World Beer Cup 2012

Japan is traditionally known for its sake, though its growing craft beer industry has been attracting attention around the world since the first craft breweries appeared in 1995. That followed a change in tax laws the previous year, which paved the way for small breweries after decades of declining beer sales from the mainstream makers. That decline among mainstream beers continues today, though craft beer sales have been increasing ever slightly the last five years. Most experts would attribute that to consumers choosing higher quality despite higher cost, even in these challenging economic times.

Claims of high quality bear out on the world stage. In early May, a handful of Japanese breweries claimed medals at the World Beer Cup, to add to Japan’s medal haul since Echigo first won in 1996. This event, held in San Diego this year, is essentially the Olympics of beer. The statistics are eye-opening: 811 breweries from 54 countries entering 3949 beers in over 90 categories. These are many of the world’s best breweries entering their best beers, making it quite competitive.

Osaka-based brewery Minoh Beer won gold for their Yuzu White Ale in the fruit-wheat category, one competitive among Belgian beer makers. To describe the taste, think Hoegaarden, but with a citrus yuzu twist. An upset in a traditional German category came from Yamanashi-based Fujizakura, which took gold for their smoked beer (rauch). Niigata-based brewery Swan Lake, best known in Japan for their porter, claimed silver in the amber ale category against spirited competition from many American brewers. Finally, Chigasaki brewery Shonan Beer took home a bronze in the robust porter category for their delicious chocolate porter.

Medals give brief reason to celebrate. It will be more exciting to see how these young breweries—and others in Japan—develop in the years ahead.

For more on craft beer in Japan:





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