My exploration of Japanese craft beer was mostly a failure. In total I tried three Japanese IPAs and beers from a total of four different Japanese breweries. I visited only one brewery. I didn’t have the patience to search for the craft beer bars even though I knew exactly where they are. This is because getting around Tokyo can be a huge pain. In the end I drank more sake than beer in Japan and I would suggest you do the same.
I’m not sure the exact age of craft beer in Japan but it is clear that it is still very young or at least hasn’t gotten to be very popular. Most bars still heavily feature the big beer brands that you have probably seen in the United States (Asahi and Kirin). Like big beer brands around the world they are in the pilsner style. Though they aren’t bad, they are a bit boring for the IPA fan (me) or the stout and porter fan (my husband). Every restaurant that serves alcohol has plenty of Asahi, Kirin, and Sake.
The first full day in Japan I got to visit a small brewery on Tokyo Bay called T.Y. Harbor Brewery. This brewery is on a small island on Tokyo Bay that you have to take a few train lines to get to from either side. It is located at 〒140-0002 Tokyo, Shinagawa, Higashishinagawa, 2−1−3. They are open for lunch and dinner and if you arrive in between meals they will only serve you beer (perfectly fine for us). They are small enough that I got to speak with one of the owners there a little bit.
4oz tasters are not available like you might find in the USA so I only got to try the IPA and a small taste of a beer made with cherry blossoms. My husband got to try an Imperial Stout. The IPA was a different flavor than I typically expect in San Diego. It tends towards the tropical fruit and caramel malts, giving it a light sweetness. It was probably the best IPA I tried in Japan. Hy husband described the stout as having lots of coffee and roasted malts flavors.
The beers here cost about 800 yen (around $8) for 420ml. 500ml would be a pint but they compensate for the fact that the head of the beer typically means you don’t get a full pint of beer. From what I read online this is similar to the price at other major craft beer bars in Japan. Before I left I got to try a seasonal beer brewed with cherry blossoms. It was light on alcohol and color with a nice cherry flavor and some flavors similar to drinking tea.
I also got to buy an IPA from a convenience store somewhere. It was an IPA from Aooni brewing in Japan. It tasted like it was on the lighter end and seemed to have the same tropical fruit hops as the one from T.Y. Harbor Brewery above.
I then had another Japanese IPA I bought when I was in Manila, Philippines. It was an Imperial IPA from Baird Beer called Surugu Bay. It had a flavor heavy towards the malts and possibly rye with some seriously strong grapefruit flavor. It seemed different from the Nelson hops you typically taste and more like eating actual grapefruit (including the part of the flavor I could never enjoy).
Also at one point in The Philippines I found beer from Kiuchi brewing. I tried an interesting 7% beer made from Red Rice that had a nice fruity flavor without a strong alcohol taste. As far as I could tell the brewery didn’t make any IPA that I found.
If you do decide to visit Japan to try local craft breweries, I would suggest venturing outside of Tokyo. Hopefully Tokyo’s confusing street configuration doesn’t exist as much once you leave Tokyo. I didn’t ever get outside of Tokyo except when I was at Narita airport. Otherwise, I would try taking a taxi to one of the bars if you get confused. I don’t know how well the drivers know their way around but it isn’t too expensive for short trips that it might be worth it.
For most casual craft beer fans who can appreciate good sake, I would suggest you instead enjoy Japan’s rich selections of sake and possibly some single malt whiskey (though they are very expensive).