While beer is a relatively new beverage in Japan, it wasn’t long before locals embraced it and created the crisp, refreshing lagers that its major breweries are known for today. The Sapporo, Kirin, Asahi, and Suntory brands can be found in grocery and convenience stores around the world, and one by one, new breweries are making their international debuts.
And recently, Japan’s own craft beer scene has been booming. As of 2015, there were over 200 craft breweries operating across the country and new craft beer festivals popping up in cities, towns, and even mountain resorts! To meet customers’ ever-evolving tastes, Japan’s major breweries have begun producing seasonal ales and experimental brews as well.
Luckily for beer lovers in Nagano, the Snow Monkey Beer Live festival is held annually in the Shigakogen ski resort area. This year, Japanese lagers took a backseat to fruity ales, creamy stouts, and hoppy IPAs. Breweries showcased their creativity with experimental styles such as the Earl Grey beer by Johana Beer (Toyama), a Scottish ale infused with coriander by Hair of The Dog (North America), and the Apple Hop malt by Minami Shinshu Beer (Nagano). The host brewery, Shigakogen Beer (Nagano), kept upping the ante with stronger drafts, from the 10% Takashi Imperial Stout to their 13% the Far East. Many people came from faraway prefectures, Japanese and foreigners alike, to enjoy the show and try the wide variety of beers available.
And while only a few of Nagano’s breweries joined the event this year, there are over six breweries in the region, many of which have been active since the beginning of the craft beer boom.
One of Japan’s main hop-producing regions, Nagano saw its first small-scale breweries in 1996, two years after tight restrictions on beer production were relaxed. Minami Shinshu Beer (Komagane), Oh! La! Ho! Beer (Tomi City), and Yo-Ho Brewing (Karuizawa) all began operating at that time. Three years later in 1999, the sake brewery Reijin (Suwa City) began producing a line of beer called “Shinshu Roman,” and in 2004 Tamamura Honten (Yamanouchi) created “Shigakogen Beer.” Hotel Kisoji in the Kiso Valley also began brewing Kisoji beer on its premises.
And recently, more craft breweries have been opening up around Nagano prefecture. You may not be able to find their brews in stores, but you can visit their pubs/taprooms and try delicious, locally-made beers. There’s LIBUSHI in the heart of Nozawa Onsen Village, the Hakuba Brew Pub in—you guessed it—Hakuba, and the Matsumoto Brewery on Matsumoto’s picturesque Nakamachi-dori street.
Throughout Japan, new craft breweries are opening one after another and ushering in a new era of beer culture in the country. Japanese artisans are known for their passion for their craft and a deep respect for their environment and ingredients. Here in Nagano where mineral-rich springs, pure mountain water, and zesty hops are available in abundance, it’s no wonder that so many locals have challenged themselves to make delicious beer. If you have a chance, grab one and enjoy the taste of Shinshu!
More about Nagano’s Breweries
Learn more about Nagano’s breweries and where you can taste them for yourself!
1. Tamamura Honten Shigakogen Beer (Yamanouchi Town)
Tamamura Honten is a sake brewery at the base of Shigakogen and has been in operation since 1805. In 2004, they began brewing beer as Shigakogen Beer and are the hosts of Snow Monkey Beer Live. You can find their beers in convenience stores in Northern Nagano and most liquor stores, or can try some on tap at their brewery in Yamanouchi or at Teppa Room, their tap room in Shigakogen during winter.
Address: 1163 Hirao, Yamanouchi Town, Shimotakaigun, Nagano Pref. 381-0401
Hours: 9:00 to 18:00
Holidays: New Year’s Day
Access: Take the Okushigakogen or Yokoteyama line bus from Yudanaka Station and get off at the Shibu Onsen stop (between Yudanaka and Snow Monkey Park). A five minute walk from there.
Teppa Room (Winter Location)
Address: Hotel Chalet Shiga 1F, Ichinose, Shigakogen
Hours: Mon. to Fri./ 15:00 to 23:00, Weekend/ 12:00 to 23:00
Holidays: None during winter
Access: Located on the first floor of Hotel Chalet Shiga in Shigakogen’s Ichinose area.
2. Oh! La! Ho! (Tomi City)
OH!LA!HO Brewery opened in 1996 in Tomi City. They produce a variety of pale and medium-bodied ales which have won numerous gold and silver awards in international competitions. You’ll often find their “Captain Crow” extra pale ale in stores around Nagano. You can also enjoy OH!LA!HO Beer at their pub restaurant in Tomi, conveniently located next to a hot spring spa.
Address: 3875 Kano, Tomi City, Nagano Pref. 389-0505
Hours*: Weekdays/ Lunch 11:30-14:30, Dinner: 17:30-21:00,
Weekend/ Lunch 11:30-15:30, Dinner: 17:30-21:00
(Last call is 30 minutes before closing)
Holidays: Wednesdays, December 31st and January 1st
Access: Take a taxi from Oya or Tanaka Station (10 to 13 minutes).
*Hours are subject to change during winter, please contact the restaurant in advance.
3. Yo-Ho Brewing (Karuizawa Town)
Yo-Ho Brewing opened in 1996 in Karuizawa. Their motto is, “Flavor in beer, Happiness in people,” and are well known for their Yona Yona ale, which can be found widely throughout Japan and has won many international competitions. Others include Suiyobi-no-Neko (Wednesday’s Cat), Tokyo Black, and Indo-no-Aooni (Indian Blue Demon).
They have opened several restaurants in Tokyo where you can try these beers and more, so you have no excuse not to visit on a trip to Japan! They now have five locations in the greater Tokyo area. See their website for details.
4. Kisoji Beer (Nagiso Town)
In the heart of the Kiso Valley, Hotel Kisoji offers pleasant accommodations, cuisine, hot springs and freshly-brewed beer. With Kiso’s renowned spring water and 100% wheat malt, hotel staff brew a range of craft beers that can be enjoyed on-site (as a hotel guest) or bought online.
Address: 2278 Azuma, Nagiso Town, Kisogun, Nagano Pref. 399-5302
Access: Free shuttle bus from Nagiso Station.
5. Reijin (Suwa City)
Reijin first opened in 1789 and is one of Suwa’s five major sake breweries. Recently, these masters of Japan’s traditional sake-making craft have turned their skills to beer brewing as well. The pure well water they use to make sake is blended with mineral-rich onsen water of Suwa to bring out the best flavor in their beers.
Suwa’s five sake breweries line the road beside Kamisuwa Station (more information here) and make for a perfect pub crawl. Each one offers a unique flavor of sake, and at Reijin you can try their beer on tap as well.
Address: 2-9-21 Suwa, Suwa City, Nagano Pref.
Hours: Weekdays/ 8:30-18:00, Saturdays/ 9:00-18:00, Other/ 9:00-16:00
Holidays: January 1st
Access: 11 minute walk from Kami Suwa Station.
6. Minami Shinshu Beer (Komagane City)
Minami Shinshu beer opened in 1996 and is considered Nagano’s first craft brewery. With pure mountain water, wheat and hops, they brew four regular beers and a variety of seasonal ones. Their Apple Hop malt features Nagano-grown apples and is quite popular.
Address: 759-447 Akaho, Komagane City, Nagano Pref. 399-4117
Hours: Lunch/ 11:30 to 15:30, Dinner/ 17:00 to 21:00
Holidays: Closed for dinner on Mondays
Access: From Komagane Station, take the Komagatake Ropeway bus to the Suganodai bus center. The restaurant is across the street.
Thanks for reading! Cheers!