Sapporo Beer Museum vs. Orion Happy Park | Japan's best beer brewery museum is...?
Between major breweries and a slowly burgeoning craft beer scene, frothy brews are on the rise in Japan! Of course this means that historic Japanese breweries want to show off their illustrious pasts, and everything that goes into making their beer so great. Head to the two extremes of the country, snowy northern Hokkaido and tropical Okinawa to find some of the country's best beers, and most interesting brewery experiences.
With Japanese bar culture centered around tavern-style establishments called izakaya (居酒屋)
, Japanese breweries come out with all kinds of beers to go with different snacks (Japan definitely isn't limited to bar nuts!). On top of that, factoring in the country's love of seasonal and limited edition products, new and interesting varieties are constantly hitting the market. Forget rice wine, Japan is practically bubbling over with beers!
As some of Japan's biggest beer makers have spread to international markets, you might just have tried one or two varieties at a Japanese restaurant near you. Have you sampled a bottle of Sapporo, or maybe the slightly more elusive Orion? Interested in seeing what makes them unique, or what a Japanese brewery might look like? Then let us show you a little of Japan's beer-making world.
Hokkaido: Japan's Winter Wonderland
- Sapporo beer comes from, well, the city of Sapporo, in Japan's Hokkaido Prefecture. Hokkaido is the northernmost part of Japan, and in winter it becomes an island blanketed in snow. Sapporo is Japan's oldest beer brand, and it was born surrounded by landscapes like this one in the city of Biei.
- (And this view of the spectacular Shirogane Blue Pond.)
① Sapporo Beer Museum
This is the only dedicated beer museum in Japan, dedicated to teaching the public about the long-beloved drink. Sapporo Beer opened it in 1987, and it offers more than your basic brewery tour. The rooms are full of exhibits all about beer, its history, the manufacturing process, and more.
- Even the building is historical, as the red brick structure has been around since Japan's Meiji Period, and is now a designated Hokkaido Heritage Site. Don't worry about making reservations, you can visit any time for free, and visitors 20 years or older can try a complimentary beer!
- Inside you'll find a wall showing showing you pieces of Japanese beer memorabilia, from all over the country.
- You can see how tastes change by checking out the decades-old wooden signs.
- This huge container once held an awful lot of beer, but now it has gone on to retirement, teaching us about the beer-making process.
- If you're interested in marketing, or just love old posters, you might be interested in this room featuring Japanese beer advertisements from throughout the years. From just a glance you can see things have changed pretty dramatically!
Okinawa: Japan's Tropical Getaway
- While Sapporo hails from the far north, Orion comes from Okinawa, deep in the south. Keep going down past Okinawa, and you'll find yourself heading into hundreds of miles of ocean! Which is why the area around where Orion was first brewed is basically a tropical paradise.
- Of course, after a day of playing in the ocean, you need a great beer to sip on as you relax on the beach!
② Orion Happy Park
- Visit Orion Happy Park to learn all about the brand, its history, and how it's made. As a beer made next door to the sand and sea, Orion's got a different feeling from Sapporo.
- We're starting you off here at the end of the tour, where you get two free draft beers. If you've never been able to try Orion back home, this is the perfect time to sample the Okinawan brew.
- Of course, if you're a designated driver you're not left just sitting there watching people drink. They provide non-alcoholic options as well.
- Orion Happy Park has guides who can teach you all about the beer.
- And you can see the process in action!
Orion Happy Park offers free tours, where over the course of an hour or so guides will teach you all about Orion, from the brewing (ingredients and recipes, fermentation, even canning!) to the brand itself. If your Japanese isn't quite up to snuff, there are English-language resources to keep you from getting a little lost. If you love beer and want to learn more about Okinawa, a tour of the brewery might be a perfect stop on your next trip south.
So, Which Attraction Reigns Supreme?
Well, that's up to you. Do you want to travel north to learn about the history of beer in the cool Hokkaido weather, or would you prefer to lounge in the warm sun and see the production line in action? Either way, you'll get to try some great beer, and probably learn a thing or two about beer, and Japan!
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