suiyoubi no Neko (Wednesday’s Cat) Belgian White Beer Style from the same brewery.
And after reading that, we’re sure you’re as thirsty as we are for a nice freshly poured sud. Do you have any favorite beers for their taste or design?