Who doesn't know Sapporo Beer? Along with Kirin and Asahi, Sapporo is one of the top three most popular Japanese beers. It is also one of the oldest breweries in Japan. It is obviously in the city of Sapporo that it was first brewed, in 1877. If you have the chance to visit to the northern island of Hokkaido, do not miss the Sapporo Beer Museum!
Visiting the Sapporo Beer Museum also makes for an interesting journey through time! Indeed, the museum offers a high quality tour on the history of beer in Japan. The first introduction by Europeans, the start of industrial production and more. This is also an opportunity to look back on the beginnings of the opening of Japan to the world, and its swift leap into modernity. Imagine yourself in the Meiji era.
I know what you're thinking... and yes, at the end of the tour you will have the opportunity to taste a few different varieties of beer that the company produces!
The Sapporo Beer Museum was opened in July 1987 in a beautiful historic building. Built in 1890 under the supervision of European engineers, it was originally designed for the "Sapporo Sugar Company." Its brick facade evokes the architecture of Tokyo station. It was officially designated as a heritage site of Hokkaido.
You will find some stories of beer barrel wall. There is something written in Japanese on the barrels. These letters are read for the left-below-ward, “Managing Barley and Hop, it is going to be a drink made from beer.” The barrels’ wall was restored to its original state of the Meiji era.
The red brick of the Sapporo Beer Museum is a striking sight, especially in winter when it’s framed against the whiteness of the snow. The entire place has an industrial feel to it.
You can learn about the beer industry and brewing process by following the modern exhibits inside the museum. You'll get to see the equipment used in beer production and find out how the design of the Sapporo beer bottles changed over the decades. I admired the retro Sapporo beer posters, as well as old wooden Sapporo signs from beer halls across Japan.
After the exhibitions, beer tastings are available at a small fee via the ticketing machine. What’s interesting though is that you can taste three kinds of Sapporo - not three different beer styles, but three different variations of the same beer. Let me explain - unlike some beer brands that also outsource production to other breweries (in the industry we call it contract brewing) but are secretive about that aspect, with Heineken and Guinness coming to mind - Sapporo is quite open about their approach.
There is the Sapporo Classic, which is made from 100% malt with ingredients grown only in Hokkaido. It’s also exclusively available on Hokkaido itself, and not available even on the main Japanese of Honshu.
Sapporo Black Label, on the other hand, is what’s made from what the company calls its Collaborative Contract Farming System, where selected ingredients that are grown outside of Hokkaido and Japan are used to brew the beer in breweries that may not be based in Japan. To give you an idea, the Sapporo we get in Singapore now comes from a brewery in Vietnam that produces the beer under this system.
Finally there’s the Sapporo Kaitakushi made from the original recipe that was used to make beer on this very site ages past. Cloudier than normal, the beer probably sees less robust filtration in its making. Interestingly all three taste almost alike, which while befuddles me as a beer drinker, is probably what Sapporo intended anyway.
Sapporo Beer Museum as an attraction is also likely to appeal to the non-drinkers. And the grounds upon the which the brewery sits is extremely lovely - it’s like a visit to the park. That’s also so worth strolling through!