Craft beer from the Land of the Rising Sun
January 26th, 2012
09:05 AM ET
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Shigeharu Asagiri loves beer so much he has even brewed it by the light of the moon.

He’s not a bathtub hootcher with vampiric tendencies, but the boss of Japanese microbrewery Coedo and a man committed to putting his craft beer on the map, no matter what it takes.

His nighttime brewing activity came just after the earthquake that rocked Japan’s Tohoku region last March led to frequent blackouts at his brewery just outside Tokyo.

From those difficult days and dark nights, Coedo has continued to make some award-winning beers that are helping to put the spotlight on interesting microbrews from Japan.

Earthquakes and blackouts aside, it hasn’t been easy for Coedo, founded in 1997 by Asagiri’s father-in-law. It wasn’t until prohibitive laws against small commercial breweries were repealed in 1994 that a microbrew scene in Japan could emerge.

Even since then, breaking the chokehold the big four Japanese brewers – Asahi, Kirin, Suntory and Sapporo - have on the domestic and international beer market has been a challenge. What Coedo produce in a year is the equivalent to what just one of the big boys produce in a day.

The taxman in Japan still takes around $2.50 on every liter of beer brewed there, which has led to the big breweries creating cheaper “beer-like” drinks (alcoholic and often additive-rich) and further diluting the market among a local population more familiar with types of sake than varieties of beer.

“For most (Japanese) people, beer is just beer, no one orders it by name; it’s no fun, but it should be,” says Asagiri. “Beer is exciting!”

Asagiri discovered the thrill of beer while backpacking across Europe after graduating from university. After a desk job in Tokyo, he took over the reins of Coedo in 2003; the highpoint for the number of independent breweries in Japan.

That number has been declining since with only around 50 operating microbreweries today, says Asagiri. But if the number of breweries has decreased, the quality of the brews has generally risen. By bringing in a German braumeister to train the Coedo staff and using German and Austrian grains, Asagiri decided Coedo would emphasize quality with its five brews.

Coedo’s beers aren’t pasteurized so strict hygiene is enforced at the state-of-the-art brewery; employees aren’t even allowed to eat natto, a typical snack of fermented soya beans, for fear of bacteria spoiling the beer. The award-winning Beniaka ale also has a nice twist as it is brewed with locally-grown organic sweet potato as one of its ingredients.

But Asagiri is keen to point out that his beer and Japanese microbrews in general shouldn’t be viewed as novelty ales; something they generally were until recently.

From porters to wheat beers and IPAs, many Japanese microbrews are picking up international awards for their quality and getting a higher profile in bars and restaurants away from Japan’s shores.

Hitachino Nest Beer, distinctive with its “kawaii”, or cutesy, owl logo, is sold at over 500 places in New York alone, and Hong Kong distributors have doubled the amount they’re selling in the Chinese city since 2009. Minoh Beer from Osaka is another that is making a name for itself in Japan’s growing craft beer bar scene, regularly picking up World Beer Award medals.

With another Coedo “Oktoberfest” in the town of Saitama planned later this year, Asagiri is convinced real beers with character, allied to a smart bit of lifestyle marketing, will win a place at top tables across the world.

“Our motto is ‘Beer Beautiful.' I want everyone to see real beer that way,” he says.

See all our Japan Eats coverage and get more on CNNGo

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Filed under: Beer • Feature • Japan Eats • Sip


soundoff (22 Responses)
  1. mrlewish

    welcome to 20 years ago in the U.S. Homebrewers in the US. are lightyears ahead of anybody overseas.

    January 29, 2012 at 6:26 pm |
  2. Who still drinks Bud?

    Yummy I want one, rather than some over commercialized crappy beer.

    January 27, 2012 at 6:38 am |
  3. Tiger Blood

    Anything less than a Tiger beer is piss...

    January 27, 2012 at 4:18 am |
  4. Joe

    Japanese beers are very good. I've lived in Japan for several years and although the beers aren't as heavy as most European beers, they are very tasty. I particularly like Orion beer, brewed in Okinawa. It's a clean and refreshing beer that goes great with the tropical island lifestyle.

    January 27, 2012 at 2:38 am |
    • hai sai ojiisan

      Orion Biiru! Love the song by the band Begin: Ojii Jiman Orion Beer

      January 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm |
  5. ImAStupidWhiteDude

    Now, I'm just a stupid white boy from Texas so I cannot speak much for Japanese beers, but I've had Sapporo many times, and it is very good.

    January 27, 2012 at 1:35 am |
  6. Tachomanxt

    This small debate is rather useless, anyone will claim that their beer is the best basically because its what they have been drinking all this time.
    For example, i believe that mexican Tecate is one of the best ever but people in the U.S. will name their brands and people in germany their own.
    Who cares? As long as it chills you out and betters your day everything is fine in the world.

    January 27, 2012 at 1:19 am |
    • Justmyco2011

      I almost fully agree with you, except with the Mexican beer part :)

      January 27, 2012 at 1:54 am |
    • CN Red

      I agree except that my home brew is the best of the best.

      January 27, 2012 at 7:12 am |
  7. Joshua Hernandez

    Japanese beer is great.

    January 27, 2012 at 12:56 am |
  8. John

    The Hitachino Nest website is wrong, the one linked to above is that of the Hong Kong distributor! Correct website for the brewer is http://www.kodawari.cc/?en_home.html

    January 27, 2012 at 12:49 am |
  9. nofoldems

    Mmm.. makes me want to crack open a cold one.

    January 26, 2012 at 5:35 pm |
    • ﺶCHEﺶ

      Nope!
      You need to have radiation meter to check for Radiation or radioactive elements. I won't touch this one with 100-foot pole. Narh, I will pass on the one!

      January 27, 2012 at 12:07 am |
      • John in Japan

        Well now. I see CNN FOX NEWS etc. have done there job in scaring folks.
        I am an American living in Japan and Ive done volunteering in Tohoku, Fukushima(where the power plants in trouble are located) and I can tell you that your line of thinking is quite terrible.
        I was working in close proximity to the plants and no meters(Minami-Soma specifically) were going off there.

        Also, beers here are not only okay, they remain delicious and damn good.

        Great examples:Shonan Chigasaki, and August Brewery(excellent stouts)

        Please, do the research before you pass such harsh judgement in the future.

        January 27, 2012 at 3:01 am |
  10. i2h

    thumbs up to hitachino...especially their white ale.

    January 26, 2012 at 3:40 pm |
    • Antonio

      I'll stick with Bud Light

      January 26, 2012 at 7:38 pm |
      • Jay

        BUD LIGHT??

        Someone is stuck in the 70's... Sir Bud Light is garbage and you should feel like garbage for drinking it.

        January 26, 2012 at 7:48 pm |
      • umm no

        "I'll stick with Bud Light"

        You do that. Those of us who actually know something about beer will stick to what we like. I guess someone has to drink that swill and make some room for the better stuff on the shelves. Better you than me.

        January 26, 2012 at 8:49 pm |
      • ﺶCHEﺶ

        Yeb, for now I guess.

        January 27, 2012 at 12:08 am |
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