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Oct 7, 2013 12:30 AM

Costco Japan microbrew from the U.S.

My neighbor shops at Costco and recently brought home a case of the Kirkland microbrew (made for them in San Jose CA), which we split. Each case has four varieties -- Pale Ale, IPA, Amber Ale and German Lager. All are pretty good and quality is even. While the flavors are not amazing, the price is, working out to about 160 yen per bottle, less than the 215 yen or so one expects to pay for ordinary Japanese mass produced beer. I am quite a beer fan, and recommend these brews as low-priced daily drinkers.

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  1. Another way to look at it though is that the 160 yen per bottle price is being subsidized by the person who owns the car, spends the two hours driving back and forth to Kawasaki (or Shin-Misato or Chiba), buys the gasoline and renews their Y4000 Costco membership every year.

    Not that I'm complaining - I often find myself with a half-case of Kirkland/Gordon Biersch microbrew in my fridge too. But if you actually had to pay for delivery, Yona Yona is a better deal I think.

    5 Replies
    1. re: Robb S

      Robb makes a very good point here. When Costco first came to Tokyo, we took out a membership. But after the first year, we decided it didn't really add up since we only went for the bagels and big bottles of artichoke hearts. At the time, there was no craft beer, but even so, we wouldn't rejoin for that.

      Still, I made the post on the assumption that many people who visit this board either go to Costco regularly or, like me, know someone nearby who does. Anyway, the beer is quite good and worth knowing about.

      1. re: Tripeler

        Do you know any Japanese who homebrew in Tokyo?...My wife would have killed me for taking up space in our Tokyo apartment with a bunch of brewing gear and I don't think it would come out to be cheaper or better without some practice and effective local sourcing.

        1. re: Silverjay

          I homebrewed for about ten years in Tokyo, using the kitchen in my office. It is a pain, and sourcing ingredients is hard. I do know quite a few Japanese who homebrew, though, but most of them are not living in such small apartments. Still, one needs to be quite a good homebrewer to make better beer than commercial microbrew.

          1. re: Tripeler

            Hey, have you had on of Ushitora's stuff? They were just getting set up when I was there last year. Wondering if they are brewing anything good and/or interesting...

            1. re: Silverjay

              As far as I know, they don't have a brewing license yet. Other places waiting for licenses include Devilcraft (Kanda, and now also in Hamamatsucho) and Watering Hole (Yoyogi).

    2. Since Costco opened in Hiroshima, we've been doing the same thing, and made the same calculations. That Kirkland branded beer is actually brewed by Gordon Biersch. We've converted my extended family here on to these beers, instead of the usual supermarket stuff, or god forbid, all the cheap happoshu.

      1. Oh no, maybe this means I should be selling off my shares of Hoppy?!?!

        2 Replies
        1. re: Silverjay

          I wouldn't. After the nuclear holocaust comes, there will be two things still around: cockroaches, and Hoppy.

          1. re: Uncle Yabai

            Providing you can tell the difference.

        2. Cheaper and much tastier alternative to Kirkland brews:

          7 Replies
          1. re: od_sf

            Have you personally done any homebrewing? I certainly doubt whether an extract brew (as the article shows) would be in any way tastier than the Kirkland brews.

            1. re: Tripeler

              I've done dozens of batches, including extract (where most everyone starts) and the vast majority were 10 times better than Kirkland brews, hands down. Of course, all grain is preferable, but this does not mean that killer beer using extract is not possible. Also, I live in a tiny apartment now, and even though I can't do 5 gallon batches of all grain full boil, I manage to do 2.5 gallons all grain in a ridiculously small kitchen. The typical price for a decent Japanese craft IPA at a bar in Tokyo is what? ¥1,000 and up? I can brew a better beer for ¥150. Does it take practice, time and effort? Yes, it does. Whether or not it is worth it depends on how much one likes quality craft beer.

              1. re: Tripeler

                Got to agree with you here. Dan Gordon from GB is a great brewer and the German beers they do for Trader Joe's are one of the best bargains in the US. I find it extraordinarily hard to believe that a dilettante (dozens of brews) brewing extract beers could make anything half as good as the GB Kirkland/TJ beers, let alone anything 10 times better.

                1. re: jmatt

                  Kirkland brews are widely panned by everyone really into craft beer.

                  The ratings speak for themselves:


                  No one really into beer would buy this stuff when so much good beer is available these days. And yes, it's quite easy to homebrew beer that will be better than the Kirkland swill.

                  1. re: od_sf

                    I didn't say those beers were great---just a good value for the price. In the US there are way better beers available, naturally, but for the price, they are good---especially the German styles---can't beat them for $5.99 a six, especially when few West Coast breweries specialize in them.

                    That said, in Japan, for the price at Costco, if the cost of going to the place doesn't negate the value, they are a bargain. And as I said, you may think your beer is great, but I highly doubt it is better than that "swill."

                    1. re: jmatt

                      My beers have won medals in competitions, but hey, you're the Kirkland lovin' beer expert, I'm sure you know best. :-)

                      1. re: od_sf

                        The point of the thread was a heads up about good value beers available at Costco, not as a platform for you to jerk yourself off on your little homebrewing operation. Homebrewing in Japan would be a major pain in the ass in many apartments. And the BA link you provided does not pan the Kirkland beers, but rates them as average, with many reviewers noting their decency based on value. When I lived in Japan, I'd often pool resources with friends when we made runs to specialty stores, etc. So the transaction costs that Robb notes above can possibly be reduced depending on your shopping plans.