Best Japanese Hop Varieties

Best Japanese Hop Varieties

Latest posts by Gavin Eales (see all)

Beer is the most consumed alcoholic beverage in Japan, and contrary to popular belief, the beer culture and scene are thriving. Japan imports an estimated 95% of all types of hops featured in its beers, with the majority sourced from Germany and the United States

Ironically, the wild Japanese hop variety (Humulus japonicus) is an invasive species. It is almost uncontrollable, causing chaos in grasslands, hayfields, riparian zones, and even roadsides. The Humulus japonicus variety does not retain the necessary properties or qualities to allow for a positive contribution to brewing beer.

There are authentic Japanese Hops purposely created for brewing, with the majority cultivated in the northernmost region of Honshu, Japan’s largest island. Tono is the most famous hop-growing region in all of Japan, located in Iwate prefecture in Tōhoku,

This guide will explore the Best Japanese Hop Varieties, their origins, compositions, and what they can do for your homebrews and beer.

Quick Overview: Top Picks

  • Ibuki – Best Aroma Hop
  • Sorachi Ace – Best Overall Hop
  • Eastern Gold – Best Bittering Hop
  • Toyomidori – Best Value for Money Hop
  • Murakami Seven – Best Flavoring Hop

Bottom Line Up Front

Japan is by no means the “go to” place for world-class hops, but the country offers limited varieties, which impart unique and interesting brewing qualities. My top pick for Best Japanese Hop goes to Sorachi Ace.

This legendary Japanese hop variety is dual-purpose, offering both bittering and flavoring properties. Sorachi Ace imparts classic lemon and herbal tastes and aromas, with soft undertones of dill, cucumber, and fresh cilantro.

The unique descriptors are well-balanced by moderate and sharp hop bitterness. It can be used in all hop additions throughout the boil, displaying versatility not seen in other Japanese hop varieties.

Additionally, Sorachi Ace is one of the few Japanese hops available commercially. It is affordable and available online in pellet form.

So Why Are Hops Not Big in Japan?

Best Japanese Hop Varieties

Well, hops are big in Japan. So big, in fact, that in 2020 the country imported an estimated $48.1M worth onto the tiny Pacific island. Japan was the fifth largest importer in the world for that year. 

Unfortunately, local hop cultivation is not big in Japan, and production has been on a downward decline over the past two decades. Around 20 Years ago, the region of Tono housed a whopping 239 hop farms, producing over 600 tons at its peak. Today, just 13% of those hop farms are still in operation producing just 20% of their previous record output. 

The main reason for the massive decline in hop farms and hop cultivation is a result of aging farmers and old farming equipment. New generations have zero interest in farming and are choosing the New World and flocking to live in major cities and abroad. 

To make matters worse, the massive earthquake in 2011 and the horrific tsunami that followed devastated the Japanese economy. Although not directly affected by these natural disasters, Japanese hop farmers, unfortunately, paid the ultimate price. 

Beer = Hope

One thing we can all agree on is that beer gives us hope. And thankfully, the craft beer revolution is starting to sink its nails into modern Japanese culture, with home, nano, micro, and fully operational craft breweries becoming increasingly more popular.

Craft beer allows for diversity among beer lovers, who are now creating their own unique styles. Supplemented by new and affordable processing techniques and a significant increase in modern and Western beer varieties, the appeal of craft brewing is gaining momentum in Japan.

While the craft beer revolution has significantly impacted the entire world, none are more important than the potential impact in Japan. It gives local farmers hope that the Japanese Hop Culture can be rejuvenated and allow generational farmers to regain their livelihoods. I say Cheers To That!!

Best Japanese Hop Varieties

1) Ibuki


The Ibuki Hop is an aromatic variety, delivering bold floral aromas, delicate tastes of fresh grapefruit and citrus zest, and a high level of hop bitterness. This variety is potent and can feature in small amounts.

A higher concentration in the boil will significantly increase hop bitterness but will not affect the intensity of the floral aromas and fruity tastes. 

Ibuki is an improved version of the Shinshuwase Hop, which has a strong history in Japan. According to records (Nippon Kogyo), the variety was created by crossing the American White Wine and the German Saaz Hop. 

Pros and Cons of Ibuki Hops


  • Authentic Japanese Hop Variety 
  • Delivers Vibrant Floral Aromas and Fresh Tastes of Grapefruit and Citrus Zest
  • High Levels of Hop Bitterness
  • Can Feature Throughout the Boil


  • Little Flavoring Qualities
  • Ibuki Hops are Not Available to Home Growers

Acid and Oil Composition

Acid Composition:

  • Co-Humulone = N/A
  • Alpha Acid = N/A
  • Beta Acid = N/A

Oil Composition:

  • Farnesene Oil = N/A
  • Caryophyllene Oil = N/A
  • Humulene Oil = N/A
  • Myrcene Oil = N/A
  • Total Oil Composition = N/A

Ibuki Hop Substitutions

Ibuki Hop Substitutions

There are no definitive substitutions for Ibuki Hops. Firstly, the variety is not that popular amongst commercial breweries. Secondly, it is not available for home growers. If you are hellbent on a substitution, I recommend using Citra Hops.

Citra Hops: Citra is an affordable and accessible all-American hop. It contains high alpha acids delivering sharp, smooth, and refreshing hop bitterness.

Citra Hops impart bold grapefruit and citrus zest aromas, with additional fruity notes of lychee, gooseberry, passion fruit, and melon.

Citra Hops can feature throughout the boil, but the grapefruit and citrus zest aromas are significantly enhanced when added as a late addition.

Commercial Beers that Feature Ibuki Hops

Spring Valley Hojun 496

Spring Valley Hojun 496

Spring Valley Hojun 496 is a full-bodied Pale Lager produced by Spring Valley Brewery in Yokohama, Japan. Hojan 496 is expertly crafted, with five hop varieties and 50% more malt than other beers in its category.

The result is a well-balanced Pale Lager, delivering rich malty notes upfront with delightful hop aromas on the finish. Indicative of Pale Lagers, there is slight hop bitterness, but overall it is a decent Japanese Beer. Spring Valley Hojan 496 delivers an ABV of 6.0%.

I grew up drinking Lager-style Beer, so I appreciate this example. It is flavorful and refreshing, particularly when ice cold. It is an easy-to-drink, anytime beer, that pairs well with most food.

Ibuku Fresh Hop

Ibuku Fresh Hop is a Golden Ale by the Yokohama Bay Brewing Company in Kanagawa, Yokohama. It looks inviting and pours a deep golden color with low carbonation and a tiny white head.

Ibuku Fresh Hop Golden Ale is clean and refreshing, exhibiting authentic Ale characteristics, such as rich malty tastes and sweet fruity aromas. The finish is smooth and rewarding, with little hop bitterness. Ibuku Fresh Hop Golden Ale delivers an ABV of 5%.

Ibuku Fresh Hop Golden Ale lives up to its name. It is extremely fresh and is as golden as they come. An ideal after-work beer to help you slow down and unwind. Ibuku Fresh Hop pairs well with pub grub and bar-style food.

Kirin IchibanShibori

Kirin IchibanShibori

Ichiban Shibori is a sweet and thirst-quenching Lager-style beer, brewed by Kirin Brewery. The Kirin Brewery is the second largest Brewery in Japan, and Kirin Ichiban Shibori is their most popular beer. 

Ichiban Shibori tastes like an authentic Lager-style beer, delivering sweet malty tastes and aromas with no hop bitterness. 

The finish is smooth, crisp, and refreshing. Kirin Ichiban Shibori offers an ABV of 5.5%.

Ichiban Shibori Premium Lager features the finest malts and premium all-natural ingredients, but the unique and remarkable taste comes from the Ichiban Shibori brewing technique.

A technique whereby the beer, is crafted from the initial pressing. Like most Japanese beers, Ichiban Shibori is best enjoyed cold, perfect for a warm afternoon around the pool. 

2) Sorachi Ace

Sorachi Ace

The Sorachi Ace Hop Variety was created towards the end of the 1970s by well-known hop specialist Dr. Yoshitada Mori of the Sapporo Brewery in Japan. The legendary variety delivers a simple profile, displaying bold lemon and herbal notes that are both classic and refreshing.

Undertones of dill, cucumber, and cilantro, offer a lovely balance with a moderate trace of hop bitterness. 

Sorachi Ace Hops are popular in Japan and typically feature Saison, Pale Ale, India Pale Ale, Golden Ales, Wheat, Tripels, and Bière de Garde-style beers.

Of all the local varieties available, home brewers in Japan are turning to Sorachi Ace Hops to add an element of Japanese authenticity to their delicious homemade beers.

Pros and Cons of Sorachi Ace Hops


  • Legendary Well-Balanced Japanese Hop Variety
  • Simple Flavor Profile Exhibits Bold Lemon and Herbal Notes
  • Undertones of Dill, Cucumber, and Cilantro
  • Moderate Hop Bitterness
  • Affordable
  • Accessible


  • Dill Flavor Can be Overpowering

Acid and Oil Composition

Acid Composition:

  • Co-Humulone = 23%-28%
  • Alpha Acid = 13%-16%
  • Beta Acid = 8.8%-9.9%

Oil Composition:

  • Farnesene Oil = N/A
  • Caryophyllene Oil = N/A
  • Humulene Oil = N/A
  • Myrcene Oil = N/A
  • Total Oil Composition = N/A

Sorachi Ace Substitutes


Liberty - hops

Liberty is an all-American Hop variety created in 1983. It took several years of tweaking before being released to the public in 1991. Liberty Hops possess a remarkable pedigree, derived from Hallertau Mittelfrüher, with genealogy linked to Mt Hood, Ultra, and Crystal Hops.

Liberty is primarily a bittering hop with high alpha acid content but imparts delicate tastes and aromas of citrus zest, spice, and floral. Liberty Hops is affordable and accessible and offer a positive contribution to most beer styles.


Lemondrop - hops

The Lemondrop Hop (#01210) is less popular than Liberty but is an excellent variety nevertheless. Created by Hopsteiner as an experimental hop, released to the public in 2012. Lemondrop is derived from the Cascade Hop, delivering similar citrus and herbal characteristics.

Lemondrop Hops commonly feature in session beers but perform well in Ale and Lager-style beers. Lemondrop Hops are available to all home growers in pellet form. They are affordable and obtainable from Amazon and numerous online companies.

Commercial Beers that Feature Sorachi Ace Hops

Kees Black IPA

Kees Black IPA

Kees Black IPA is a delightful Black India Pale Ale produced by the remarkable Kees Brewery in Middelburg, Netherlands. The award-winning brewery only opened its doors in 2015 but has already earned a justified reputation for creating world-class IPAs, Russian\Imperial IPAs, and Russian Imperial Stouts.

Kees Black IPA is full-flavored, medium-bodied, and indicative of an authentic Black IPA. Upfront, you encounter gorgeous notes of dark malts, coffee, and creamy caramel, followed by undertones of vanilla, coconut, and earthy wood. The finish is long and lingering, with a mild trace of hop bitterness. Kees Black IPA delivers an impressive ABV of 7.8%.

Kees Black is an exceptional IPA-style beer. I love the malty tastes and aromas usually absent in IPA-style beers. It is sweet, creamy, and a great beer to have after dinner with dessert.

Sorachi Ace by Brooklyn Brewing

Sorachi Ace by Brooklyn Brewing

Sorachi Ace is a world-class Saison-style beer, produced by a world-class brewery. Founded by Tom Potter, Brooklyn Brewing has been quenching local thirsts since 1987. The brewery is highly respected in American craft beer brewing, and its Sorachi Ace Saison is as unique as they come. Sorachi Ace is a gorgeous golden farmhouse Ale, full of flavor and highly carbonated.

The tastes and aromas of lemon zest and fresh herbs are expertly balanced by malty goodness. Dry-hopped with Sorachi Ace Hops, this exceptional Ale exhibits bold aromas, minimal hop bitterness, and a dry, crisp, and refreshing finish. Sorachi Ace by Brooklyn Brewing delivers an ABV of 7.4%.

Sorachi Ace is easy to drink, aromatic and thirst quenching, and goes down well during the day or at night. Best enjoyed chilled and pairs well with pizza and pasta. 

Jet Black Heart

Jet Black Heart

Jet Black Heart is a delightful Milk Stout created by Brewdog Brewing. Brewdog is one of my favorite breweries, often surprising me with their unique and sometimes outrageous creations. Jet Black Heart is one such beer and a beer that I encourage everyone to try.

Pouring black and creamy, it offers medium carbonation and a generous white head. It is rich and decadent, imparting intense roasted malt tastes and aromas, and coupled with soft notes of coffee beans, creamy chocolate, fresh berries, and citrus zest.

The masterful addition of wheat and flaked oats does not influence the taste but contributes to a velvety mouthfeel and a silky, smooth, and memorable finish. Jet Black Heart by Brewdog Brewing offers an ABV of 4.7%

To say that this beer is decadent is an understatement. It can easily qualify as an alternative to dessert. What I love most about this is the relatively low ABV, it could almost be considered a Session Stout.

Modern Craft Milk Stouts typically deliver ludacris ABVs, which limits the amount one can drink in a session and consuming too many can have you walking sideways in no time.

3) Eastern Gold

Eastern Gold

Eastern Gold is a mysterious Japanese Hop variety, prized for its high alpha acid content. The alpha acid is so high and the bitterness so extreme that it is considered a Super Alpha variety. Eastern Gold was created by skilled scientists at Kirin Brewing in Tokyo.

Not much is known about the flavor profile if there even is one. It appears that Eastern Gold Hops were created with a solitary function, to deliver extreme amounts of bitterness to Japanese beer and nothing else. 

Eastern Gold Hops can feature in just about any beer style that requires hop bitterness. They do not typically feature in traditional Ales, Pilsners, and Lagers, but as you can imagine, they are popular in modern IPAs and all hop-forward beer styles.

Pros and Cons of Eastern Gold Hops


  • Intense Super Alpha Hop Variety
  • High Levels of Alpha Acids
  • Great For IPAs and Hop Forward Beer-Styles


  • No Aromatic Qualities
  • No Flavoring Qualities
  • Not Available Commercially

Acid and Oil Composition

Acid Composition:

  • Co-Humulone = 27%
  • Alpha Acid = 11%-14%
  • Beta Acid = 5%-6%

Oil Composition:

  • Farnesene Oil = 3%
  • Caryophyllene Oil = 7%-8%
  • Humulene Oil = 19%
  • Myrcene Oil = 42%
  • Total Oil Composition = 1.43ml per 100 grams

Eastern Gold Hop Substitution

Brewers Gold:

Brewers Gold - beer

Brewers Gold was created in England by Prof. Salmon, in 1917. Prof. Salmon was one of the first scientists to cross authentic European Hops with American Hops. The result was Brewers Gold (an appropriate name), and over 100 years later features in commercial and craft beer recipes around the world. 

Brewers Gold is primarily a bittering hop, containing extreme levels of alpha acids. However, the variety does impart soft fruity notes of spice, berries, and blackcurrant. 

Brewers Gold is one of the most popular hop varieties on the market. It is affordable, accessible, and an ideal substitution for Eastern Gold.

4) Toyomidori

Toyomidori Hops was created by scientists at the Kirin Brewery in Japan. First crossed in 1981, the variety is a marriage of a Wye Male and a Northern Brewer Female. Toyomidori Hops (like most Japanese Hops) contain high levels of alpha acids, resulting in extreme hop bitterness.

Unlike Eastern Gold Hops, Toyomidori imparts soft fruity tastes and aromas but not nearly enough to be considered a flavoring or aromatic hop variety. 

Toyomidori hops are no longer as popular as they once were. Due to a substantial lack of resistance to downy mildew, the variety is largely discontinued. Fortunately, there are Toyomidori pellets available online for home brewers.

Although this variety is not as common as others, it is surprisingly affordable and a great hop to crank up the bitterness in your homebrew.

Pros and Cons of Toyomidori Hops


  • Authentic Japanese Variety
  • High Alpha Acid Content Results in Extreme Hop Bitterness
  • Affordable
  • Accessible in Pellet Form


  • Susceptible to Downy Mildew
  • Little Flavoring and Aromatic Properties

Acid and Oil Composition

Acid Composition:

  • Co-Humulone = 40%
  • Alpha Acid = 11%-13%
  • Beta Acid = 5%-6%

Oil Composition:

  • Farnesene Oil = N/A
  • Caryophyllene Oil = 4%-5%
  • Humulene Oil = 9%-12%
  • Myrcene Oil = 59%
  • Total Oil Composition = 1.06ml per 100 grams

Toyomidori Hop Substitutions


Toyomidori Hop Substitutions

Apollo Hops were created by Hopsteiner and released to the public in 2000. This variety contains sufficient alpha acids (15%-20%) and delivers enough hop bitterness to qualify as a substitute for Toyomidori hops. 

Both varieties impart gentle fruity notes, while Apollos’ profile is dominated by grapefruit. Apollo is a descendant of Zeus, an excellent bittering hop for all homebrewers to keep in their arsenal. The high alpha variety is available in pellet form and is obtainable from numerous online companies. 

Commercial Beers that Feature Toyomidori Hops

Simcoe Midori

Simcoe Midori - beer

Simcoe Midori by Mallinsons Brewery is a delightful unfiltered Blonde Ale featuring a wonderful combination of Toyomidori and Simcoe Hops. Located in Huddersfield, United Kingdom, Mallinsons Brewery was founded in 2008. The brewery has earned a reputation for creating ambitious single and dual-hop beers while covering an impressive assortment of beer styles.

Simcoe Midori is light-bodied, fresh, and thirst-quenching. It is easy to drink, imparting gentle strawberry tastes and aromas, followed by intense hop bitterness from the Toyomidori Hops. The Blonde Ale is well-balanced by a trace of wheat and rich notes of roasted barley. The finish is smooth, sharp, and bitter. Simcoe Midori by Mallinsons Brewery offers an ABV of 4.1%.

Simcoe Midori is a remarkable Blonde Ale, and an ideal lunchtime beer on your days off. The low ABV is perfect and allows one to slightly over-indulge. It pairs with most types of food but goes down well with fresh sushi or grilled fish with roasted Mediterranean vegetables. 

5) Murakami Seven

Murakami Seven is a unique and rare hop variety created by former world-renowned hop scientist Atsushi Murakami of Karin Brewery. As far as Japanese Hops are concerned, this variety is the most interesting. Murakami Seven is easier to grow in large numbers and requires little maintenance compared to other hop varieties.

It imparts gentle yet delightful aromas of juicy figs and sweet mandarin. I am thrilled to inform you that this variety contains average alpha acid levels and delivers a moderate, crisp, and refreshing hop bitterness. Overall it is an excellent Hop.

Unfortunately, this exciting hop is not yet available for home growers, and they do not feature in many commercial beers. The good news is that this versatile hop has been identified as the one variety that can bring Japanese Hops from the brink.

With intentions to significantly expand cultivation and make it available to all nano, micro, and home breweries in the not-too-distant future.

Pros and Cons of Murakami Seven


  • Rare and Authentic Dual-Purpose Japanese Hop Variety
  • Moderate, Crisp, and Refreshing Hop Bitterness
  • Delightful Aromas of Juicy Figs and Sweet Mandarin


  • Not Available to Homegrowers

Acid and Oil Composition

Acid Composition:

  • Co-Humulone = N/A
  • Alpha Acid = N/A
  • Beta Acid = N/A

Oil Composition:

  • Farnesene Oil = N/A
  • Caryophyllene Oil = N/A
  • Humulene Oil = N/A
  • Myrcene Oil = N/A
  • Total Oil Composition = N/A

Murakami Hop Substitutions

Mandarina Bavaria:

Mandarina Bavaria - hops

Mandarina Bavaria Hops were created in Hull, Germany, and released to the public in 2012. When I first stumbled upon this variety, I could not believe that it was of German origin, the name suggested that it might be, but the flavor profile did not.

I subsequently learned it was created in response to the craft beer revolution and the increasing demand for idiosyncratic tastes and flavors. Mandarina Bavaria is a versatile and forgiving variety, imparting fruity tastes and aromas of sweet mandarin oranges, clementines, and juicy tangerines.

An 8.5%-10.0% Alpha Acid content results in moderate and respectful hop bitterness. Mandarina Bavaria Hops are available from numerous online stores in pellet form. You will immediately notice that they are pricey, but I assure you, they are worth every penny.

Commercial Beers that Feature Murakami Seven Hops

Murakami Seven IPA

Murakami Seven IPA

Murakami Seven is an outstanding India Pale Ale-style beer produced by Spring Valley Brewery in Yokohama, Japan. For me, this IPA is a strong indication of where Japanese Beer Culture is heading. Murakami Seven is a world-class craft beer, one the brewery and country can be proud of.

Murakami Seven IPA is bold and refreshing and looks enticing when poured into a glass. It is hop-forward, delivering fresh hops and yeast tastes and aromas. The finish is refreshing and thirst-quenching with mild hop bitterness. Murakami Seven IPA offers an ABV of 5.5%.

Murakami Seven IPA is an ideal session IPA to be enjoyed with dinner. The fresh hop tastes and aromas complement most food types, particularly Chinese and Japanese-style cuisine.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Question: Do Japanese Beers use Hops?

Answer: Yes, Japanese beers are made with hops, although the majority of hops are imported from the United States and Germany. It is believed that Cascade is the most featured hop in Japanese beers. Not surprisingly, Japanese brewers are greatly influenced by American Craft Brewers and are replicating similar brewing techniques and procedures.

Question: Are hops grown in Japan?

Answer: Hops are grown in Japan but on a small scale. Over 90% of locally cultivated hops are from the Tohoku region, but yields have decreased dramatically over the past two decades. Today, over 95% of Hops featured in Japanese beers are imported.

Question: How do you identify Japanese Hops?

Answer: Japanese Hops have a different appearance from American and European hops and are easily identifiable. Japanese Hops display prominent five-lobed leaves, and the thick stems (bines) possess pointed prickles (soft thorns) that point downwards.

Question: What makes Japanese beer unique?

Answer: Firstly, Traditional Japanese Beer features authentic Japanese hops, which makes their beers unique. Secondly, commercial breweries in Japan tend to feature American and German Hops in their recipes but often add rice to the grain bill as a secondary or tertiary supplement. While this technique is practiced in China, it does make Japanese beer unique.

Question: Are Japanese Hops Invasive?

Answer: Ironically, most Japanese Hops are invasive and often removed in large quantities. The aggressive wild hop variety effortlessly chokes out other vegetation, causing chaos in grasslands, riparian zones, and forests. This wild hop variety is not suitable for brewing, but there are a limited number of Japanese Hops purposely created for brewing beer.

Final Thoughts: Best Japanese Hop Varieties

My top pick for Best Japanese Hop Variety goes to Sorachi Ace. This legendary Japanese hop variety is dual-purpose, offering both bittering and flavoring properties. Sorachi Ace is the most popular and featured Japanese Hop locally and abroad.

Sorachi Ace imparts classic lemon and herbal tastes and aromas, with soft undertones of dill, cucumber, and fresh cilantro. The unique descriptors are well-balanced by moderate and sharp hop bitterness. 

Sorachi Ace is a versatile hop and can feature in all hop additions throughout the boil. Additionally, Sorachi Ace is one of the few Japanese hops available commercially. The variety is affordable and available online in pellet form.

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