WWBG: Cherry Blossom Brews

Weekend Wine and Beer Guide

Editor’s Note: This weekly column is sponsored by Georgetown Square Wine and Beer (10400 Old Georgetown Road).

With the Cherry Blossom Festival ending this weekend, now is the perfect time to relax and try a refreshing beer made in Japan. Most people equate Japanese alcohol with Sake, but beer is the most consumed alcoholic beverage in Japan.

Although Japan has been brewing and consuming beer for centuries, consumption did not take off until the late 1800s when German-trained brew master Seibei Nakagawa founded what is today Sapporo Brewery. A few years later, as beer became more popular in Japan, breweries such as Kirin, Asahi, and Suntory popped up and started brewing beer for the masses.

Japanese beers have a distinct crisp taste and dryness that makes them extremely refreshing and easy to drink. The heavy German influence steered Japanese breweries to mainly focus on German style lagers that pair perfectly with sushi and rice dishes. This type of light lager dominated the Japanese beer market until about 1994 when Japan relaxed its beer brewing laws.

Now, just like in the United States, there has been a craft beer boom in Japan over the past few decades with new breweries popping up all over the Island. Unfortunately, many of these breweries have not made their way to the United States, but I would not be surprised if we start seeing a lot more Japanese beer in the near future.

Personally, I have always been a fan of Japanese beers. Sales of brands like Kiran, Asahi, and Sapporo have dropped in recent years — and that is a shame. With the U.S. beer market being dominated by over the top hoppy and high octane beers, the light crisp style of Japanese beer is a great change of pace that won’t fill you up if you are drinking with a meal. Here are a few of my favorite Japanese brews:

SapporoSapporo Premium, Sapporo, Japan

Named after the Japanese city, Sapporo has become Japan’s most iconic brewery. Served in Sapporo’s flashy silver can or bottle, this beer is a perfect example of Japanese brewing roots. Sapporo Premium has an amazingly crisp taste, refreshing flavor, and a touch of bitterness that leads to a nice, smooth finish. It pairs very well with most Japanese food, especially sushi and rice based dishes.

HitachinoHitachino Nest Beer, Naka, Japan

I have never lived in or been to Japan, but I’m going to go ahead and say this has got to be Japan’s best craft brewery. Hitachino Nest Beers are a line of beers produced at the Kiuchi Brewery that combines European and Japanese brewing techniques. I have been a fan of all the Hitachino beers since I first tried them a few years back. They make a white ale that is the best I’ve ever had. They also make a Ginger Beer, Espresso Stout, Sweet Milk Stout, and a Red Rice ale that are all world class craft brews. They are a must-try on this celebratory weekend.

KirinKirin, Tokyo, Japan

Named after a mythical Chinese beast, this beer is the most widely distributed Japanese beer in the United States. Very popular with Japanese Americans, this pale lager is a Germanic pilsner that pairs well with a variety of foods, both spicy and mild. It is very pleasant and easy to drink.

The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of BethesdaNow.com.

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