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Food and Wine Magazine

Japanese-Style Rice Lagers are becoming the next official craft brew trend, and for good reason. The beer scene in America has been all about the Sours and Hazy IPAs, but now there is a demand for transitioning into something much lighter in body and ABV.

While Rice Lagers are now trending in America, it has been a longstanding beer style in Japan.

Beer production in Japan began early as the 19th century, according to Serious Eats. Thanks to an outsider, Norwegian-American William Copeland, the infamous Kirin Lager was born after Spring Valley Brewery opened in Yokohama in 1870.

Spring Valley Brewery, 1870.
Spring Valley Brewery // Old Photographs Research Project, Historiographical Institute, The University of Tokyo

But it wasn’t until later in that century, that rice lagers were put on the map when Japan’s first craft brewery, “Echigo Beer”, was established in 1994. Starting off with pale ales and stouts, Echigo made a rice-based lager that “competes with the biggest players in the market—something of a gateway beer” (Serious Eats).

Echigo Beer’s, “Koshihikari”, was one of my first rice lagers I have ever tried. Not only was I excited to be at Utah’s best sushi restaurant, “Takashi,” I was also elated get my hands on some Japanese craft beer.

Echigo Beer’s, “Koshihikari” in Salt Lake City, Utah.

Rice is a groundbreaking ingredient in the craft beer industry.

According to Porch Drinking, “Adding a significant amount of rice to the malt bill helps clean up the beer, both in look and flavor. American barley often has a higher protein content, which can create a haze in the finished beer.”

The nice, crisp and clear body of a rice lager.
Porch Drinking

Porch Drinking also mentions that “Low-protein rice helps offset that haziness and creates the crystal-clear look of Japanese rice lager.” Adding rice also improves the drinkability of the beer.

Jeff McDonald, head brewer at Twisted Pine, referenced that clean flavors allow brewers to showcase the characteristics of unique hop strains. Hence, this reasons to brewers using a blend of jasmine rice and American long-grain rice to “produce higher-quality beer emphasizing subtle aromatics and florals” (Porch Drinking).

“Twisted Pine’s Light and Clean Rice & Shine” via Porch Drinking

The rice grain often produces a mild sweetness and various hop varieties being in the signature light herbal, floral, or lemon undertones. Rice lagers are not only light and crisp, but are very flavorful thanks to these characteristics.

Rice Lagers are the perfect beers for not only summer, but for casual drinking. They help bridge the gap to more assertively-flavored craft beers for drinkers accustomed to macro-brewed light lagers.

The consensus that light beers like pilsners and lagers aren’t flavorful is a myth, and the Japanese rice lagers are a perfect example of that.

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