Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Fake Beers of Japan - Happoushuu

However fake beer is not good for kids
The subject of the Japanese "fake beer" called 発泡酒う "happoushuu" has probably been discussed about so many times that it's a bit boring and unimaginative to bring it up here in this usually so groundbreaking blog, but I'll do it anyway, encouraged by the comments in the previous post.

Most people reading this blog might already be quite familiar with Japan and know of this nasty little bastard half-brother of real beer. For the record, I should probably say that I generally like the regular real Japanese beer. The three big brands Asahi, Kirin and Sapporo make quite good light beer comparable with good European brands. When it comes to darker, heavier beer the Japanese have some ways to go though, but I don't particularly mind since I prefer the lighter beer in any case.

The thing here in Japan is that beer comes in a special tax bracket which is a bit higher than that of other alcoholic beverages (I'm not completely sure why this is the case though...). So if comparing a pre-bottled cocktail with a beer with the same alcohol percentage, the beer end up something like 30% more expensive due to the added tax slapped on top. What the sly Japanese beer makers set out to do to work around this tax problem was to brew "beer" with a malt percentage just below the official limit defined for beer and use substitute for malt to cover the rest of the brew. These beer variants are not allowed to be called "beer" as they fall outside the formal Japanese definition and have received the name "happoushuu" which means something nondescript as "sparkling" or "foaming" alchol. Japanese official definitions aside, I think that it could be argued that it's actually beer, albeit low quality as the use of malt substitute distort some of the beer taste. You can read up more here on Wikipedia if you happen to be interested in the history of these type of drinks (hey, some stuff was new to me too).

For a visitor and/or non-Japanese speaker it can be really confusing as these fake beers look deceptively like regular beers and have product names as close to something beer sounding as possible. All the big beer makers carry a large fake beer portfolio, sometimes with can design very similar to their more premium quality beer cans. The big give-away is of course that the price is considerably lower (about 150jpy for a fake beer while the real deal goes for 230jpy for a 330ml can).

"So, what's the problem then?" you might think. Well, let me tell you what the problem is, although the quality of the fake beers has considerably improved in the last decades (ten years ago they were pretty foul), they still carry with them an aftertaste that you don't get with real beers and they give a hangover that's not in adequate relation to the amount of beer consumed (granted, this might have been improved upon in later years without me knowing since I avoid the fake beer like the plague since many years back).

When I have guests over at the salaryman base of operations, I always make a point of buying the real deal and not cheaping out with fake beer. The problem is that sometimes when visiting friends you get these fake beers shoved on you with the words "here Salaryman, have a beer!". Sadly enough, it seems like these fake beers have become the norm for most people at home and the times I get offered a real beer is getting more and more rare... Thankfully you still get served real beer at restaurants and bars, even though some extremely cheap "drink as much as you want" sometimes are suspected of not serving the real deal...

As a Salaryman, it goes without saying that I like beer (it's almost a requirement) and I try to stay as far away as possible from these fake beers as I can. Sure, there is a smaller financial gain in switching to the fake beers, but before I do that there are other less essentials corners that can be cut, such as lowering the quality of toddler Sunshine's food and removing non-essentials such as Mrs. Sunshine's massage therapist and her visits to the hair salon. It's all about priorities and I've got mine straight!


Chris said...

"they still carry with them an aftertaste that you don't get with real beers and they give a hangover that's not in adequate relation to the amount of beer consumed"

THAT should be the official Wiki. You said it all right there. Fucking nailed it!!

April said...

Does Japan sell the non-alcoholic "beer?" In the US we have O'Douls. I think there are other brands. I don't see the point in them. Beer in general does not taste good. If I drink beer it's for one get tipsy..or outright drunk. So, the O'Doul's confuses me. :/

Jeffrey said...

Nice graphic for long depart but never missed Rainier that hit it's advertising zenith with the Rainier Rainbeer ads, same folks who did the K2 ski ads playing off "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Saw a photo from the turn of the previous century of someone's grandfather sitting with a group of men at a table drinking Budweiser. It was sold in clear bottles then, but the beer was dark!

AndyhOOE said...

Personally methinks that while the various 'Happoushuu' still are worse than a premium beer, they have come pretty close. Even here in Germany there are some low-priced brands of beer (yep: real beer - mostly even brewed according to the strict rules of Germanys unique 'Reinheitsgebot' beer-law) that taste worse than some of the better 'Happoushuu'. If that sounds unbelievable to you, keep in mind that you can purchase a 0.5l bottle of beer for as little as 0,19 Euro (i.e.: Yen 21,- !!!) at some low-price-supermarkets round here.
I've also tried the one or other brand of Happoushuu - and while they always fell behind real beer, they never gave me any kind of hangover at all - and judging from the process how Happoushuu is brewed I can find no scientific reason why it should: it's the same brewing process only with less malt.
But anyway... while I somewhat do agree with April (i.e.: me drinks a beer in the evening to get a bit fuzzy after a long day of work) I still mostly select my brands of beer by pure quality of taste - and due to the lack of malts, that's where most Happoushuus are lacking.
Also... if I want a more inexpensive substitute for beer, I could as easily switch to a nice Whiskey Highball or Hoppy!

BiggerInJapan said...

tastewise I actually prefer those non-alcohol, fake beers over happoshu. Find Japanese beer too sweet, Ebisu maybe the only decent exception. Asahi yucks me out.

Momotaro said...

I would rather lower the amount consumed and drink real beer if money is tight.

The real beer section in the supermarket seems quite lonely these days, I'm not sure why anyone would want to drink that shit when there are bottles of wine going for 500 yen. That's the drink of poor people. I have to say that the cheap bottles of wine here are generally not too bad at all.

There was a red Yebisu can going at Christmas time last year, which was an ale, probably my favourite beer here to date, but alas only limited edition.

The hangover would be from all the pea/soy/wheat spirit put in there, it seems like the sausage of the beer world.

Big bro said...

I remember sampling those in your little dorm room in Gifu, while playing Puzzle Bobble on your Playstation.

Mr. Salaryman said...

Chris - Yeah, that's exactly how I feel about it but judging from Andyhoo's comment (I just assume that he knows what he's talking about) I wonder if there's really a scientific explanation for it... But I just stay away from it in any case these days ;)

April - Yep, there's non-alcoholic beers here now, recently a lot of new brands have popped up so maybe there is a rising demand. Mind you, I come from Sweden where non-alcoholic beer is very established, but I do completely agree with you. Removing alcohol from beer detracts from the taste to begin with and you lose all tipsy benefits

Jeffrey - Oh...? I just happened to use the picture because I found it a bit amusing, I had no idea about the history behind it, but thanks for the lesson ;)

Andy - Well, I can understand what you mean when you talk about nasty European cheap ass beers. When I was a student I sometimes got one of the cheapest brands from Denmark and they could be pretty foul.

BiJ - Well, apart from the obvious thing that non-alcohol beer contains no alcohol...?

Momotaro - Yep, I'm on the same line as you, I'd rather buy four regular beers than a six pack of fake beer. I can't say that I'm too excited about those seasonal things since the ones I've tried have been pretty bad, but I can't rule out that there's gems out there that I've been missing...

Big Bro - I did beat you at Puzzle Bobble, right?

Dom said...

I really can't stomach any Japanese beers at all. Not that I don't drink it, but it always makes me ill.

It's also pretty expensive, no? Go for the cheap whiskey. It'll make you ill too... but hey, we're all killing ourselves with alcohol, anyway... right?

Akira and Taiga said...

Why do you add an extra 'u/う' at the end of Happoushu / 発泡酒??? Is there any special meaning!?

Mr. Salaryman said...

Dom - Yeah, actually I'm not hating on the Japanese whiskey. The cheaper ones I find to be quite decent blended ones, the expensive ones I have bigger issues with.

A&T - Oh, that's just one way of transcribing it into roman letters. Writing it "Happoshu" probably is easier on the eye for an english speaker, but when I write the characters I need to write happoushuu so "formally" it's more of a correct transcription, but it's all the same :)

Akira and Taiga said...

I don't get it. It's 「はっぽうしゅ」not
「はっぽうしゅう」. So the extra 'u' you are adding is the incorrect spelling of 発泡酒. Sorry for being an annoying twat, but I just don't like seeing my language misspelled. Am I missing something here?

Mr. Salaryman said...

Ooops, you're completely right! Got the correct pronounciation for 酒 messed up, should of course be happoushu without a long "u"!

Akira and Taiga said...

Hahaha. That's ok. :-)

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