Aomori, the northernmost prefecture on Japan’s largest island of Honshu, is a veritable kingdom of apples. With an apple industry – the nation’s largest – dating back centuries, it makes sense that Aomori became the birthplace of hard Japanese cider (shiidoru, シードル; also called cidre or cyder in English).
Aomori sake producers learned cider-making from the French after World War II, and in 1956 the company now known as Asahi Breweries launched the Asahi Cidre brand, producing the beverage at the Nikka Whiskey Hirosaki Factory.
Ciders from Aomori and Japan in general have come a long way since, continuing to evolve and diversify. Tsukasa Ono, director of the Japan Cider Masters Association, estimated in a January 2021 article for The Nikkei that there were more than 100 cider makers across the country. In Aomori alone, there are currently 14 cideries concocting the heady golden brew.
While major brands continue to dominate the market for hard Japanese cider, craft ciders are carving out niches for themselves and finding growing popularity, much like as seen with the global craft beer boom. Both gluten free and purine free, and with alcohol levels typically lower than beer or wine at only around 3%–7%, cider is promoted as a health-conscious alternative to other alcoholic beverages, which are struggling to gain traction among Japan’s youth.
Hikaru Takeda, manager of the cider pub and restaurant Cidernaut in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, remarks, “Japan now stands at the dawn of cider in terms of the market. It is important for consumers to know what cider is and the long range of its taste. It is also crucial to build a Japanese original culture of cider.”
Aomori Cider – An Apple Lover’s Liquor
Aomori plays a vital role in fostering the original culture of cider that Takeda envisions. While cideries are popping up across the country (Nagano Prefecture in particular has emerged as a major force in recent years), Aomori’s ciders have certain traits that make them special.
Mio Nakayama, a certified cider ambassador in charge of the cafe and cider house Pomme/Marche, notes Japanese cider tends to be made from edible apples, whereas other countries’ are often produced with fruit grown specifically for cider processing. As a result, hard Japanese ciders typically have a sweeter, fruitier taste that is lower in acidity. Their international cousins, meanwhile, are more known for their astringency and depth.
Even among Japanese ciders, however, Aomori’s stand out. They are often made by apple farmers or beverage producers specializing in cider, rather than as a side business of wineries or beer breweries. The process of making Aomori ciders is also distinctive, as those from Nagano and other prefectures tend to have their fruit sugars converted entirely into alcohol, which gives them a crisper, drier taste.
Aomori cider often has its fermentation halted partway through this process to keep the sweetness of the apples intact. Most Aomori ciders also undergo a secondary fermentation within the bottle to further develop their flavor through aging. Overall, Aomori ciders are comparatively lower in alcohol content with a sweeter, juicier taste that reflects the natural essence of the fruit.
Let’s take a look at some of the most beloved brands from Japan’s apple capital.
A-Factory Aomori Cidre (A-FACTORY アオモリシードル)
A-Factory is a shopping and eating complex in Aomori City with its own on-site cidery, where visitors can observe cider-making for themselves.
The Sparkling Dry edition of its A-Factory Aomori Cidre, made with Fuji and Jona Gold apples grown in Aomori Prefecture, received a gold medal at the International Cider Challenge 2021 competition. A-Factory was the only Japanese maker to receive this top honor.
Some of its other sparkling ciders, including the “Sweet” and “Standard” varieties, also took home awards.
Crazy Cider (クレイジーサイダー)
Billing itself as “a hard cider for adult tastes,” the unpasteurized Crazy Cider from Tugboat in Hirakawa City was inspired by the cider scene in Portland, Oregon.
Striving for both astringency and fruitiness, it won a 2022 Governor’s Award for Aomori produce. Crazy Cider Dry in particular is well-reputed for a crispness that washes down easily.
Hirosaki Castle Cidre (弘前城しいどる, ひろさきじょうしいどる)
The resplendent Hirosaki Castle, a National Treasure dating back to 1611, is famous for its some-yoshino cherry trees that have survived longer than any others in the country. Hirosaki Meijō creates its award-winning signature cider with yeast produced from their petals.
For a truly Japanese cider experience, pick up a bottle of this special drink noted for its light, spring-evoking flavor.
Kimori Cidre (キモリシードル)
The popular Kimori Cidre label comes in “Sweet” and “Dry” varieties, as well as the seasonal limited-editions “Grace” and “Green.”
Kimori prides itself on using yeast from the beech trees of the Shirakami Mountains and its in-tank secondary fermentation process that carbonates the juice naturally. “Sweet” especially has been praised for its effervescence.
Tekikaka Cidre (テキカカシードル)
The Moriyama-en orchard is revolutionizing Aomori apple farming with Tekikaka Cidre, a product launched in 2017 that eschews the practice of disposing of fruit picked for thinning and bucks the sweet-tasting cider trend.
Fourth-generation farmer Toshihiko Moriyama’s much-toasted concoction achieves a gluggable, beer-like taste with depth and notes of bitterness. It also has a certain smoky, vinegary quality that lends itself well to barbeque. There is a non-alcoholic apple soda version as well.
Read this article for more on Moriyama’s intrepid, trial-and-error process of developing a European-esque cider made from unripened apples once destined to be discarded.
Where to Find Hard Japanese Cider from Aomori
If you’re lucky enough to be in Aomori Prefecture, especially Hirosaki or Aomori City, you should have no shortage of opportunities to drink its ciders, whether at a bistro, bar, or cidery. The Hirosaki Museum of Contemporary Art even offers cider-centered tours and tastings.
Supermarkets, convenience stores, and michi-no-eki rest stops are also likely to carry bottles of some of the more common brands.
Those outside the prefecture still have several options for buying it online (in most cases you’ll need to be able to read Japanese), and restaurants serving it on tap can be found as well, especially in the Tokyo metropolitan area. Unfortunately, none of the brands currently ship overseas, so if you’re out of the country you’ll need someone in Japan to source it for you.
Below are a few options for getting your hands on some Aomori cider:
Hirosaki Apple Park (Kimori has a cidery inside the park)
Cafe & Restaurant Brick (Adjacent to the Hirosaki Museum of Contemporary Art)
Inamuraya (Liquor store in Hokuto, near Hakodate)
Aomori Hokusaikan (Shops around Tokyo, also Osaka and Fukuoka)
Wine Styles (Liquor store with ciders from around Japan)
Ringo Sakaba Swingin’ (Kyoto)
Yoridori Midori (Online shop specializing in Aomori ciders)
If you would like to know more about ciders in Japan – domestic or international brands – be sure to check out the bilingual trade magazine inCider Japan. It’s available online and at select restaurants and bars in Japan.
Aomori ciders are refreshing, flavorful beverages that really show their worth when you want to enjoy a mellow buzz but also avoid a hangover the next day. They pair well with a variety of foods, including cheese, chocolate, grilled vegetables, and yakitori chicken skewers coated in a sweet-and-savory tare sauce. Finding them outside of Aomori may require a little extra effort, but they’ll repay you with a uniquely apple-y taste experience. Cheers!
Have you ever visited Aomori? Would you like to try any of its ciders?
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Jennifer Pastore is a U.S.-born, Tokyo-based writer and translator who loves Japanese food and its culture. Cafes and izakayas are what keep her going.