Dark, or black beer, as it is called in Japan, is made from roasted dark malt. Porter from England, schwarz from Germany, and stout from Ireland are all world-renowned styles of this kind of beer. Japan's beer manufacturers have gained recognition globally for making high-quality beer, and many of them have branched off into making black beers. They are available from brands such as Super Dry, Ichiban Shibori, and Ebisu, making it difficult to decide which one to choose.
To figure out the best Japanese dark beers, we gathered the 27 best-selling products on e-commerce sites popular in Japan, like Amazon, Rakuten, Kakaku.com, and Yahoo! Shopping, and had members of our editing department conduct a taste-test on all the products.
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Dark beers, generally speaking, are dark brown beers brewed using charred barley malt. The malt is first roasted to stop germination, and then subjected to temperatures of 212 Fahrenheit or higher to give it a savory flavor and burnt color.
Depending on the grains and techniques used, malts are given names such as crystal, caramel, chocolate, black, or roasted barley. They all produce different flavors and aromas; for example, toasted wheat, coffee, chocolate, or nuts.
Here are the points to keep in mind when choosing the best Japanese Dark Beer.
There are two types of dark beer: ale and lager. They're differentiated by their flavors and drinkability depending on brewing techniques. Let's look at ales first.
Ales are made by a method called top fermentation, which is a common process that ales from the UK undergo. The process takes place at room temperature to high temperature, and ales made with this method are characterized by their rich aroma and pronounced taste.
This kind of beer is recommended for those who want to enjoy every sip of aromatic and flavorful beers. Typical ale black beers include Tokyo Black, Kirin Ichiban Shibori Stout, and Guinness.
Lagers are made by a process called low-temperature bottom fermentation, which is a method that originated in southern Germany. Lagers are characterized by their refreshing, lighter taste and easy-to-drink mouthfeel.
We recommend lagers for those who like a beer with a clean, natural hop flavor. Many of Japan's major domestic beers are also lager beers. Lager-type black beers include Asahi Super Dry, Kirin Ichiban Shibori Kurosei, and Sapporo Ebisu Premium Black.
Stout is a type of Irish ale, and is recommended for those who like a beer with a strong roast. It's characterized by its dark, almost pitch-black color with a creamy head, a roasted aroma of the barley, and the bitterness of malt.
There are many types of stout beers. They are further subdivided into Imperial Stout, with an alcohol content of around 10 percent, Dry Stout, with a strong aroma, Sweet Stout, with a chocolate-like aroma, and Oyster Stout, brewed with oyster shells.
Porters are characterized by their aroma of burnt malt and the bitterness of hops that is unique to dark beer. It is recommended for those who don't enjoy strongly flavored ales so much and want to taste the unique bitterness and rich flavor of black beer in a milder form.
Porters are a type of ale that originated in England and are characterized by a lower alcohol content than stout. The carbonation is not as strong as that of stout, and the taste is mild and subtler. They're also not as light as schwarz, a lager beer which we'll discuss next, and have an overall well-balanced flavor.
Schwarz is the perfect choice for those who want to enjoy a black beer with a clean, refreshing taste. Schwarz is a lager beer made from dark roasted malt and is brewed by the bottom-fermentation method. It is characterized by its smooth taste and refreshing aftertaste with a subtle hint of sweetness.
Most of the dark beers produced by major Japanese breweries are of this style, such as Sapporo Premium Black, which is famous as a schwarz-type beer because of its richness and aroma from the long aging process that it undergoes.
Dunkel is recommended for those who like their beer light on the palate and less bitter. A lager beer traditionally produced in the Munich region of Germany, dunkel is famous as an easy-to-drink dark beer due to its good balance of sweetness and bitterness from roasted malt. Compared to schwarz, which is also a lager, dunkel has less bitterness and offers a mellower mouthfeel.
If you want to enjoy the most authentic, pure taste and aroma of dark beer, we recommend ones that contain as few additives as possible. Some dark beers on the market contain flavorings, bittering agents, and seasonings to improve the appearance and aroma, while others may contain antioxidants to preserve the beer for a long time.
By choosing a simple product using only the essential ingredients of barley, malt, and hops, you can enjoy the most authentic taste of the beer.
Dark beer has a higher alcohol content than other beers, ranging from 5 to 11 percent. The Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare in Japan recommends a limit of approximately 20 grams of pure alcohol per day.
If you want to meet this guideline, drink no more than about 16 ounces, or 500 milliliters, for a five percent alcohol beer. When drinking high-alcohol dark beer with a strength of six percent or higher, drink about six ounces or 200 milliliters, or about half a wine glass worth.
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Miyazaki Hideji Beer
Chestnuts and Beer: a Match Made in Miyazaki
Shikkoku (Jet Black)
Recommended to Enjoy With Food
Ichiban Shibori Black
Not Too Rich and Perfect Amount of Roasted Flavor
Asahi Dry Black
Recommended for Those New to Dark Beer
Barley and Hops Black
Recommended for a Bulk Buy With High-Quality Taste
Yebisu Premium Black
A Reliable Taste to Enjoy Every Day
Tokyo Black Porter
Well-Balanced, Mild Dark Beer
Shiga Kogen Porter
Smooth Flavor and Easy to Drink
Hideji Beer out of Miyazaki Prefecture is known for brewing with local fruit like mangoes and the citrus hyuganatsu, but this stout brewed with chestnuts is truly something else!
Kuri-Kuro fully embodies its chestnut namesake, from its rich aroma to the sweetness of its flavor. Reminiscent of the dessert Mont Blanc, this beer is so delectable that you'll wonder if it's even beer at all.
Our testers commented that this is definitely a beer that they'd recommend to a friend, and others commented that while it's close to a dessert beer, it has an elegant and satisfying taste. Surprisingly, we even had a few testers who aren't the biggest fans of beer, but they found this Japanese craft beer enjoyable.
We recommend pairing this beer with sweets like vanilla ice cream or chocolate for an after-dinner treat.
Shikkoku (Jetblack) is a dark beer brewed by Koedo Brewery in Kawagoe City, Saitama prefecture. This beer is a schwartz, which is a type of beer generally characterized by its rich flavor, and has its typical richness with notes of chocolate and cocoa.
But the flavor is not overpowering, making it easy to drink, so it will pair well with meals. It is the kind of dark beer you can savor slowly while enjoying sweet desserts such as pudding or flan. It would also go well with hearty flavors such as beef stew or grilled onions.
Kurosei, from mass-market producer Kirin, is part of their well-known Ichiban Shibori series of lager beers. The roasted malt gives it a deep, rich flavor with a slight aroma of chocolate and coffee. The beer has moderate bitterness and a full-bodied malt flavor but does not have an overly strong aftertaste.
It is easy to drink yet has a strong finish, so we recommend it even for those who have never had a black beer before. It is a refreshing dark beer that goes well with Japanese food.
Asahi Super Dry Dry Black is made with roasted and caramelized malt and has a thick, creamy head when poured. It is pretty light and has a sharp flavor for a dark beer.
There's a slight roasted taste and sweetness, but some black beer lovers said they would like it to be slightly richer and have a more substantial mouthfeel. We recommend it especially for those who do not drink beer often but would like to try dark beer for the first time.
Wheat and Hops Black is the only 'daisan' -which means it contains less barley malt so it can be taxed at a lower rate, product among the beers in our article. However, the taste of black beer was reproduced so perfectly that the editorial staff who participated in the taste test were surprised when they found out it was a daisan.
The sweetness of the malt flavor is very noticeable, though it was perhaps a bit overly pronounced. The bitterness is not too strong, and its taste doesn't stand out, making it easy to drink for anybody. We recommend it to those who want to try out Japanese black beer and are looking for one that comes with many cans they can share!
Sapporo's Ebisu Premium Black is marketed as a full-bodied black beer. This beer was highly rated for its fruity aroma of hops and the bitterness of the malt.
We found the combination created a well-balanced taste that everyone can enjoy. It does not have an overly heavy bitterness or body, and its flavor is great for your everyday enjoyment.
Tokyo Black is a dark beer produced by Yoho Brewing, well-known for its Yona Yona Ale and Wednesday's Cat beers. In a nutshell, the Tokyo Black beer has a very well-balanced flavor.
This beer has a mild roasted malt aroma, and the sweetness and bitterness typical of dark beers are smoothly balanced out. It has a taste that everyone can enjoy, but it may be lacking in punch for those who drink a lot of beer and enjoy more complex flavors. We recommend it for those just getting into dark beer.
Shiga Kogen Beer Porter uses Maris Otter, a malt considered the finest in England, as its base. The malt is moderately roasted and has a coffee-like aroma.
This beer has a smooth flavor and no lingering aftertaste. However, many said it was too mild and lacking in flavor, resulting in a lackluster rating.
To figure out the best Japanese dark beers, we gathered the 27 best-selling products on e-commerce sites popular in Japan, like Amazon, Rakuten, Kakaku.com, and Yahoo! Shopping, and had members of our editing department conduct a taste-test on all of the products.
When choosing between dark beers, obviously, the taste will be your primary concern. What kind of taste characteristics does each of the products have? Find out below.
Six beer-loving members of our editorial staff drank and compared all 27 kinds of black beers and rated their tastiness on a scale of 0.1 to 5.0, then we took the average and gave it an overall rating score.
Our tests showed that the top-ranked dark beers were all more straightforward, milder types with a good balance of drinkability and body. The higher the rating, the more universally palatable the taste, so we recommend that beginners to dark beer choose from the top-ranked dark beers.
The dark beers with low ratings were either too mild in flavor, leaving little to no lasting impression, or too strong and distinct, giving off a sharp and strong aftertaste that resulted in a clear division in the ratings of our testers. Some of our testers gave high marks to black beers with stronger, more complex flavors, while others did not enjoy them.
If you like, for example, heavy dark beers that pack a punch with smoky flavors, look at the product descriptions for one that suits your taste, regardless of whether it is at the top or bottom of the ranking.
We overlapped the taste profiles of each of the products and grouped the highly rated dark beers (red lines) and lower-rated dark beers (blue lines.) Many of the beers in the top group were products with less bitterness and a sweeter flavor.
Surprisingly, the top-ranking beers were generally full-bodied, suggesting that many people appreciate dark beer's exceptional flavor and mouthfeel more so than its drinkability. The overall trend for black beers is to be less hoppy. Many beer styles have a roasted malt smell, giving it a pleasing aroma.
Here are some tips for how best to enjoy dark beer, primarily targeted at newcomers to dark beer or for people who aren't the biggest fans of bitter and rich-tasting beer.
One of the secrets to drinking dark beer is to pour it into a glass instead of drinking it straight from the can or bottle. The key is to tilt the glass, pour slowly, and wait one and a half to two minutes before drinking.
During this short period, bubbles gather on the surface, a phenomenon called surging, which gives the beer a creamy, rich mouthfeel. Furthermore, drinking it in a glass will allow you to thoroughly enjoy the balance of the bitterness and the slightly sweet aftertaste of dark beer.
Hold your own tasting parties, or simply enjoy a relaxing drink at home. Take a look at these other articles that might interest you.
No. 1: Miyazaki Hideji Beer｜Chestnut Black
No. 2: Coedo Brewery｜Shikkoku (Jet Black)
No. 3: Kirin Beer｜Ichiban Shibori Black
No. 4: Asahi Beer｜Asahi Dry Black
No. 5: Sapporo｜Barley and Hops Black
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