Japan’s craft beer industry has gone from non-existent to flourishing in the past 16 years. And, it’s all thanks to the normally bumbling Japanese government. In a stroke of genius, the government officials changed the regulations on beer production in 1994 making it possible for microbreweries to sprout all over the country, giving Japanese beer drinkers far more choice than they have ever had before.
The beer behemoths – Sapporo, Asahi, Kirin and Suntory – still dominate the market but the Japanese are a society of connoisseurs so interest in craft brews, especially amongst the youth, has really taken off. Beer festivals are popping up on college campuses. Bars in Tokyo that specialize in microbrews are becoming popular destinations.
The most successful of the artisanal beers have begun exporting their products to the U.S. Hitachino Nest is probably the best known of these, however, we have taken a liking to another Japanese craft beer called COEDO from a popular tourist destination outside of Tokyo known as Kawagoe. COEDO’s flagship, the Beniaka Premium Lager, pictured above, picked up a silver medal at the 2010 World Beer Cup. The feature and selling-point of this specialty beer is that it is brewed with baked sweet potato giving it a beautiful caramel color and a slightly – only slightly – sweet flavor.
Why sweet potato? Kawagoe has been famous for sweet potatoes for centuries. Everything from sweet potato candy, chips, noodles to ice cream and doughnuts is made in Kawagoe. The family behind COEDO decided the world also needed a sweet potato beer. So, they imported brewing equipment as well as a 4th generation brewmaster from Germany, developed a process using the local specialty and put it in a bottle bearing a sophisticated-looking brand.
Brooklyn Brewery’s highly-respected brewmaster Garrett Oliver tried the COEDO Beniaka at the LUCKYRICE Night Market earlier this year and commented that “he wouldn’t change one thing about it.”
For now, you won’t find COEDO in the stores but you will find it on the menus of some of the most interesting Japanese restaurants in the city like 15 East, En Brasserie and Robataya.