The long dark nights of Japan winters lend themselves nicely to sitting around the kotatsu with some hot winter food and the occasional bottle of sake. Nowadays there are also a good quantity of Japanese beers to cozy up to on those cold nights.
Winter beers tend to be darker in color – think of porters, stouts, or brown ales – as well as being higher in alcohol, such as barleywines and imperial stouts. These beers all have the same thing in common – they are malty, hearty and toasty. Some of the beers are good not just in winter but throughout the year, such as the Helios Porter and Sankt Gallen’s range of flavored stouts, while some are more festive, such as Hitachino Nest’s Commemorative Ale.
We’ve got five winter beers lined up that will help warm your body and soul under the kotatsu.
Baird Beer Angry Boy Brown Ale
Brown ales tend to have reputation for being of a different generation – the low alcohol beers that our workers would consume after a long day at work. Baird Beer Angry Boy Brown Ale is a modern, bolder, more warming version of that style of beer that is suited to the colder months. At 7%, it’s quite high in alcohol, but it is well-hidden yet soothing. The nutty, chocolate and coffee-like flavors go well with the sweet snacks often found during the winter break.
Where to buy: Baird Beer Angry Boy Brown Ale can be bought at branches of Seijo Ishii, Queen’s Isetan, CostCo (as part of a multipack), BeerMa, and specialist beer stores.
Hitachino Nest Commemorative Ale
An 8% Belgian strong ale, Hitachino Nest Commemorative Ale is supposed to be drunk at New Year’s; however, with the addition of orange peel, coriander, nutmeg, cinnamon, and vanilla beans, it’s suited for any cold winter night. Once it has warmed up, the spices bring a semblance of Christmas pudding to the beer, and along with the high alcohol level, a warming feeling over the body. The vanilla leaves its familiar taste alongside some sticky caramel – perfect for sitting under the kotatsu late into the evening.
Where to buy: Hitachino Nest Commemorative Ale can be bought at branches of Seijo Ishii, Queen’s Isetan, BeerMa, and specialist beer stores.
Yo-Ho Brewing Tokyo Black
Yo-Ho Brewing Tokyo Black isn’t going to break the bank at less than ¥300; however, it is a robust porter that is a good example of the style. The roasted black malt aroma, along with the earthy hoppier aroma, is lighter than Minoh Stout, so it’s easier for first-time drinkers of porters or stouts. The smoky flavor, alongside the subtle chocolate and coffee flavors, also make it easy on the palate for first time drinkers.
Where to buy: Yo-Ho Brewing Tokyo Black can be bought at branches of Lawson’s, Seijo Ishii, Queen’s Isetan, BeerMa, and specialist beer stores.
The next time someone says Japan doesn’t do beers besides lagers, then show them Minoh Stout – a multiple award-winning stout from Minoh Beer, based in Osaka. It’s part of their all-year round range, but it’s more suited to the colder months due to its bold coffee and chocolate flavors. At 5.5%, Minoh Stout is a tad stronger than Guinness, but not as filling.
Where to buy: Minoh Stout can be bought at branches of Seijo Ishii, Queen’s Isetan, BeerMa, and specialist beer stores.
Helios Porter is one of Japan’s oldest porters and is a faithful replication of the style that was once immensely popular along the banks of London’s River Thames. It’s also one of the lighter examples of a porter available in Japan. While the body is slightly thinner than most stous, its gentle flavors of coffee, chocolate, and roasted malts mean it’s a good introduction to the style of porters.
Where to buy: Helios Porter can be bought at branches of Seijo Ishii, Queen’s Isetan, BeerMa, and specialist beer stores.