Sapporo Vs Asahi

Sapporo and Asahi are two of the biggest Japanese beer brewers. They’ve managed to earn a foothold in the American market, with Sapporo leading the charge as the #1 most consumed Asian beer in America. Which beer is better? First, the quick answer.

Sapporo and Asahi are classic Japanese-style lagers. Although Sapporo has a somewhat lighter, hoppier flavor, the two beers are really quite similar. They’re made in a similar fashion, using rice. Asahi’s rich, delicately bitter taste contrasts with the cleaner, crisper taste of Sapporo. Both beers are best enjoyed with a nice bowl of ramen or similar Japanese food.

Of course, that’s far from the whole story. In this article, we’re going to look at various aspects of both beers to determine which Japanese lager reigns supreme. We’ll look at the flagship offerings from both breweries, namely Asahi Super Dry and Sapporo Draft (known as Sapporo Premium in the USA).

We’ll look at flavor, history, appearance, aroma, mouthfeel, calories, alcohol content, and the brewing process, examining what we like and what we don’t about each beer. You’ll be a black belt in Japanese lager knowledge by the end of this article.

I strongly believe in ‘doing research’ for the blogs I write 🙂

Sapporo Vs Asahi: History

Sapporo is Japan’s oldest beer brand. It was founded in 1876 by Seibei Nakagawa, in the town of Sapporo, which lent its name to the brand. Nakagawa actually learned the art of brewing beer in Germany. Sapporo’s first lager – the precursor to the Sapporo Premium widely consumed in the USA today – was launched around this time. 

Asahi is a slightly younger company, founded in 1889 in Osaka. Asahi was a relatively minor player in the Japanese beer market for a century until the late 1980s. Extensive market research saw Asahi engineer Super Dry, a beer specifically tailored to Japanese drinkers who wanted a high-alcohol, dry-finishing beer not unlike some northern German beers.

This innovation saw Asahi surpass other established brewers, like Kirin, and influence the Japanese beer market so much that other breweries started chasing the dry beer market. Today, Asahi is a global powerhouse and the largest beer brewer in Japan.

Sapporo Vs Asahi: Flavor

Sapporo Premium has a crisp, clean taste perfect for a hot summer’s day. It boasts notes of malty sweetness and relatively full bitterness for a lager-style beer. The sweetness is hoppy and light, and lingers momentarily on the palate. Sapporo is not an overwhelmingly strongly flavored beer, and has minimal aftertaste. Like most Japanese beers, it’s designed to be consumed alongside a Japanese meal, so its flavor palate complements that of typical Japanese food: light and refreshing to balance out the strong umami, salt, and citrus flavors in Japanese cuisine.

Asahi’s Super Dry is exactly that. It’s super dry. Super Dry was designed in conjunction with extensive market research to deliver a beer tailor made for the modern Japanese palate. Accordingly, it lacks the maltiness and fruity sweetness of more traditional European style beers. Asahi Super Dry is cleaner and crisper than Sapporo, with almost zero aftertaste. Like Sapporo, it pairs very well with a nice bowl of ramen or a hearty meal of sushi. Asahi’s flagship beer is highly drinkable and very easy to enjoy.

Sapporo Vs Asahi: Mouthfeel

Sapporo’s mouthfeel is silky and carbonated as you’d expect from a lager. Its mouthfeel, like its taste, is very crisp and very refreshing. Asahi’s mouthfeel is similar. It’s thin and delicate, with plenty of tingle on the tongue thanks to Asahi’s cutting-edge brewing process. The two beers are quite similar in terms of mouthfeel. Asahi has slightly more character thanks to its slightly “fizzier” texture. 

Sapporo Vs Asahi: Smell

Sapporo, unsurprisingly, has a faint grainy aroma. It’s not unlike the smell of uncooked rice, which makes sense as rice is a major ingredient in the brewing of this Japanese beer. These light cereal notes make it closer in character to a classic American lager, and make this a very easy beer to drink.

Asahi has a similar aroma, one that recalls very faint grains. Asahi might be closer to the smell of a freshly opened box of cereal than to that of a bag of rice. It’s a very clean, pleasantly malty aroma perfect for a hotter climate.

Sapporo Vs Asahi: Calories

Sapporo Premium has 140 calories per 120z serving, while Asahi Super Dry is very similar at 148 Calories. The difference in calories here is negligible, although it’s worth noting that these beers are very drinkable. In Japan, particularly in Tokyo, it’s not uncommon for workers to go out to bars together after work. These highly drinkable beers are easy to consume in bulk over the course of a night, at which point the difference in calories might start to add up.

Sapporo Vs Asahi: Alcohol Content

Sapporo’s ABV of 4.9% is very close to Asahi’s at 5%. Asahi, as per their pre-launch market testing, wanted to develop a beer with higher alcohol content than its competitors. As with the calorific content of these beers, the difference is negligible. 

Sapporo Vs Asahi: Appearance

Both Sapporo and Asahi pour a clear, pale yellow beer. The head doesn’t last long, as you’d expect from a typical lager, although the head on Asahi has a bit more substance to it. This is likely thanks to the higher carbonation levels Asahi uses when brewing Super Dry. The white head is nicely foamy, and the beer settles easily in a glass.

One cool thing about the Sapporo Premium is its bulletproof-looking can! Most of the Sapporo you can pick up in the United States comes in a classic silver can that seems just about indestructible. This “silver bullet” style can is likely a concession to the American beer market. Most of the light, refreshing, all-American beers – think Coors Light – come in a silver can.

Sapporo’s can is similarly designed, using steel instead of the typical aluminum of most American beer cans. The Sapporo can originally came with a fully removable top to make the experience of drinking Sapporo from the can similar to drinking beer from a glass! Sapporo has retained the beer glass-like shape to the can but moved away from the removable top in recent years.

What Do Other People Think About Both Beers?

Below, we gathered the scores of both beers and compared them to each other. Ratings are on a scale from 1-10.

Average Score6.56.25

As you can see, both beers rate quite similarly across the board. Influenster ratings actually ranked Asahi Super Dry higher than Sapporo’s Premium, but overall, users seem to prefer Sapporo Premium over Asahi Super Dry by a narrow margin of 0.25 on average.

One Beeradvocate user said of Asahi:

 Big fluffy head. Straw yellow in appearance. Perfect to cut through any meal. Good beer, very clean. Subtle balance on the finish.


Brewing Process & Ingredients

Sapporo is the oldest brewing company in Japan, named for the town of Sapporo in which the brand originated. Sapporo use yeast, malted barley, water, hops, and, of course, rice to make their Premium beer. They also use buckwheat in small amounts in the brewing process. 

Asahi uses similar ingredients, including rice, but the key to Super Dry is twofold. First is Asahi’s continual innovation in brewing practises, which began in the late 80s with the launch of Asahi Super Dry, and continues to this day. Their special brewing practises include:

  • Special conveyor systems that don’t harm the malt
  • Milling machines that don’t excessively mash the grain 
  • Malted barley selected according to over one hundred criteria, including grain species, its origins, and the methods of germination

Asahi’s other secret weapon is the use of Special Yeast – Asahi # 318 Asahi actually recently changed the recipe for Super Dry, adding hops later in the brewing process to accommodate changing palates in the beer market. 

Brand Image

Asahi and Sapporo are the two market leaders in Japanese beer. Sapporo Premium is, in the United States, considered closer to the standard middle-American beer than Asahi would be. This is reflected in the branding of their flagship beer, and in their continual position as the best selling Asian beer in the USA.

Asahi, on the other hand, is a company that prides itself on innovation. Asahi’s advertising material often boasts of their cutting-edge technology and breakthroughs in brewing technology. Asahi Super Dry actually brought about a period of serious change in the Japanese beer market, as upon its launch it dragged Asahi to the top of the brewing game in Japan, and encouraged other brewers to launch dry beers. 

Sapporo vs Asahi: Which Is The Better Beer?

Although Sapporo and Asahi are more alike than they are different, there are clear lines in the sand between these similar beers. Sapporo has a firm foothold in the American market thanks to its clean, crisp taste.

It’s a well-established favorite among American beer drinkers. Asahi Super Dry is preferred in Japan and throughout Asia and Europe, where its similarity to northern German-style pilsners is widely appreciated. Ultimately, they both pair extremely well with any Japanese dinner, and you could easily enjoy either one with your ramen or tonkatsu.