Recently, one of the top RateBeer members in Japan held a poll to determine which Japanese breweries are held in the highest regard by beer geeks in that country. He asked people to rank their top ten breweries in order.
It started out as a poll for RateBeer members only, but was expanded to include a few people who use the Untappd app and also a few people from a prominent Tokyo beer bar. In the end, he received 20 ranked lists. A small sample, admittedly, but many of the participants were the hardest-core of Japanese craft beer drinkers.
Some people ranked the breweries based on all their ratings over many years, while others preferred to focus on the breweries that had most impressed them in the past two or three years.
He created an average ranking by awarding ten points to a brewery that was ranked number one, nine points for a number two ranking, and so on. Thirty-seven different breweries were mentioned. But only two, Shiga Kogen and Y. Market, were mentioned on all 20 lists.
And here are the results, with total points in parentheses:
Shiga Kogen (Tamamura-Honten) (191)
Y. Market Brewing (150)
Kyoto Brewing Company (113)
Fujizakura Heights (78)
Yorocco Beer (59)
Zakkoku Kobo Microbrewery (55)
Thrash Zone Brew Labo (43)
Swan Lake (Hyouko Yashiki No Mori Brewery) (39)
Minoh Beer (35)
Oni Densetsu (Noboribetsu Brewpub) (34)
Shonan Beer (Kumazawa Brewing) (34)
Oku Noto Beer -- Nihonkai Club (28)
Daisen G Beer (25)
AJB - Anglo Japanese Brewery (24)
Baird Beer (23)
Ise Kadoya (19)
Devil Craft (17)
North Island Beer (15)
Ushi-Tora Brewing (15)
Iwate Kura Beer (13)
Outsider Brewing (9)
Yo-Ho Brewing Company (8)
Hideji Beer Brewery(6)
Oh! La! Ho (6)
Chateau Kamiya (Ushiku Beer) (5)
Hitachino Nest (Kiuchi Brewery) (5)
Sankt Gallen Brewery (5)
Johana Beer (3)
Mojiko Retro Beer (3)
Atsugi Beer Company (2)
Bayern Meister Bier (2)
Coedo (Kyodo Shoji Koedo Brewery) (2)
Hida Takayama Beer (2)
Tazawako Beer Brewery (1)
After the rankings came out, some commented that two of the top three breweries had begun operations only in the past two years. In addition, three of the top five started in the past three years.
Also, the tastes of beer drinkers seem to be more open to the wider variety of styles that these newer breweries make. For example, Kyoto Brewing has produced several interesting varieties of saison and even gose, styles not much seen in Japan until recently. Other breweries are experimenting with wild ales and barrel-aged beers.
Distribution also plays a role here. Some of these breweries’ products are easily obtainable only in a very small region, close to the brewery or brew pub. Several others tend to be available primarily in the Tokyo/Yokohama area, and less so elsewhere in Japan. For example, the output of Thrash Zone and Zakkoku Kobo Microbrewery is not generally seen outside of the Kanto region.
This list would have looked much different five, three, or even two years ago. We can also imagine that it will be altered considerably in the next few years, as newer, more adventurous, and more skillful brewers come on the scene and raise the quality (and variety) of craft beer in Japan.