Over the past four posts, we have reviewed the majority of new beers brought out by the four major Japanese breweries. If you like, have a look at the posts for Kirin HERE, Asahi HERE, Sapporo HERE, and Suntory HERE.
All four major Japanese brewers brought more beers (79) in a wider variety of styles (28) last year than they did in 2014.
Suntory released a whopping 25 new beers in 17 different styles, followed by Sapporo with 21 (in 13 styles), Asahi also with 21 (in 10 styles), and Kirin trailed the pack with 12 (in only four styles).
The most common style (34%) was, of course, pale lager, with Asahi producing 10, Kirin eight, Sapporo seven, and Suntory two. The second-most popular style was Oktoberfest/Märzen (six), followed by Amber Lager/Vienna (four), and then three each for Golden Ale/Blonde Ale, Imperial Pils/Strong Pale Lager, and Wheat Ale.
Suntory gave us the widest variety of all the brewers, and was the only one to produce a Radler/Shandy, an Altbier, a Brown Ale, a Stout, a Premium Bitter/ESB, and a Schwarzbier.
Asahi tried hard with its Dry Premium series, as the only brewery producing a Heller Bock, a Saison, a Dunkler Bock, a Porter, and an English Pale Ale – but the results were mixed.
Judging from average rating scores (out of a possible top score of 5.0) from RateBeer, and admittedly a limited sample, for all 79 new beers, Suntory and Kirin produced somewhat more interesting and tastier beers than did Sapporo or Asahi.
Suntory: 25 new beers
RateBeer Avg. 2.79 My Avg. 2.70
Kirin: 12 new beers
RateBeer Avg. 2.76 My Avg. 2.65
Sapporo: 21 new beers
RateBeer Avg. 2.73 My Avg. 2.61
Asahi: 21 new beers
RateBeer Avg. 2.71 My Avg. 2.45
2016 should be an interesting beer year. The times of complacency among the four major brewers in Japan seem largely gone. With more than a decade of declining sales, the outlook for this year is slightly positive. In addition, a tax break on all-malt beer as well as a tax increase on both low-malt and no-malt brews may be in the offing (or maybe not -- reports are unclear), which could lead to the production of higher-quality brews.
The majors have also clearly taken note of craft beer’s increasing popularity; strangely, though, they seem more aware of it as a foreign phenomenon than a domestic one, and are mostly making US- and European-influenced styles for their own nascent craft lines. In addition, with the exception of Kirin’s purchase of a 30% stake in Yo-Ho Brewing Company in 2014, the major Japanese brewers have been content to buy into foreign breweries rather than local ones. That may change in 2016.