Japan is well known for its beer, and many a skier has celebrated a successful day on the ski slopes with an ice cold Asahi, Kirin, Sapporo or Yebisu. But with Japan’s craft beer scene now hitting full stride, it makes sense that we’re now seeing the emergence of smaller craft breweries in ski resort towns around the country.
Could it be the clear mountain water? Or the (somewhat) recent arrival of a foreign après-ski culture and a thirst for a greater variety of beers. Whatever the case, there are several breweries making their mark on ski resorts in Japan, and we think you should know about them.
Hakuba Brewery, Hakuba Valley
Dan Cockburn is living many people’s dream. He first visited Hakuba 20 years ago, falling in love with the town and its now world-renowned winters. Eight years later, he moved there permanently.
With some brewing experience under his belt, and feeling a desire for a greater variety of beer that he was used to back home in the UK, Dan founded the Hakuba Brewery.
“It quickly became apparent what I was meant to be doing in Hakuba and so we started the long road to building a brewery and getting it licensed.”
This season will be the brewery’s fifth year in operation and, with renovations carrying on over the summer, Cockburn is predicting its best year yet. The brewery produces a pale ale, an IPA, a black beer, a session IPA and an amber ale, which Cockburn says is currently his favourite, thanks to a “a deep, rich and complex malt base is matched with the unique hop of Chinook”.
“Like all our beers, it starts as a British ale (as a Brit, myself, I can’t help it), modernised with American hops and then given a Japanese touch with the wonderfully clean mountain water we use. We work up all our recipes to ignore the conventional style rules, but to be accessible to the local Japanese as well as foreign visitors whilst being unique and interesting enough for the connoisseur. It’s a fun challenge that involves regular taste-testing!”
Try: Hakuba Amber
Where: Hakuba Brew Pub
Tamamura-Honten / Shiga Kogen Beer, Shiga Kogen
Shiga Kogen is mostly known for its skiing – it was a venue for the 1998 Winter Olympics – and its proximity to the famous Jigokudani snow monkeys, though visitors to the area will likely have come across Shiga Kogen Beer.
Since 2004, Head Brewer Sato Eigo has been making Shiga Kogen Beer at Tamamura Honten, a company with a 200-year history in sake production. As a Shiga Kogen local, he takes pride and inspiration from his natural surroundings; the brewery produces its own hops, sake rice, barley, wheat, buckwheat (soba) and blueberries. In a 2013 interview with The Japan Beer Times, Sato proclaimed that “as this [Shiga Kogen] is a ski resort worthy of the world, I want to make a beer here of equal stature”.
Shiga Kogen Beer has several staples in its range, including its flagship IPA and a very popular pale ale. It also experiments with a vast range of seasonal brews – some of which are released under the name Shiga Kogen Beer, and others under the Tamamura-Honten brand. In amongst these is the Snow Monkey IPA, an American-style IPA that is produced each for for Snow Monkey Beer Live (check out our Ski Asia bucket list for more information on this incredible event).
Try: Snow Monkey IPA
Anglo Japanese Brewing Company (AJB) / Lubushi, Nozawa Onsen
“We produce a lot of different beer and they’re all our babies”, says Tom Livesey, co-owner of Libushi, an artisan brewery based in Nozawa Onsen, Japan. Tom first visited the resort in 2010, falling for its natural surroundings, onsen and the “overwhelming kindness of the locals”. In 2014 he opened Libushi – home to a taproom and brewery – though he has since expanded the brewery to a larger site also in Nozawa.
For visitors to the area, Tom naturally recommends their “Nozawa Series”, though he is particularly passionate about Libushi’s Barrel and Foeder aged beers. His favourite of these is the King Kong Knee Drop, a 9.5% stout aged in Ichiro’s malt whiskey barrels.
Try: King Kong Knee Drop (Imperial stout)
Where: Libushi, Nozawa Onsen
Niseko Brewing, Niseko
Niseko Brewing opened in 2014, giving the ski resort that is known almost as much for its partying as its powder its first ever micro brewery. The brew pub, located in Niseko Town where it overlooks the train station, serves up a variety of beers, including a pilsner, a porter, a pale ale, a Belgian ale and an aptly named Miyuki (Deep Powder) IPA.
Green season visitors are in for the real treat though, with a variety of seasonal beers that are as colourful as the Hokkaido summer. This season’s variety include a rosée biere, a raspberry wheat ale, and an apple ale, which uses juice from nearby Subetsu cho – a fruit-growing region in Hokkaido that is known for its mineral-rich, fertile soil.
Try: Miyuki (Deep Powder) IPA
Where: Niseko Taphouse (Niseko Brewing)
Tatra-kan Beer Hall / Myoko Kogen Beer, Myoko Kogen
Myoko’s Tatra-kan beer hall is one of the Japan’s oldest ski resort breweries, launching in 1993 under the guidance of U Fleků – a 500-year-old brewery/restaurant in Prague. To this day, the European influence on Tatra-kan’s menu and decor is overwhelming, with a beer list that features a Czech pilsner, a German hefeweizen (brewed using a Bavarian recipe), and a schwarzbier (a German dark beer).
The brewery has earned several major accolades at the World Beer Awards, most recently picking up gold medals in the 2019 Japan category for its pilsner, Haneuma IPA and dark larger, as well as a silver for its Weizen.
The more adventurous drinkers amongst you should also look out for the Myoko Kogen Beer seasonal brews, which this year featured a Baked Tomato Spicy Ale (pictured), with notes of basil, coriander and (of course), tomato.
Try: Myoko Kogen Beer Pilsner
Where: Tatra-kan Beer Hall, Ikenotaira Onsen