Nearly four years ago, I wrote about how craft cider (called シードル from the French cidre) was relatively hard to find in Japan, and most of it was imported from Europe and North America. The country still has a way to go to catch the U.K., which consumes more than 13L per person annually, or even the US, which drinks about 0.6L per person annually. But Kirin’s Hard Cider (4.5%) is a palatable, balanced (if a little boring) semi-sweet cider that you now see in konbini and izakaya, and is a signal that things have changed significantly.
But what of the craft producers? Can Japanese apples produce ciders that rival the funky French cidres, the tart Spanish sidras, the elegant British ciders, or the fruity dry-hopped infusions coming out of North America? In my opinion, they’ve still got a way to go, but there are some standouts. I have been pleasantly surprised by the quality overall, and the producers will keep improving over time.
Unsurprisingly, Japan’s cideries are concentrated in apple-growing regions: Aomori, Nagano, Yamanashi. Many of them are wineries or even sake brewers branching out to a new product (after all, they already have the fermenters and bottling equipment!) but a few others have started out from scratch due to a love of ciders.
The best Japanese ciders I have been able to try so far are all from the Shinshu Region. Kamoshika Cidre is located in the outskirts of Ina, in southern Nagano. They make four products, labelled based on their vintage, with 2018 being “La 3e Saison” (their third season). Their ciders are uniformly delicious, with the Doux (8%) having a balance between sweet and tart reminiscent of Granny Smith, and their Rosé (6%) being a standout, with a beautiful pink color and flavors of cherry coming from an apple called “Honey Rouge” developed at Shinshu University.
Chateau Lumière in Fuefuki, Yamanashi, is a fourth-generation family-owned winery going back to the mid-Meiji period when it was founded by a local lord. As they already make sparkling wines using the mèthode traditionelle, it is not surprising that they also package their cider in champagne bottles. The Lumière Cidre 2017 (8%) that I tried was pale straw in color, forcefully carbonated, and had a balanced acidity and a bit of funk that reminded me of a Normand cidre. Unflitered and bottled on lees, the flavors grew stronger as I approached the bottom of the bottle.
Finally, Son of the Smith in Matsumoto, Nagano, are inspired not by the French tradition but by the crisper American ciders. They started by doing collaborations with Reverend Nat’s in Oregon and are now producing a variety of ciders that are unique in the Japanese market. One of this summer’s releases—Fermentation Geeks Only (7%) uses a blend of three apples (including the Honey Rouge that is in the Kamoshika Rosé)—is aged in Ichiro’s Malt whiskey barrels, and is dry-hopped for a complex flavor of apple, tropical fruit, and whiskey, like a fascinating cocktail.
Next time you go to a craft beer bar or beer festival (like one of the many listed below happening this autumn), take a break from all the delicious ales and see what craft Japanese ciders are being poured! I think you might be pleasantly surprised.
- Oct. 4-6: Tsukuba Craft Beer Fest (Ibaraki)
- Oct. 4-6: Saisons, Sours, Barrels & Brett (Nagano)
- Oct. 11-14: Kyushu Beer Festival (Tokyo)
- Oct. 11-14: Kyushu Oktoberfest (Fukuoka)
- Oct. 11-14: Akita Oktoberfest (Akita)
- Oct. 12: Musashi Fuchu Beer Festival (Tokyo)
- Oct. 12-13: Okinawa Oktoberfest (Okinawa)
- Oct. 12-13: Yona-Yona Ale’s “Chō-Utage,” Odaiba (Tokyo)
- Nov. 16-17: American Craft Beer Experience (Tokyo)