From the heart of Japan to the streets of America is one of the finest beers today – Sapporo. This beer is easily the most popular Asian beer in the United States and has solidified its place among many beer fans and lovers. With a reputation this massive, it is only natural that people begin to ask questions, and one common question is about the kind of beer Sapporo is. Here’s a quick answer.
Sapporo is best classified as a premium American lager, with this choice informed by its moderate bitterness (IBU of 18), pale straw to gold color (SRM of 4), the alcohol content of 4.9%, high carbonation, and being bottom-fermented rather than top-fermented.
Above is the quick answer to the topic question, but there’s more. In this article, we will walk you through the classification of Sapporo as a lager and the factors that have influenced its sub-classification as a premium American lager.
Read on, or in Japanese, Yomu!
Classifying a beer as ale or lager is the first step to a complete beer classification. So, what are the two terms, exactly?
Ales are beers manufactured using a top-fermenting yeast, Saccharomyces cerevisiae, at warm temperatures (60˚–70˚F). In other words, the fermentation technique employed for ales is top fermentation.
Conversely, lagers are beers that are brewed using bottom-fermenting yeast, Saccharomyces pastorianus, at cold temperatures (35˚–50˚F). Lagers can also be said to be beers produced using the bottom fermentation technique.
To answer the topic question, Sapporo is classified as a lager because it is made using bottom-fermenting yeast at cold temperatures.
Before we continue, note that there are different Sapporo beer variants. However, Sapporo Premium Lager is Sapporo’s flagship beer, and therefore, what we mean when we refer to Sapporo beer.
After the original broad classification into lager, the next step is to sub-classify the beer under the many lager types. To do that, we will rely on the guidelines of a reputable beer certification organization, the Beer Judge Certification Program.
The Program uses certain essential factors to determine the sub-classification of beers. According to the standard guidelines, Sapporo is classified as a premium American lager because it meets specific requirements.
What are these requirements, you ask? We have you covered below!
Unlike the broad classification of beer which relies on just one factor, deciding the sub-category of a beer depends on several factors. The five primary factors the Beer Judge Certification Program considers for the sub-classification of beers are bitterness (measured in IBU), color intensity (measured in SRM), original gravity, final gravity, and alcohol by volume of the beer.
To start with, bitterness. This is a measure of how bitter a beer is, and the International Bitterness Unit (IBU) is the standard metric for judging this. The higher the IBU of a beer, the more bitter it is.
According to the Beer Judge Certification Program guidelines, premium American lagers have an IBU between 15 and 25. Sapporo has an estimated IBU of 22. This value falls within the standard specified IBU range of premium American lagers, meaning Sapporo meets the bitterness criterion for this class of lagers.
Secondly, the color intensity of the beer. This factor is measured using the Standard Reference Method (SRM). The higher a beer’s SRM, the darker or more intense the beer’s color.
The standard SRM range for premium American lagers is between 2 and 6, giving them a pale straw to golden color. Sapporo has an estimated SRM of 4, which meets the standard SRM requirements for premium American lagers.
The next factor is the gravity, actually gravities, of the beer. The original and final gravity of a beer is essential in estimating the alcohol content of a beer before and after fermentation.
The original gravity (OG) of a beer measures the sugar content in the beer wort before fermentation begins. On the other hand, the final gravity (FG) measures the unfermentable sugars in the beer after alcoholic fermentation.
The Beer Judge Certification Program states that premium American lagers should have an original gravity between 1.046 and 1.056. The OG of Sapporo is about 1.047, which means it passes this particular OG requirement.
Also, the Program states that premium American lagers should have a final gravity between 1.008 and 1.012. Sapporo has an estimated final gravity of 1.007, also implying that it passes the FG requirement for premium American lagers.
The last but by no means least factor is the alcohol content of the beer. This is measured in alcohol by volume (ABV), measuring how much pure alcohol beer has.
The standard guidelines specify an alcohol content between 4.6% and 6% for premium American lagers. Since Sapporo has an ABV of 4.9%, it passes the alcohol content requirement for premium American lagers.
Sapporo passes all of the specified requirements for a premium American lager, justifying its classification as that.
Interested in finding out if we think this is a good-tasting lager? Here’s our review.
Some lagers use corn and rice as adjuncts when brewing beer. Premium American lagers use up to 25% rice or corn as adjuncts. Sapporo, like many Japanese beers, uses rice as an adjunct.
Adjuncts reduce loading on the mash, increasing the brew’s capacity. Many brewers prefer rice because it has a lower oil content than corn.
The use of rice as an adjunct is important in how beers are classified. Usually, ales use wheat as adjuncts. Using rice as adjuncts is one of the differences between American lagers and many of their European counterparts.
Sapporo Breweries manufacture all Sapporo beers. The company has five breweries in Japan, Canada, the United States, Germany, and Vietnam. All Sapporo beers sold in the United States are produced by Sapporo U.S.A., Inc., or in Vietnam and Canada.
Sapporo Breweries Ltd. offers multiple beer variants, and we briefly examine them to see if they are premium American lagers. They are as follows:
Sapporo Premium is well and truly a premium American lager. This is the original and flagship beer of the company and has been the best-selling Asian beer in the United States for decades now.
This beer is classified as a ‘schwarzbier’ which translates to black beer. It is much darker than Sapporo Premium and has an SRM of 45 with an IBU of 19. Sapporo Premium Black Beer also has a marginally higher alcohol content than the original (5.0%).
Sapporo PURE is the extremely light version of the original Sapporo beer, containing a lower alcohol content and calorie count. This beer is classified as an American light lager.
This is another of Sapporo’s entries into the light beer market. This beer is similar to Sapporo Premium but has a significantly lower alcohol content, placing it as an American light lager.
This beer is the all-malt version of Sapporo Premium. It shares similar properties with the original and can be regarded as an international pale lager. This beer is classified differently because it’s all-malt which doesn’t happen with American lagers and is a true distinction of international pale lagers.