Located on Japan’s northern island of Hokkaidō, the city of Sapporo is famous for three things: It’s the birthplace of miso ramen, hosts an annual snow festival attended by some 2 million tourists, and is home to the nation’s oldest brewery.
Built in 1876 by a government-run development council, the Kaitakushi Brewery was sold 10 years later to a private group that later became known as the Sapporo Beer Company.
Now world-famous, the Sapporo Beer Company is part of Sapporo Holdings, which also has real estate ventures, restaurants, and food and soft drinks brands.
The brand’s name and Hokkaidō itself remain closely tied to beer, though. Here are eight more things you should know about Sapporo.
Japan’s first brewery wasn’t originally intended for Sapporo.
When the Hokkaidō Development Commission started planning its brewery, it enlisted the services of Seibei Nakagawa, the nation’s first brewmaster. Nakagawa earned the qualification in Germany while working at the Berlin Beer Brewing Company. He left for Europe as a 17-year-old stowaway, at a time when Japan was strictly isolationist. Had he been caught, Nakagawa almost certainly would have been killed for his crime.
Nakagawa’s return coincided with the development commission’s plans to open the nation’s first brewery — though not in Sapporo. The commission originally planned to open it in the newly inaugurated capital, Tokyo, but when Nakagawa was brought on board as chief engineer, he convinced the board to change to the northern city of Sapporo, where there was a more plentiful supply of much-needed ice.
Japan’s first brewery is now a shopping mall.
In 1993, Sapporo transferred beer production to a new facility in Eniwa, Hokkaidō. The 1876 Kaitakushi Brewery was redeveloped and now houses offices, a shopping mall, and a movie theater.
It’s gone global.
Sapporo now has six breweries in Japan and one in Vietnam, Canada, and the U.S. All Sapporo products sold in the U.S. come from one of the latter three countries, and not Japan.
Sapporo caters to tourists.
In 1987, the brand redeveloped one of its other Sapporo buildings into Japan’s premier beer museum. The three-story former sugar factory is a registered Hokkaidō Heritage site. Sapporo also offers tours at its Eniwa, Funabashi, and Hita breweries.
Sapporo’s beer has been to space.
In 2006, Sapporo teamed up with the Russian Academy of Sciences and Okayama University to send barley into space. The research project aimed to explore food sufficiency. The barley spent five months in orbit and was later used by Sapporo to brew a limited-edition Space Barley beer. The beer was sold to Japanese residents in an online lottery, and all proceeds went to charity.
Sapporo’s cans are one-of-kind.
One of the formats in which Sapporo sells its beers is a signature 22-ounce steel can. The metal is much stronger than the aluminum used for standard cans, but flexible enough to be molded into the tumbler glass shape. The can is designed to feel weighty and originally featured a removable top that allowed drinkers to enjoy the container as if it were a pint glass.
Sapporo owns America’s oldest craft brewery.
Sapporo is a guiding star.
Sapporo’s logo is inspired by the North Star, which was also used by the Hokkaidō Development Commission. The original red star used by the council symbolized its pioneering spirit. A red star still adorns numerous buildings in the city, including the Sapporo Beer Museum.