10 Things You Didn't Know About Sapporo Beer
You probably already know that Sapporo is a Japanese brand*, but did you know that it's actually the oldest? Or that they once concocted a special brew with seeds descended from a batch sent into outer space? We rounded up the coolest facts about this legendary biru (Japanese for “beer”), so sip your next Sapporo with authority and awe.
1. They brewed a batch of rocketeer beer with seeds… from the final frontier
In 2006, Sapporo teamed up with the Russian Academy of Sciences and Okayama University to grow barley with seeds that once resided in the International Space Station. The team launched a handful of seeds via rocket, and, upon their return five months later, grew barley with them, and then made a special batch “Space Brew.” A six-pack sold at lottery for 10,000 yen ($84). Far out.
2. When anime characters drink it, the spelling changes
When characters drink booze in Japanese cartoons (anime, magna, etc.), they usually reach for beer. And when the animators want to give a nod to Sapporo in particular (without infringing on copyright laws), the can will read “Soporo,” or something like it.
3. It’s Japan’s oldest beer brand
Following the discovery of hops growing wild in Hokkaido, Seibei Nakagawa, a German-trained braumeister (brew master), was the first to brew Sapporo at Kaitakushi Brewery, or Pioneers Brewery, in 1876.
4. Seibei Nakagawa faced the possibility of execution
At the age of 16, Nakagawa worked as a servant in a German trading house in Japan. Once Nakagawa saved some money, he decided to smuggle himself to England in search of adventure. At that time, the Japan government imposed a strict isolationist policy on its citizens. Deadly strict. Had Nakagawa not successfully snuck out, he could easily have met his end for his efforts. Undaunted, Nakagawa made moves to England, where he toiled for seven years.
5. Nakagawa went to Germany without knowing he’d become a brew guru
Nakagawa left England, tired and broke, for Bremerhaven, Germany. Once there, he befriended a young man called Shuzo Aoki, who was then a Japanese student studying abroad, but would later become a prominent Japanese foreign minister. Impressed by Nakagawa’s work ethic and sharp mind (he was now fluent in both German and English), Aoki took an interest in his future, and suggested he learn to brew beer. To that end, referred him to the Berlin Beer Brewing Company in Fuerstenwalde, Germany. For two years, Nakagawa worked there, and worked, and worked some more, and he returned to Japan a skilled braumeister.
6. Sapporo is the most popular Asian beer sold in the US, and has been since 1986
Sapporo USA, Inc. was founded in 1984 and, two years later, became America’s choice beer from the Far East. For some perspective, ‘84 was the same year Sony and Phillips dropped the very first CD players. What’s a CD player? Exactly.
7. They tried to take down Big Ginger Ale with their own beer/soda
Well, that’s not strictly true (but it’s fun). Here’s what happened, on the real: In response to a Japanese preference for low-to-no alcohol drinks, Sapporo released a malt-based soft drink called Super Clear, only available in Japan. Despite sounding like a comic book hero (you know, like with powers of transparency), Super Clear was a light and fizzy beer/soda hybrid. Initially launched in 2002 with an ABV of 0.5%, Sapporo has since revamped its formula, and Super Clear is now just a malt drink with 0% alcohol that was discontinued in 2011, and that nobody (stateside) has ever heard of.
8. The word “Sapporo” actually means something in Ainu, an ancient language
“Sapporo” is derived from the Ainu words Sat – Poro – Pet, which translates to “dry, great river.” Why would you describe a body of water as dry? Ah, yet another ancient mystery, which means the best answer, is probably aliens.
9. That world famous Sapporo star means something, too
Unlike your friend Tessa’s Japanese character tattoo, the symbol on each of these Japanese beers is no mystery: it’s the North Star, a pioneer’s symbol for the pioneers of Japanese beer.
10. Sapporo was (sort of) almost called Tokyo, but they needed too much ice
When Sapporo was founded, Tokyo was the first choice for the brewery. This posed two problems: one, Tokyo has a subtropical climate, and two, ice back then was stupid expensive. Fortunately, Nakagawa convinced the powers-that-were to allow for the construction of his first brewery in Sapporo, which provided a chiller climate and a cooler name.
*Sapporo products sold in the U.S. are brewed in the U.S. and Canada