Sapporo on shelf in supermarket

Sapporo, founded in 1876, is Japan’s oldest beer brand and is the biggest-selling Asian beer in the USA today. It’s an enormously popular lager with a proud, long-standing heritage. Its crisp, clean taste is typical of many similar Japanese beers and has helped establish Sapporo as a powerhouse brand in Japan and around the world.

Sapporo is a standard Japanese lager. It has a light, hoppy flavor compared to other Japanese beers, but its palate is dominated by crisp, clean malt notes. Notably, it is brewed using rice and is arguably the beer closest to the sort of lager that most American drinkers are familiar with. 

Of course, that’s far from the whole Sapporo story. In this article, we’re taking a close look at Sapporo’s flagship beer, Sapporo Premium, and its history, flavor, appearance, smell, mouthfeel, and brewing process to truly determine what sets Sapporo apart from other beers. Read on to become a Sapporo expert.

Stefan, the founder of, holding a can of Sapporo beer
Yes, we do buy and taste the beers we review


Upon the first sip, Sapporo Premium has a remarkably crisp, clean taste. It’s very soft and light, with a nice dry finish as you’d expect from a Japanese lager. A relatively full hoppy bitterness meets the initial hints of malty sweetness. There’s more flavor and character than many American lagers, with the hoppy sweetness lingering for just a moment on the palate. 

Like most other Japanese beers, Sapporo has a dry finish with minimal aftertaste. This flavor palate is designed to be drunk alongside a delicious Japanese meal.

Lingering umami flavors dominate Japanese cuisine, and this beer neatly complements that. It would go very well with a steaming bowl of ramen, offering light, refreshing sips to accompany the stronger umami flavors of Japanese food.

Sapporo Premium is very drinkable and easy to enjoy. The palate of Sapporo premium might be more complex than, for example, many American light lagers, but compared to robust international beers, it’s a very clean drinking experience. 

Sapporo has a neatly balanced flavor where no individual tasting notes overwhelm the others. Sapporo is very smooth and crisp, even if it has surprising breadth and balance of flavor for such a light lager. It’s a typical lager with a clean, crisp, rice-brewed character.


Sapporo has a silky, nicely carbonized mouthfeel, and it isn’t overly fizzy or zesty on the tongue, with a very smooth consistency and light to medium body. Sapporo’s mouthfeel is very light, and some describe the beer as “watery”, although it isn’t nearly as thin as most American light beers. 

Overall, Sapporo’s mouthfeel is light enough that you won’t have any issue reaching for another one to finish your meal. As with most other Japanese beers, it’s a very dry overall experience, and Sapporo politely refuses to overstay its welcome on your tongue.


Raising the glass to your nose reveals that Sapporo has a faintly grainy aroma, with ever so slight hints of grassy hay. Mostly, Sapporo smells like a freshly opened bag of uncooked white rice. Considering the prominence of rice in brewing this beer, that makes sense. 

Sapporo’s vaguely cereal-like sweetness in its smell is only faint, however. You’d have to be trying to smell the beer to pick anything up. Otherwise, the scent is faint and quickly overshadowed by the taste of the beer upon the first sip.


Poured from its indestructible-looking steel can into a glass, Sapporo pours a clear, pale golden yellow beer. The color is like straw, with a nice foamy white head that quickly dissipates. The white head is only about a finger’s worth, with next to zero lacing on the glass.

Of course, the beer’s packaging reinforces Sapporo’s position as a premium Japanese lager. Sapporo comes in a beautiful silver steel can not unlike the classic “silver bullet” of traditional American lagers like Coors Light. 

Sapporo’s steel can, however, is shaped like a beer glass and contoured appropriately. Once upon a time, the Sapporo can’s top was fully removable, allowing drinkers to take off the lid and drink from the can as if it was a glass! They have moved away from the removable top recently, but the can retained its immediately identifiable shape.

The Sapporo can is adorned with the company logo and a distinctive yellow star. This sets Sapporo apart from other lagers on the shelf, especially its fellow silver cans. Overall this gives it the appearance of a premium beer, even if Sapporo in the glass looks very similar to most other light-colored lagers.

Alcohol Percentage & Calories

Sapporo has an ABV of 4.9%, slightly higher than most American lagers. Sapporo Premium has about 140 calories per 12oz serving.

What To Eat With Sapporo

Unsurprisingly, Sapporo pairs very well with Japanese food. Sapporo is available in almost every Japanese bar and restaurant in Japan and abroad. Accordingly, it’s really easy to try Sapporo with your favorite Japanese meal or delicacy. 

Sapporo’s clean, crisp taste pairs remarkably well with fish meals. It is especially well-suited to some of the gamier, stronger-flavored fish favored in Japanese cuisine, such as tuna. Its dryness and crisp flavor neatly does away with any lingering oily, fishy taste on the palate, and thanks to its minimal aftertaste, it will not interfere with the overall experience of your sashimi. 

It would help if you tried drinking a Sapporo alongside your next serving of ramen, sashimi, or tempura. 

Why Does Sapporo Taste Like This?

The primary factor that sets Sapporo apart from other non-Japanese lagers is the inclusion of rice in the brewing process. Sapporo also uses buckwheat, often used in African brewing practices, to flavor their beer. 

Sapporo’s relatively sweet taste comes from including these additional ingredients, particularly when compared to other Japanese beers like Asahi or Kirin.

Sapporo Brewing History & Process

Sapporo traces its proud brewing history back to 1876. Sapporo beer was named for the town of Sapporo, Hokkaido, Japan, where it was first brewed. Seibei Nakagawa, trained in the art of brewing in Germany, was the brewery’s first brewmaster. 1876 saw the launch of Sapporo’s first lager, echoing the German brewing tradition for what was then a relatively small Japanese beer market.

Sapporo’s premium lager may have been Japan’s first, but it changed Japanese tastes forever. Although alcohol consumption in Japan was once upon a time dominated by traditional beverages such as sake, today, beer is the most popular alcoholic drink in Japan. On top of that, Japan’s major breweries overwhelmingly produce pale lager like Sapporo Premium.

Sapporo is so proud of its brewing history that it opened the Sapporo Beer Museum in the town’s old sugar factory in 1987.

Like the other major Japanese brewing companies, Sapporo was not immune to the Dry Wars that followed the launch of Asahi Super Dry and its meteoric success. As Asahi outstripped the competition with its aggressively marketed Super Dry product, Sapporo eventually returned to selling their classic beers rather than competing over relative dryness. 

Most of the Sapporo Premium available in the United States is brewed, canned, and bottled in La Crosse, Wisconsin. Imported Sapporo from Japan is available in some areas, although it is harder to find than locally brewed beer.

Sapporo is brewed using yeast, malted barley, rice, buckwheat, water, and hops. As a lager, Sapporo is brewed using bottom-fermenting yeast at cold temperatures (35˚–50˚F).

What Do Other People Think?

It’s always worth looking at how others view a brew. We looked at Sapporo reviews from across the internet to see how other drinkers feel about Sapporo Premium.

Average Score6.5

Sapporo’s ratings across the board veered more towards the middle of the table, except Influenster’s high score of 8.8. Reviews tended to concentrate on Sapporo’s quality when paired with Japanese food and its distinctive premium character compared to most American lagers.

One Beeradvocate reviewer had this to say about their Sapporo experience:

Overall: I dig it. I only first had this beer a year ago and remember being surprised that it didn’t set off my spidey senses for being a cheap macro adjunct lager so wanted to revisit and I again feel the same way about it. A solid and fairly tasty, easy-drinking American Lager that is a good no-nonsense option and readily available


Sapporo Brand Image

For decades, Sapporo has enjoyed a solid foothold in the American market as the best-selling Asian beer. Its clean, crisp taste and distinctive packaging quickly set Sapporo apart from other American macro brews.

Sapporo is positioned clearly as a premium “imported” beer, albeit one that is brewed in the United States. In character, it is probably the closest to an American-style lager of all the Japanese beers, likely responsible for the brand’s enduring success in the American market. 

Of course, Sapporo’s proud brewing tradition and its continued strong presence in the Japanese domestic market are also major factors in the brand’s image.