Home Behind The Beer Prefecture Focus : Craft Beers of Hokkaido

Prefecture Focus : Craft Beers of Hokkaido

by BeerTengoku Writer
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Welcome to a new 47 part series that focuses on craft beer in each prefecture of Japan. In each installment, the aim is look at how craft beer came to be in that area of Japan, how it developed, and then look at some of the local breweries that a noteworthy. With over 600 breweries at the end of 2022, not every single brewery will be covered. Some will be known to people, some will be contentious, and some may be new to you.

Notable Breweries in Hokkaido

While this is not a comprehensive list of breweries in Hokkaido, it’s a list of breweries that are notable in Hokkaido. For long time readers of BeerTengoku, some will not be a surprise to see on this list, in spite of the strong dislike for them, but are included because they have become synonymous with craft beer from Hokkaido.

Abashiri Beer

Hokkaido Abashiri Beer was founded in 1988. The company uses a German traditional way of brewing called “decoction” for some of their beers. But let’s be honest, we’re not here for those beers – we’re here for the infamous coloured beers that they produce. In spite of them being dire, and the review being as polite as possible, there are still some people that enjoy their beers when there is nothing else available. Ryuhyo Draft, aka the Blue Beer, remains one of the most popular beer reviews on this site, if not one of the worst received beers we’ve drunk. Find out for yourself though.

Brasserie Knot

At the time of writing, Brasserie Knot is one of the newest breweries in Hokkaido as it opened in 2022. The brewery is located in Tsurui Village, a village surrounded by rich nature and a peaceful dairy farm. The brewery is located in Tsurui Village Shigesetsai Elementary School which was closed down due to a lack of students. The elementary school gymnasium was renovated and revived as a brewery.

Brasserie Knot differs from others in Japan, with their mission being to help out future generations of brewers. New breweries are opening up one after another across Japan, but the shortage of brewers is gradually becoming more serious. In order to make high quality beer, highly skilled craftsmen are essential. Passing on technology is one of Knot’s important missions.

Hakodate Beer

Hakodate’s first craft beer brewery, established in 1996. Hakodate Beer only brews with Mt. Hakodate’s natural groundwater, malt, hops, and yeast. Styles include Weissbier, Altbier, Ale, Kolsch, and Hybrid beers. Hakodate attractions and unique names name the beers, with the “Shachou No Yoku Nomu Bi-ru” (The beer that the president drinks a lot of”) being a particularly interesting name.

Hop Kotan

Hop Kotan Brewing is a craft beer brewery located in Kamifurano, in Hokkaido, Japan. The brewery opened in August 2018, with esteemed brewer Uetake-san taking on the reins of head brewer. Kamifurano is perhaps better known for the amount of snow it gets during the winter season, but it is also the largest hop growing area in Japan.

One of the reasons why Hop Kotan Brewing was set up in the area is for a possible 100% reliance on locally grown hops – something that in the past has been unheard of in Japan due to the extreme variety in the climate. Hop Kotan do have 3 regular beers throughout the year, but they produce a high number of seasonal and limited editions of beers. Alongside this, they also have a tap room in the centre of Sapporo city.

North Island Beer

North Island Beer was founded in Higashi Ward, Sapporo in March 2003 after the head brewer spent time training in Canada. In April 2009, the factory was moved to Ebetsu City, a town north of Sapporo. North Island Beer has 5 standard beers in their lineup, with German styles being the main offerings, though the ethos of the brewery is to make beers that they like drinking.

As such, North Island Beer does produce beers with adjuncts such as honey, coriander, shiso, and herbs that other breweries don’t use. Alongside this, they also have a tap room in the centre of Sapporo city.

Otaru Beer

Otaru Beer was opened in July 1995. In that year, a German brewmaster was brought in to ensure an authentic method of production in both spirit and practice, one which is over 250 years old with a focus on water, malt, hops and yeast. The brewery to this day uses the same process though the brewing has been passed down to younger generations of the same family.

Otaru Beer is made at two facilities in Otaru—the Otaru Zenibako Brewery, which can be found on the outskirts of town and produces bottled beer for over-the-counter sales and beer for business use; and the Otaru Soko No. 1, which is adjacent to the canal and consists of a traditional German style beer hall, with traditional food. The beer is hard to find outside of Hokkaido as the traditional German production method causes the beer’s shelf life to be short and sensitive to changes.

Wakasaimo Honpo Noboribetsu Beer

Wakasaimo Honpo Noboribetsu Beer, which is often shortened to Noboribetsu Beer, is an area that most people associate with hot springs and demons. Noboribetsu Brewery started out as an offshoot in 1998 when the parent company wanted to take advantage of the government relaxations of the alcohol producing licensing laws, and soon after, head brewer Shibata-san took over.

Every February, the company actively takes part in the Setsu-bun festival, where children throw beans at a monster, or an Oni, but this festival for Noboribetsu Brewery involves Shibata-san travelling around dressed as the oni. The canned and bottled lineup has remained rather samey since the brewery opened, but if you can, it’s definitely worth getting their draught versions of the beers – some of the best interpretations of modern American pale ales and IPAs in Japan.

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