Japanese Beers: The Beer Difference (Nama/生 vs. Happoshu/発泡酒)

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There are many Japanese beer brands, Sapporo, Asahi and Kirin are perhaps the most well known. I’ve already posted about my favourite Japanese beer, Yebisu Premium, and this article will explain the difference between the two most popular types of beer in Japan.

At first glance when browsing for beer in a convenience store or supermarket in Japan, you will notice that there is a large price different, about 100 yen per can. For example, You can buy Asahi Super Dry 350ml can for about 205 Yen, and Asahi Clear for about 125 Yen.

Why is Japanese beer so cheap? You need a guide to Japanese beer buying!

The difference is, one is beer and one is not beer…

The good Japanese beer

The first type of beer, the good beer, the real beer is known as “Nama Biiru” which can be translated into either raw/fresh beer or draught beer.

Japanese NAMA BIRU (draught beer) - Sapporo, Yebisu and Kirin

Some of the most well know nama beers are shown here, perhaps the most well know ASAHI SUPER DRY (silver can) is not pictured.

This is real beer, containing all the traditional ingredients and is much more natural, and hence likely better for you (that the other type discussed later in this article). For tax purposes, it is classified as beer if it has over 67% malt content.

Nama beer usually sells for at least 200 Yen for a 350ml can, 270 Yen or more for a 500ml can. A good staple is Asahi Super Dry, very well known and it comes in a silver can. My favourite, and not too much more experience is Yebisu Premium, in the gold can.

The Japanese non-beer

The next type of “beer” is known in Japanese as happōshu. I put “beer” in quotes because it really isn’t beer. Instead, it is a low-malt beer-like drink, that while tasting like beer (just a lot worse), contains only 25% malt or less. The beer companies do this to make the drink cheaper as it takes less of a tax hit.

Japanese happoshu beers - Sapporo, Asahi and Kirin

The Japanese beer-like alcoholic drink.

Companies try to position the beer as having less carbs, etc. But don’t be fooled, this is cheap imitation beer!

How do you tell the difference?

Unless you can read Japanese, there are a few ways to tell the difference. In a supermarket, usually there is a sign that reads ビール (biiru in Japanese) to indicate where the real beer starts. But the easiest guide is the amount you pay, usually real draught beer is 200 yen for a 350ml can or more.

Failing that, just buy either Yebisu Premium in the gold can or Asahi Super Dry in the silver can.

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7 comments

  1. Japan Australia

    Some great information and a really informative explanation on the two types of beer in Japan. I also love the Yebisu Gold and Asahi Super Dry. I guess you can tell they are premium beers by the Gold and Silver cans just like an olympic medal.

    • Same here… Yebisu Gold is the fav but I probably drink more Asahi Super Dry.

  2. I used to be an Asahi guy because they sponsored an organization I belonged to, but since I’ve been back in the States this year I’ve found I prefer Sapporo. The Asahi here tastes just a little bit different — maybe a hint of honey? — and I feel like the recipe might be a bit different for the North American market. Could just be the water. Do you know of any differences elsewhere outside of Japan?

    I’m looking forward to getting back this summer to re-sample and see which I prefer after all.

    And Yebisu Gold is great, but whenever I’m arguing beers with friends we put that one on another level from Super Dry…Premium Malts is somewhere in between. 🙂

    • Hi TokyoRemix. It’s possible that the same beer brands are brewed in different countries. I noticed when in Australia that Sapporo Draft was actually from the brewery in Canada. Asahi Beer USA is a subsidiary company of Asahi Japan, so I’m guessing they have breweries in the States which are making this slightly different tasting Asahi…

  3. Ken

    I did not like Asahi Super Dry because it taskes like ‘Hoppy’ (beer-taste Shouchuu cocktail).
    But now I began to drink fake beer and I feel Super Dry is better than fake beer.

    • Hello again Ken. Asahi is a bit of a standard, I guess in the draft beer range. Nothing special, but it is refreshing!

      • Ken

        Hello JTM. I miss-spelled one point, ‘It tastes like Hoppy.’
        In int’l liner of Japanese airlines, Super Dry is often offered the 1st but I always say, “What else?” and the time I choose Super Dry is only when there are ones and Bud.
        When Super Dry was big hit in Japan, American brewers launched dry beer like Michelob Dry but it was no good as well.

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