What is the evolution of brewing beer in Japan?
Beer in Japan seems to have had its start in the 17th century during the Edo period when Dutch traders stationed at Dejima in Nagasaki opened a beer hall for sailors working the trade route between Japan and the Dutch Empire.
The Dutch started brewing beer for their own use in Nagasaki during the Edo Period. The first brewery to serve the Japanese market was founded in 1869 in the international port town of Yokohama by a foreign businessman. After changes in ownership, it started producing Kirin-branded beer in 1888. Meanwhile in Sapporo, the government built a beer brewery and established the Sapporo Beer brand in 1876 as part of its efforts to develop the island of Hokkaido. Accordingly, Yokohama and Sapporo vie for the title of birthplace of Japanese beer.
The popularity of beer increased sharply in the second half of the 20th century, and beer has long since overtaken sake as the nation's favorite tipple. In recent decades, some Japanese beers have also gained popularity overseas.
Variations of beer
Because the alcohol laws in Japan dictate that beer be taxed according to its malt content, other beer-like drinks have been created by the Japanese brewers that contain less malt and thus are cheaper to sell. The current three ranks of beer are as follows:
Regular beer with regular malt content. Because of higher taxation, it costs more than the two ranks below.
Happoshu (lit. "sparkling alcohol", also known as low-malt beer) is a relatively recent invention by Japanese brewing companies. It has a similar flavor and alcohol content as beer, but it is made with less malt, which gives it a different, lighter taste. Due to the lower malt content, happoshu is taxed differently than beer and costs less.
New Genre (Shin Janru)
New genre beer (also known as "third beer" or "daisan no bīru") is the most recent development in the Japanese beer industry. In order to counter tax changes that reclassified the malt content of beer and subsequently raised the price of happoshu, this beer-like beverage contains no malt, instead using pea, soy or wheat spirits. As a result, it can be sold at an even lower price.
Over the coming years, the alcohol tax rate will be incrementally adjusted to be unified into a single one for all beer and beer-like beverages by 2026. This means that the price difference between beer and its less-malt-containing alternatives will narrow.
The craft beer (地ビール, ji-bīru, literally "local beer") scene emerged in the mid-1990s. Up until then, stringent brewing laws granted licenses only to large-scale brewers. This all changed in 1994 when the government drastically relaxed the law, enabling small-scale breweries to thrive. Since then, craft beer has become increasingly popular, with hundreds of microbreweries around the country now selling high-quality regional beer domestically and abroad.
There is a particularly vibrant craft beer scene in the big cities like Tokyo and Osaka, where various dedicated bars sell beer from a particular brewery they are linked to, if not from a selection of breweries. There are also an increasing number of brewpubs that brew and sell their own beer on premises. Many onsen towns also contribute to the national craft beer presence with celebrated local breweries that take advantage of local pure waters. - Beer in Japan
Other informative sources:
History of the Japanese Beer Industry
Brewed in Japan: The Evolution of the Japanese Beer Industry
Hitachino Nest Beer Brewery