Sapporo Craft Beer Quest Tour: Encounter Your Perfect Pint

2024.02.19

Sapporo, the capital of the north. Sapporo is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Japan as a result of the compactness of its many tourist attractions. And let’s not forget that Sapporo is also a mecca for beer.

Now, before we get into a passionate discussion of beer in Sapporo, let’s first look back at the history of beer. If you don’t care about the history of beer at the moment and want to know current information about beer in Sapporo as soon as possible, please skip this section. But whether you know about the history of beer or not may make a big difference when you taste beers from now on.

 The brilliant history of beer around the world

Someone has said,” Without question, the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer”. If you ask me, I can’t help but think that’s exactly right.

It is thought that when agriculture began in the Neolithic age, bread made from barley or wheat became soaked by rain and fermented accidentally, giving rise to beer.

The first human civilization is said to have been the Sumerian one that emerged in Mesopotamia around 3000 BC, a civilization where beer was already being consumed. How was beer made at that time? First, barley was dried and ground into flour, which was baked into bread, and this bread was then crushed, water was added, and the mixture fermented naturally.

Beer brewing was also popular in Egypt. It evolved in its own way there, including the use of fermented bread. While breweries were located all over the country, people also made beer in their own homes. Beer was also distributed to the workers who built pyramids. Beer was rich in vitamins and minerals, and was treated as a pick-me-up. It is therefore said that beer created the pyramids. In other words, without beer, the pyramids might not have existed.

In Greek and Roman times, the alcohol consumed was mainly wine, while beer was considered a lower-class drink. This is because beer was mainly drunk by peoples who had been conquered by the Greeks and Romans.

Around the 6th century BC, the ancient Germanic peoples began cultivating grains and making beer. In the Middle Ages, they began a great migration across Europe, and the art of beer making spread with them.

After this, the evolution of beer around the world continued up to the present day.

As you know, many types of beer have been created and developed in various parts of the world over this long history.

Before actually tasting Sapporo’s craft beers, let’s briefly review the different types of beer in the world.

Various beer styles

Beer styles are classified into three main categories according to fermentation.

A. Beers made by ‘top fermentation’ are called ales and are characterized by their rich taste and aroma.

B. Beers made by ‘bottom fermentation’ are matured for a certain period of time, hence the name “lager”, which comes from the German word for “storage”. They are generally refreshing and easy to drink.

C. Beers made by ‘natural fermentation’ are fermented by wild yeasts floating in the brewery air. Each brewery has its own particular flavor and aroma.

Country-specific beer styles and their characteristics are as follows.

❶ Main styles of German, Czech and Austrian origin.

1.Kölsch

Top-fermented beer with high-temperature fermentation and low-temperature maturation, a beer style produced in the Cologne region. It is light in color and has a slightly dry taste.

2. Weizen

A traditional German top-fermented beer with at least 50% wheat malt as an ingredient. It has a fruity, spicy taste.

3. Alt

Copper-brown top-fermented beer produced in Düsseldorf. “Alt” is German for “old”, so the name is derived from the fact that it has been made for longer than bottom-fermented beers.

4. Pilsner

A bottom-fermented beer created in Pilsen, now in the Czech Republic. It is the most widespread beer style in the world, with a bright golden color and a refreshing, hoppy aroma.

❷ Main styles of British and Irish origin.

1. Pale Ale

Traditional top-fermented beer from central England. The name indicates that it was paler than most beers at that time, which were darker colored. It has a bitter, clear and dry taste.

2. Bitter

The most common ale drunk in British pubs, it is golden to copper in color, moderately bitter and mildly foamy.

3. India Pale Ale

Characterized by a strong hoppy bitterness and a slightly higher alcohol content. It is said that when beer was transported from England to India, large quantities of hops were used to prevent deterioration and to increase the alcohol content.

4. Stout

This is said to have originated as a top-fermented beer made with fortified alcohol from porter, which was popular in London. Stout was then introduced to Ireland, with Guinness being the most famous brand.

❸ Main styles of Belgian origin

1. Belgian White

Top-fermented beer made from both unmalted wheat and malted barley. Coriander seeds and orange peel are added for a spicy flavour.

2. Saison

A top-fermented beer with a distinctive spicy flavor originating from southern Belgium. It is said to have started as a home-brewed beer during the off-season for farmers to drink between working in the summer fields.

 

❹ Main styles of American origin

1. American Style Pale Ale

This has a fruity, floral, citrusy aroma created by American hops.

2. American Style IPA

This beer has a strong hoppy bitterness and fruity citrus aroma.

3. American Lager

This is an extremely light-colored beer which slips down smoothly; the leading brand is Budweiser.

4. California Common

This beer is fermented at room temperature using bottom-fermented lager yeast, and has a good balance of slightly stronger hoppy bitterness and savory malt flavor.

5. Session

A style of beer with a low alcohol content. It follows the traditional beer style, just with a lower alcohol content.

 

Leaving more details of the diverse and delicious beers from different countries for another time, let’s take a look at the history of beer in Japan next.

Beer history in Japan

The history of beer in Japan is still short, but it began to be consumed in earnest from the Meiji period onwards(1868-1912). Even today it remains the most loved alcoholic beverage of the Japanese people, and is closely associated with our daily lives in Japan.

Now it is time to tell the story of the first Japanese brewery and the birth of Sapporo Beer.

Sapporo Beer is a company that has been deeply involved with the pioneering history of Hokkaido. In the early Meiji era, the Kaitakushi (Hokkaido Development Office) set up to develop Hokkaido and defend it against Russia, established a number of government-owned factories to foster various industries, one of which was beer.

What triggered this was the discovery of wild hops in Hokkaido and the fact that the area was suitable for barley cultivation. Initially, the plan was to build a trial beer brewery in Tokyo and after verifying its success, transplant it to Hokkaido.

However, the person in charge at the time strongly insisted that the brewery should be built in Hokkaido from the start, where the climate was cooler and more suited to German-style brewing, and where raw materials and ice were available, and had the site changed. The person responsible for brewing there was a Japanese who had broken the ban on travelling abroad and had been smuggled out of the country. He was the first Japanese to learn beer brewing and malting in Germany, the home of beer.

Hokkaido, the birthplace of domestic beer, remains the home of Japanese beer.

As you may know, Japan’s four major beer companies account for the majority of domestic shipments. They are Suntory, Kirin, Asahi and Sapporo.

Other beer breweries besides Suntory are located in or near Sapporo, so it is fun to take brewery tours and compare their brews. However, if you want to enjoy a wider variety of beers, how about tasting some of the craft beers that are attracting attention both in Japan and around the world? There are now more than 700 craft breweries in Japan, and the number is still growing. Of course, there are currently more than 40 craft breweries in Hokkaido as well.

Needless to say, there are also some great craft breweries here in Sapporo, so let’s start with a craft beer tour of Sapporo.

Must-sees in Sapporo!

❶ Street light Brewing

Their beer brewing started in February 2023 in the Soen area of Sapporo City.

The taproom, which is attached to the brewery, offers a view of the brewing equipment while you enjoy a beer.

The concept here is “BEERS LIGHT UP THE STREET”.

“The beer poured into a glass is like the light that falls on the city. We want our beer to brighten the hearts of those who drink it and spread that brightness throughout the city. It is not a big light, but we would like to make small lights come out one after another. We began making numerous delicious ‘street lights’ here.”

Hearing this makes me feel like I could drink beer forever. And beyond that, it seems there’s a world that I haven’t seen yet.

Miyaguchi-san, one of the three representative directors, is a former Sapporo municipal employee who also works as an influencer under the name “Beer Prince”. His demeanor is genteel and he seems quiet at first glance, but in reality he talks a lot and entertains his customers. His goal is not only to serve great beer on a daily basis, but also to make the taproom here a community place for beer-loving customers.

The idea came from Sapporo’s sister city, Portland, U.S.A., which is known as “Beervana”. On evenings and weekends, friends and families visit the taprooms there attached to the breweries, making them like a social gathering place for the community, and he realized that he wanted such places in Sapporo as well.

It changes daily, but you can try a variety of beers from the tap list of the day!

Lager, Ale, Hoppin Jack Fresh, Madbeer, Blackberry San, BBB, Take Me North, Hi Lucifer, Shichi-Go-Cho, NZHZ, etc.

See, you want to try them all, one after another!

 

❷ Susukino Brewing

Susukino Brewing is the only beer bar in Susukino, Hokkaido’s largest amusement area, where you can enjoy craft beer directly from the brewery located in the district.

This is a craft beer brewery born in Susukino with the idea of bringing “ale” or “a yell of encouragement” to a district that has lost a lot of people due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On the first floor of an impressive historic red brick building, you will find a white curtain with a logo. Susukino Brewing has a relaxed atmosphere with stylish beer taps lined up at the counter, making it easy to drop by on your own, on a date, or with friends.

Head brewer Ohno-san’s top recommendation is the White Ale, with a pleasant orange peel and coriander flavor. There are also a spicy Saison made with Sorachi Ace hops, a Session IPA with four different types of hops, a Weizen with a banana-like aroma and so on, making it interesting to compare the various beers.

 

Incidentally, COCONO SUSUKINO just opened in November 2023. COCONO SUSUKINO is a shopping complex built on the southwest corner of the iconic Susukino intersection. Susukino Ale STAND, a sister bar of Susukino Brewing, opened on the basement floor of COCONO. This is a great place to stop by and enjoy a few craft beers while you’re in the area.

❸ Moon & Sun BREWING

The concept here is to deal with craft beer faithfully and freely every day, so that Hokkaido will one day be called the craft beer kingdom.

In December 2014, the year of their founding, they started brewing at their current Brew Pub located near Nijo Market. Brewing began in the Shiroishi area in 2021.

Ten kinds of beer, and dishes using mainly Hokkaido ingredients, await you in the Brew Pub. In particular, the standard beers they offer include Pilsner, Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, and Nelson Sauvin Lager. The most distinctive feature of that last one is the use of the New Zealand hop called Nelson Sauvin, which is also used in the beer’s name. Why this hop? Because it has a mellow aroma of white grapes, reminiscent of the land of Hokkaido.

The characteristic of Moon & Sun BREWING’s standard beers is that even though they are standard ones, they change the hops for each brewing and constantly make improvements to achieve a taste which exceeds that of “today”.

In 2020, they also opened a pub in Miredo, a building located near the Hokkaido Government Office, making this place a kind of beer oasis in the heart of Sapporo.

Now, speaking of Moon & Sun Brewing, we must not forget the origin of the name, which is as follows. One day an elementary school boy struggled with a homework assignment to draw a picture of a story. He drew a circle first anyway. The moment he drew the circle, he thought, “Isn’t this the sun? No, wait, it looks like the moon as well.” To briefly explain the story he made, the mischievous sun broke the snot bubble of the sleeping crescent moon, and the momentum broke the earth a little, causing the moon and the sun to have their usual fight. The story itself has a bad ending, but the boy, feeling uncomfortable with the story as it is, makes up for it on the back cover.

That boy was Moriya-san, the president of Brew Pub. He suddenly remembered this episode and decided to name it “Moon and Sun”. When he decided to do so, he felt it makes a lot of sense. “I’ll be by your side like the moon and the sun. And I should be passionate like the sun and calm like the moon…I will never forget how I felt as a boy and will never forget to be grateful for all things! I will continue to be grateful for everything!”

Now, if you happen to meet such a nice owner there, why don’t you ask him more about it over a beer?

❹ TRANSBREWING

This new craft brewery opened in the Hiragishi area, Toyohira-ku, Sapporo in 2021. The origin of the name “TRANSBREWING” comes from the word “TRANS” meaning “through” or “transformation”, and incorporates the wish to make someone’s daily life better when they drink beers.

The brewery has brewed more than 40 craft beers to date. The standard favorites include Hiragishi Lager, Trans Lemon Ale, and Twist and Shout, but others such as the bitter German Suplex with its strong impact are hard to ignore. The German suplex is a wrestling move where the wrestler comes around a weakened opponent from behind, lifts him up and slams him to the floor of the ring to be counted out.

When its president, Okamura-san, thought of making German Pilsner a punchy beer, “German Suplex” suddenly popped into his head and that’s what he decided to name it. This is a beer you should definitely try at least once.

Maeda-san, the brewer, is also a passionate person who expresses his love of beer with a smile on his face, and he introduced us to the series of craft beers he has brewed so far.

In 2022, they opened a factory-direct beer stand located in Tanuki Koji/Raccoon Dog Alley, 5-chome. With standing room only at the counter, this is a place that can be enjoyed casually, such as for a quick drink on the way home from work or shopping. They have some good snack foods at BEER STAND, but you are welcome to get some from any of the restaurants around here that serve their special menus and enjoy them with your beer!

❺ Sumikawa Brewery Limited.

Sumikawa Brewing is characterized by “ultra-low volume, ultra-variety brewing” as the self-proclaimed brewery with the most recipes in the world. The ethos here is to use plenty of malt to bring out its full flavor. They began brewing craft beer in 2018 and run Beer Pub Hirara.

Saito-san, the president of the company, has a unique background. Before he started brewing beer, he was an engineer at a computer manufacturer, and later worked to popularize the internet in Japan. He started brewing beer because of his love of making things and his love of beer. And it should be noted that all the brewing equipment is also handmade.

For example, a freezer stocker filled with food-grade plastic bags is substituted for a fermentation tank. This method is characterized by easy temperature control and epoch-making low initial costs.

His policy is to brew beer with “what is sold around the corner” as much as possible. This is partly due to the low costs involved, but it also has its advantages, such as the fact that, in the event of a problem, they can run to a DIY store to get the necessary repair parts for the equipment here. He also said with a laugh that it was fun to see the brewing process with his own eyes, but the only problem was that there are never any breaks because the yeast is still alive.

Mukai-san, the landlord of Beer Pub Hirara, is a 21-year old good-looking guy who runs the restaurant, drawing on his experience from his training in Italian cuisine. Of course, you can enjoy a variety of fresh standard and seasonal beers here. Though the beers they can offer change from day to day, they have basically prepared eight standard beers, based on their overall judgment of popular styles, styles they would like to drink on a daily basis, and styles that are highly rated by their customers.

Is it true that the famous British beer critic Michael Jackson, who shares the same name as the musician, is always the first to address the audience with his customary “I don’t sing and I don’t dance”?

You know the Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, famed as the world’s biggest beer festival, is a lot of fun with the orchestra playing toast songs many times during their performance. The biggest beer festival in Japan is said to be the 13,000-seat outdoor beer garden in Sapporo’s Odori Park, which is also a big hit. A beer is the most casual of drinks, but it is the most appropriate for repeated toasts, as it adds to the ambience and makes it more enjoyable.

You can’t rule out the possibility that Michael Jackson, the beer critic, also sings and dances in private while drinking beer, can you?

Hokkaido Treasure Island Travel inc, provides a guided, all-inclusive tour to the best breweries throughout SAPPORO, HOKKAIDO.

Experience Sapporo city in an entirely new way, where our guides cross the bridges and roads for you in search of the best craft beer in the area! Come with Sapporo Craft Beer Quest Tours to taste your way through the behind-the-scenes of multiple craft breweries and complete your journey with a gourmet snack!

Please check out the tours we offer below!

Now, enjoy your beer evenings in Sapporo to the fullest!