Japan’s greatest faux beers - happoshu

By Mike

Whether you realize it or not, you’ve probably had a happoshu (発泡酒)or “low-malt beer-like beverage” if you’ve ever had a night out in Japan.

The taste of a typical happoshu can vary from “pretty close to the real thing” to “yes, this is definitely weasel urine.” Going into a convenience store and blindly grabbing a beer can is thus a bit of a gamble in Japan, so, ever the masculine, barrel-chested and dashingly handsome role model father to our readers, we’ve done the work for you and chosen the five happoshu brands that are worth your time:

Due to some weird Japanese tax laws, beers that contained over 67% malt were historically taxed in a different category and at a higher rate than beverages that contained less. Suntory’s introduction of Hop’s Draft (65% malt) in 1994 triggered an arms race between the government and beverage makers, with the government progressively lowering the malt percentage threshold for a higher tax rate and beverage makers devising more and more devious methods to further lower the malt content or substitute it altogether.

Today, some happoshu contain no malt at all in order to take advantage of the government’s cheapest alcohol tax category, and are brewed from corn, soy, peas and possibly very old weasel urine. Let’s take a look at some of the varieties on offer.

Koi Aji: Deluxe

You know your beer is extreme when it comes with a subtitle. Not only is this happoshu the closest one on this list to real beer, it’s also got an extra 1% alcohol content over the competition, meaning you’ll approach the point of forgetting you’re drinking lab-cultured drunkenness molecules mixed with beer flavored chemical soup that much quicker.

Perfect time to drink: When you’ve just lost your job and you really need a strong drink, but you know you’ll be pinching pennies to pay rent for the next few months. Try not to get any of your bitter tears of fear and frustration in the drink, as this may cause an explosive chemical reaction with the unstable drunkenness molecules.

Best vessel for drinking: As the only one on this list that actually tastes like beer, it’s also the only one that deserves a real beer glass.

Tanrei Green Label

Regular Tanrei, which comes in a silver can, actually contains malt and thus is both more expensive and theoretically tastier than all the others on this list. However, the Green Label is the diet version, with 70% fewer carbs and also 70% less flavor and masculinity. We like to call it “water that gets you drunk.”

Perfect time to drink: When you’re trying to trim out some fat on a low carb diet, but getting blind drunk is still a high priority. We’re sure you’ll be seeing those abs in no time with all the crunches you’ll be doing over the toilet after a couple of these.

Best vessel for drinking: A diet drink like this ought to be enjoyed in a petite wine glass or the best plastic champagne flute money can buy at the 100 yen shop.

Nodogoshi Nama

Nodogoshi Nama is apparently Japan’s top selling happoshu because it just barely meets the requirements for something you are allowed to put in your body and is probably the cheapest way to get drunk in Japan without putting organs other than your liver in extreme danger.

Perfect time to drink: Before you turn 21.

Best vessel for drinking: This is a drink that says “I don’t care and neither should you,” so it’s natural that this one is enjoyed straight from the can, preferably with a heaping plate of the cheapest miscellaneous discard meat cuts you can find.

The Brew

Apparently you cannot sue for false advertising in Japan, because this is certainly not a brew of any kind, let alone the brew. This is the lowest rung of alcohol Japan has to offer, but it is extremely cheap. It really ought to come with some kind of warning label that you’re taking your life in your hands when you drink it.

Perfect time to drink: You are holding a party for a bunch of homeless people that you feel bad for. You walk into the convenience store to find that every single alcoholic beverage is sold out except for this one.

Best vessel for drinking: The finest in hobo beverages begs to be consumed in whatever discarded tupperware container you found on the street today.

Suntory All Free

We wish we could tell you this is a zero calorie drink that actually gets you drunk, but unfortunately there is also zero alcohol in it (hence the name). Instead, it gets you drunk with the joy of knowing you’re getting the placebo effect from a zero calorie beverage.

Perfect time to drink: Before, after or during your next AA meeting.

Best vessel for drinking: Really, you ought to just pour this thing down the drain.

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They are complete abominations. The only thng positive you can say is they have more variety in taste than what passes for real beer made by the handful of companies all producing the same bland product for a mass market.

Funnily enough, imported wheat beer from Europe is also classified as happoshu yet hardly reduced in price even when the yen was higher.

3 ( +6 / -3 )

I refuse to drink happoshu, it's an insult to beer brewers worldwide. On the occaisions when I have drunk it in the past, it's given me a headache.

3 ( +7 / -4 )

Thanks for the funny article. I never thought I'd be able to swallow another American Budweiser until these foul beverages began to be thrust on unwary (or indifferent) drinkers. What I can't understand is why all fermented alcoholic beverages (beer included) can't be taxed at the same rate.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

The best thing about happoshu is that we get to read this article.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

We're all in agreement here.

Happoshu is not fit for human consumption.

If this is all the beer there was to drink at a party, I would drink tea or orange juice.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Damn you, damn you to Hell, Happo-shite!

3 ( +6 / -3 )

Beer in Japan is DOOMED! There are over 200 microbrewers in the Northwest of the USA alone that are putting up some fantasitc brews. Beer is more and more about local creativity..... beer, going forward, will be more like a wine style of beverage.... not some mass produced product.

0 ( +5 / -5 )

for the sake of my health and dignity and reputation of real beer, i would say No Thanks.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Today, some happoshu contain no malt at all in order to take advantage of the government’s cheapest alcohol tax category, and are brewed from corn, soy, peas and possibly very old weasel urine. Let’s take a look at some of the varieties on offer.

If it contains no malt then it isn't happoshu it's called daisan-no Beer 第三のビール or shin-janru 新ジャンル and they are classified as liqueurs. Check the sides of the cans, it's written their in kana.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Happoshu should be declared unfit for human consumption.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Happoshu is the candy cigarettes of the beer world.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Yes indeed, the PNW has many, many breweries, most putting out overhopped bullshit to hide the fact the beer sucks.

Happoshu simply is what it is---if you don't like it, don't drink it----it's not like some trick being pulled on unsuspecting customers. Unless you can't read anything printed on the cans, that is.

For the price, Suntory Kinmugi Rich Malt is surprisingly drinkable.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Yubaru is correct. Most cheap beers are in fact NOT happoushu. The only happoushu that is regularly sold is the Kirin Tanrei Nama, which actually tastes a lot better than most 3rd category beers, but definitely not as good as Kirin Lager. Kirin Nodogoshi Nama (3rd category) tastes like piss. The most drinkable 3rd category "liqueur beer" would be Mugi to Hoppu.

4 ( +5 / -1 )


0 ( +5 / -5 )

It's very popular with salarymen on a low budget. It's nowhere near as bad as shochu with Hoppy - a true abomination.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Don't touch the stuff, had a couple of times years ago while visiting friends and both times had stomach ache afterwards and an awful bloated feeling. I stick to normal beers now,cost a bit more but you get what you pay for.

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Beer for those politically correct, easily offended types.

-4 ( +0 / -4 )

Just have to laugh at all the "Boo Hoo, my widdle tummy hurt after drinking all this rotten, awful happoshu----waaaaaaaaa" comments. Hey chowderheads, maybe it's from drinking 20 of em, and not the beer itself.

2 ( +5 / -2 )

The only happoushu that is regularly sold is the Kirin Tanrei Nama, which actually tastes a lot better than most 3rd category beers

Locally we have an Orion product that is called "Mugishokunin" that isn't too bad. The price for beer, happoshu, and the dai-san liqueurs is quite different. I typically drink the 500ml cans of beer and a six pack costs almost and sometimes more than double, depending upon the brand vs Kirin Tanrei. Drink one can of Ichiban or Lager, or "real" beer, and the Tanrei tastes close to the same.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

What a great article!! Who thought there would be some good comedy on JT today that didn't involve a police blunder?

1 ( +5 / -4 )

Regretfully, my wife's Dad has taken to drinking it because it's cheaper than his old staple, Asahi. I drank a lot of it over Oshogatsu, and were it not for the sake of family Wa, I'd have refused.

A couple of times, deep into the night and a little worse for wear I found myself muttering things like; 'I see the rats have been pi**ing in the haposhu vats again'. The old fella doesn't catch the Eigo, but his lovely daughter was giving me the Katana eyes from across the table.

Abominable stuff.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

Come on guys, nothing wrong with a cheap drink from time to time, actually a pretty much live off the stuff. The above list isn't a very good representation of the better happoshu 発泡酒 out there. There are some great ones to past night away with, like Suntory KIN-MUGI and also Asahi Clear, also its new 6% one, Enjuku Kirin, Hokkaido Nama-shibori Migaki-mugi and many, many more........go on buy yourself a dozen and enjoy!!

1 ( +3 / -2 )

There are some great ones to past night away with, like Suntory KIN-MUGI and also Asahi Clear, also its new 6% one, Enjuku Kirin, Hokkaido Nama-shibori Migaki-mugi and many, many more........go on buy yourself a dozen and enjoy!!

I can tell you for a fact that Asahi Clear is NOT happoshu but one of the dai-san liqueurs. Check the labels, if there is no malt it is not happoshu. Many of these use barley as a main ingredient, and include rice, wheat, corn, and other additives.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

A travesty of the drink that is beer. A drink for alcoholics who want to save money

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I used to drink these a lot while I was a student, for obvious reasons. But I'm working hard nowadays to ean enough money not to touch it anymore. Premium Malts and Yebisu only. And these are good beers, whatever the Jp haters want to believe

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

there used to be a time, after work, where my coworkers and I would go down to this local izakaya and indulge in the 250 yen beers. It was a magical time.. early on it, we asked the establishment why these beers were 250 when the standard going was 500 (not the 3/4 pint?? can't remember the size)

told us it was happoshu

now this is definitely not the beer crafted by those belgian monks, but after work with friends, chowing down on izakaya food, it served it's purpose and we spent many a night at that izakaya having a blast

1 ( +3 / -2 ) I didn't know that, cheers for the insight, but whether it be Happoshu or Dai-san beer, there are some nice ones out there. People need to stop thinking that they are suppose to taste like BEER but enjoy it for what it is. For sure I'll take a Yebisu 'Joel Robuchon' any day but someone else is buying!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

I do not wish this drink even to my worst enemy or to my loving mother-in-law. It is an evil drink simply put. It will turn you into Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I used to drink it in Okinawa not knwoing what it was because it was passed as regular Orion draft, until I asked if it was the real thing or Happoshu. Then I always ordered bottled beer. It will also ruin your health. Just do not do it. (and we are not Japan bashers, we just like the real thing). I stay away from American beer. Prefer not to drink unless it is Kirin or Saporo. Asahi super dry is no good either. Too much phosphoric acid.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Sadly when I visit my wife's hometown, this is what I have to drink 75% of the time. Her parents get real beer only for special occassions :(

1 ( +3 / -2 )

It's understandable in the current economy here for us "beer" lovers around me, in my opinion, to suffer through having to drink Tanrei. A six pack of 500ml cans costs me about 1,100 yen and a six pack of Lager or Ichiban Shibori costs 1,600 yen or more. Yeah you think 5 bucks or so for the real stuff, but it adds up right quick and cutting corners to make ends meet means cheaper beer!

I wish the bubble would come back!

0 ( +1 / -1 )

This stuff, happoshu & their ilk are all POISON!!

This crap is illustrative just how far Japan has fallen, when I first landed on these shores if I had said, happoshu is coming the entire country would have been laughing at me, but here were are.

Folks this stuff really will rot your insides, much better to stick to a few beers than have more of this stuff, its bad news & wrecking havoc countrywide

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

I seldom drink beer, and then I make sure it is Suntory's Premium.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

For somewhere around 100 yen or so, it could be a substitute for a coke if you're not into soft drinks. Then again you can always get one of those canned Chu-Hi drinks for around the same price for a cheap high. For those of us who only want the real stuff, then fork out the moola for a nama beer at your local pub once in a while. Save your coins and search for a good craft beer joint. They're here and there.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Japan always has to invent something to make beer cheaper or cute. First the turdshaped foam that they introduced last year and now I see commercials about coloring your beer. Japan, please don't mess with beer, let us drink like it suppose to be. Preferably glass bottled cold brewski's.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Very amusing article, and very true. Faux beer is best avoided and should be featured in guide books for newbies in Japan.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

I don't like a happoshu! Taste like a metal water. My stomach is so pain if I have to drink it (for example hanami party).

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

I would rather have "Hoppy" and mix it with shochu - the original Japanese beer substitute.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Don't cry the Happoshu that was born when Japan was recession. Your reasonable prices would make Japanese people pleasant. Take advantage of the original taste! Good job beer manufacturer! FIGHT! Don't discouraged!

0 ( +0 / -0 )

I seldom drink beer, and then I make sure it is Suntory's Premium.

Either you have never drunk a decent beer, or you obviously wouldn't appreciate a good beer if you drank one.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

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