Stouts. The first of hopefully many beer styles that BeerTengoku is going to briefly introduce with some of its history in Japan and standout ones for you to try. We’re not going to say we’re experts on the styles – we haven’t drank that much beer from around the world to compare but have drunk enough to know what we like and don’t like.
Guinness – that long held bastion of style for stouts – is perhaps Japan’s favourite imported beer, after the domestic products from Kirin, Asahi, Suntory, and Sapporo. Guinness’ popularity, considering it isn’t a lager, was surprising when I first came to Japan but then it does a have a long history. Japan began importing Guinness around 1868, partly due to the large foreign contingent who demanded it. The Iwakura Mission, rumoured to be Japan’s first diplomatic efforts with Ireland, were the first to try Guinness at its source back in 1872, right in the middle of the Meiji period.
It took another 70 years before other breweries took note – with all of them preferring to initially make pilsners and hiring German brewers to man the brewers. Asahi started brewing their Asahi Stout, an 8% foreign stout that is hard to find but worth trying, back in 1935. All four of the big breweries have their own stouts – either available all-year round or seasonal offerings. Kirin also have their own version, imaginatively titled Kirin Ichibanshibori (first pressings) stout; Sapporo have their Yebisu Creamy Top Stout, a 5% dry stout, and Suntory offering their own version at one point with their interpretation of imperial stout topping out at 6%. These beers are mere afterthoughts rather than being serious offerings in stores around Japan.
The craft beer scene though took stout to heart – before a certain style of hoppy beer from the USA became popular, Japanese breweries had to offer a stout in their lineup. Take a look at the first generation of craft beer breweries (1996 to 2000) and the majority of them had a stout in their line up. Second generation breweries (2001 to 2010) caught the cusp of the stouts before bringing in pale ales and IPAs but the style still has its own place in many a bar menu.
Japan also has a good record with stouts in beer competitions, both domestically and internationally, with Minoh Stout being one of the standouts having won numerous awards at the World Beer Awards, ranging from Japan’s Best Stout to World’s Best Stout. Other notable stouts that have won awards include Iwate Kura’s Oyster Stout and also Preston Ale’s Irish Ale as well.
However the following ones are stouts that both Joe and myself, Rob, have enjoyed. These aren’t in any order, but they are all recommended. We’d love to hear from you about what you think are the best stouts Japan has to offer, so leave us a message or comment below.
All Year Round Stouts
Preston Stout by Preston Beer
One of the best stouts made in Japan but the only problem is trying to find it to buy or drink on tap. Coffee and chocolate flavours coming through with a subtle edge of creaminess coming through, possibly due to additions of lactose.
Minoh Stout by Minoh Beer
It’s a solid dependable stout with your typical flavours. A good starting point for those looking to get into stous.
Daisen G Beer Stout by Kumezakura Daisen Brewery
The body was thicker than expected and had a good creaminess to it along with some sweetness too. The coffee and chocolate smells were replicated in the flavour though not as dominating with both of them carrying on to the aftertaste.
Oni Densetsu Chocolate Stout by Oni Densetsu
Onidensetsu Chocolate Stout is actually really tasty! And what do you know, it is full bodied, just like it says on the bottle! I really enjoyed this good, thick, bitter stout.
Iwate Kura Chocolate Stout by Iwate Kura
Iwate Kura Chocolate Stout is a chocolate stout very well made and worth finding – however, like other chocolate stouts, it is rich so maybe one bottle is enough.
Baird Morning Coffee Stout by Baird Beer
Morning Coffee Stout is a beer for morning, early afternoon, and the evening. It’s a slow sipping beer that deserves to be tried. The sweetness of the stout comes through along with the roasted malts. The coffee notes were more subdued than expected but the bitterness of the coffee does finish off the beer well.