Sapporo Reserve vs Premium: Which is the Better Beer?

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Sapporo is the number selling Asian beer brand in the United States, and with breweries worldwide, Sapporo Reserve is becoming an international brewing force. Though most might only think about this Japanese rice lager when they are out for sushi, the brand offers quite a diverse line-up begging the question, which is better, Sapporo Reserve or Sapporo Premium


The original brewery in Sapporo is now a museum and tasting centre

Sapporo’s history started in 1876, and the Kaitakushi Brewery, part of the Government-owned Hokkaido Development Commission. The brewery’s first brewmaster was Seibei Nakagawa, Japan’s first German-trained brewer who brewed Sapporo’s first lager. 

The brewery went private in 1886. At the beginning of the 20th Century, Sapporo merged with regional competitors under the name Dai-Naipon Brewing until World War II. Post WWII, the company was split, and the Sapporo brand resumed under Nippon Brewing, separating from Asahi. 

Today, along with five breweries in Japan, Sapporo is brewed in five countries (Canada, Germany, Vietnam, United States) and has been actively pursuing new breweries to add to its portfolio. In addition to brewing for the North American market in Canada and La Crosse, Wisconsin, the North American arm, Sapporo USA, has even scooped some of the US’s most popular and pioneering breweries in San Francisco, California’s Anchor, and Stone Brewing which started in San Diego County.

Besides Reserve and Premium beer offerings, look for low-calorie options like Pure, Sapporo Light, and a dark European lager called Sapporo Black. 


Sapporo Premium is a big selling beer in the US now

The perennial favorite of Japanese restaurants, Sapporo Premium, is a rice lager. So it is not surprising that the smooth, rice cereal sweetness is evident in your first sips of Premium. By contrast, Sapporo Reserve is the brand’s 100 percent malted barley offering, and the taste has no rice character. Premium balances a subtle herbal hop character and a super light supporting malt. Very low bread flour taste helps the rice character shine.  

Sapporo Reserve is an excellent example of an International Pale Lager. The beer is decidedly maltier with moderate hop bitterness, while the rice shines with Premium, and lightly toasted malt is the primary flavor. 


Sapporo is the best selling Japanese beer in the US

Both beers range from pale straw to yellow. The all malt Reserve is slightly darker. Premium pours clear from their uniquely designed cans that look like tumbler glasses. Both beers will show a nice white head of foam which lingers for a few minutes. A wispy lace tracks your sips down beer clean glasses. I know this last sentence reads like a haiku, but it’s appropriate enough to leave it.   


Japanese lagers are known for their refreshing, dry finish, and Sapporo Premium is incredibly crisp. The texture on the palate is short, and drying, and the experience is enhanced by a light body and moderately high carbonation with tiny effervescent bubbles.

Reserve has a medium body but is still a crisp lager with good carbonation. The moderate hop bitterness adds to the drying, but not as much as the rice does for Premium.  


The smell is an essential component of the beer-drinking experience. Our sense of smell combines with taste to create our perception of flavor. Try plugging your nose the next time you drink a beer. You’ll find that flavor perceptions are reduced to simple tastes like sweetness and bitterness. 

When I smell Premium, I get the initial tapioca rice pudding balanced by a very low whiff of grassy hops. I was surprised that I also got the impression of a vinous character that was very pleasant. The aroma reminded me of a white wine, for instance, Sauv Blanc or a dry German Riesling, and a bit of green apple. 

The Reserve is all beer. It showcases a light, toasted malt character, and a faint grassy hop note. Not fruity, but earthy, Reserve had a slight asphalt hint that I enjoy in beers. This can come from water character – but might also be oxidation. Not a fault in my book, but maybe in competition. 


  • Sapporo Premium: 140
  • Sapporo Reserve: 151

Alcohol Content

  • Sapporo Premium: 4.9 percent ABV (Alcohol by Volume)
  • Sapporo Reserve: 5 percent ABV (Alcohol by Volume)

What Do Other People Think About Both Beers?

Sapporo’s tumbler shaped cans are a real selling point

When compared, most reviewers rate these beers evenly. One caveat is that Influenster is a broader review site. The other sites attract a more narrow user base of beer geeks. You can expect them to be more critical. The Beer Advocate ratings, for example, rate Premium as “poor” and Reserve as “okay.” 

The average is helpful, and I think they are fine beers. Not to mention, context matters in the case of Sapporo Premium. For example, a beer geek may consider it poor at home, but plop them down in front of a sushi dinner, and a glass of Sapporo beer with a super nice balance and light, refreshing palate might seem better with that salmon roll.

Untappd3.177 out of 53.202 out of 5
Rate Beer2.42 out of 52.53 out of 5
Influenster4.5 out of 54.4 out of 5
Beer Advocate68 out of 100 (Poor)75 out of 100 (Okay)

See also

Japanese Beer: Brewing Process & Ingredients

Brewing Sapporo beer is no different than brewing lagers at any larger brewing company. Remember that the first brewmaster for Sapporo was German-trained. Like any beer, the brewing process begins with the mash, where malted grain is mixed with hot water to eventually extract the sugary liquid known as wort from the grain husks. 

If using whole rice, the mash is where this ingredient would be introduced to the process. If Sapporo uses rice syrup, they may save the introduction until the boil or even during fermentation, but this seems unlikely.

Once the wort is produced, it goes to the kettle where it is boiled, and hops get added. In the case of Reserve, the color may darken. When the boil is complete, the hopped wort will, again, get pumped to fermentation tanks where lager yeast is pitched.

Traditional lagers may take months, but it is likely to take less time on the scale Sapporo operates. After conditioning, the beer will be packaged in cans, kegs, or bottles. Outside of the United States, Premium gets marketed as Sapporo Draft.

Sapporo Beer Food Pairing

Sapporo Premium’s crisp taste really goes well with sushi

Sapporo Premium is a no-brainer order at sushi restaurants. Not only will the flavors complement the rolls, but the dry finish will work to scrub oily fish flavors from your tongue. Though it’s always a go-to at Suchi night, don’t overlook Sapporo’s flagship for other occasions. It would pair well with a variety of young cheeses, particularly goat, not to mention probably crushes better than a Coors Light on a hot day.

The all malt, fuller body Reserve offers even more pairing versatility. The malts it is brewed with will calm heat, but the more robust beer will also match the taste of grilled meat more than its rice-forward counterpart. Think hibachi over sushi with this all malt lager, but also traditional German or American foods; pretzels, hot dogs, tacos. The taste will complement better than the premium beer, and the carbonic bite will still help to cleanse the palate. 

Final Thoughts: Sapporo Reserve vs Sapporo Premium 

These are tasty beers that should not be discounted simply as beers sold at Japanese restaurants. With the Premium, I loved the white wine character. Both the aroma and finish would be great for wine drinkers, while Reserve is more a beer drinker’s beer. I definitely have a new appreciation for both of these and won’t think twice about ordering either the next time I have a hankering for a spicy tuna roll.

Which is better? 

When I want to drink a Japanese beer, I’m much more likely to reach for Sapporo Premium over Sapporo Reserve. It is unique and fulfils a specific need. Sapporo Reserve is just another international lager in a sea of international lagers. 

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Andy Sparhawk is an avid beer lover and the former editor-in-chief for Andy is the lead writer for The Beer Babe and lives in Westminster, Colorado, with his family. As beer enthusiast and experienced beer judge, he loves sharing his experiences with The Beer Babe's dedicated audience of beer enthusiasts.