Japanese craft beer is having what its fans would call “a moment.” The current wave is a comeback for that nation’s beer scene, which saw quick growth and then a fizzle in the late 1990s. Now, interest in craft beer is back in a big way, thanks to increasingly curious drinkers and collaborations between American and Japanese brewers (like Stone, Baird and Ishii’s green tea IPA). From a country where beers typically have mimicked European styles, these nuanced imports prove that Japanese brewers can set a course all their own. And why not? Japanese artisan culture values balance above all else—something drinkers anywhere can appreciate.
Niigata Golden Kolsch
A sweet, soylike nose puts a distinctly Asian stamp on the easy-drinking German style; plus, the bottle stands up to a few months on the shelf.
Echigo Koshihikari Rice Lager
Brewed with rice from Echigo’s surrounding prefecture, this ultrasoft lager evokes orchid blossoms and springtime, and is light enough to pair with even the most delicate sushi.
Ishikawa Bottle Conditioned Ale
Bottle-conditioning keeps this creamy pale ale lively and punctuated by fresh grassy, tealike hops.
Kankiku Kujyukuri Ocean Beer Weizen
This hefe’s slightly salty aroma—not to mention a dolphin on the label—hints at Kankiku’s proximity to the sea. Less bready than a traditional wheat beer, this version is made for picnics.
Orion Premium Draft Beer
One of Japan’s old guard breweries, Orion has made beer since the late 1950s. This lighty hopped, sweet rice lager still drinks clean and modern at a totally sessionable 5%.
Iwate Kura Oyster Stout
Don’t expect huge salinity from this light-bodied oyster stout (brewed with whole oysters and shells); instead, the malt in this dry, nutty version evokes an almond Hershey bar.
Baird Wabi-Sabi Japan Pale Ale
There are some un-drinkable wasabi beers out there, but the dynamos at Baird nail it with this lemony pale ale with earthy green tea undertones.
Yo-Ho Tokyo Black Porter
Yo-Ho’s eye-catching cans make finding this nutty brown porter on a crowded shelf a snap, while barely detectable lactic tartness creates a memorable sip.
Ryujin Shuzo Ozeno Yukidoke IPA
Wood and brown sugar sweetness on the nose give this IPA away as an import, but American palates should be used to the strong pine, tree sap and pithy lemon hop notes.
Kiuchi Hitachino Nest Espresso Stout
This stellar coffee beer offers a strong dose of roasted, tobacco- and chocolate-tinged espresso flavor, and doesn’t sacrifice an excellent stout base in the process.