Just about any time is considered a good time to crack open a beer in Japan. But that “just about” is an important qualifier, because even in Japan there are times when people don’t want to get liquored up, which has resulted in a rise in non-alcoholic beer sales over the past few years.
Most of these brews make great efforts to mimic the beer-drinking experience as closely as possible, with matching the color of ordinary beer being a major objective. But this month Suntory has gone in the other direction entirely by releasing a non-alcoholic beer that’s totally clear.
Called All-Free All-Time, it’s the newest member of Suntory’s zero-calorie, zero-alcohol All-Free beer line. As soon as it hit store shelves on Tuesday, we sent our Japanese-language reporter Ahiru Neko across the street to our local convenience store to pick up a bottle.
Despite being completely alcohol-free, All-Free All-Time is still stocked in the alcoholic drink section of the cooler. It’s a convenience store-exclusive, and priced at 147 yen.
Clear soft drinks have been steadily gaining in popularity over the past few years, with one theory why being that their transparency makes them look more “mature,” and so Japanese office workers feel more comfortable sipping them than brightly colored sodas while at their jobs. So with working adults being the primary market for clear drinks, Suntory figured there’s latent demand for a version of Japan’s favorite adult beverage that can be drunk while on the clock. All-Free All-Time even comes in a plastic bottle, as opposed to the bottles or cans of other non-alcoholic beers, to make it appear extra-innocuous.
And when they say All-Free All-Time is clear, they mean it. Peel off the label or pour the drink into a glass, and it’s visually indistinguishable from sparkling water or a clear soda like Sprite.
Suntory is specifically pitching All-Free All-Time as a drink to enjoy during mid-workday lunches or meetings. Ahiru Neko, though, chose to drink his bottle at his work desk, so after saying a quiet kanpai to himself, he twisted off the cap.
Before opening the bottle, he was worried about how it might smell. After all, even if what you’re drinking contains no alcohol and doesn’t look like beer, if it smells like it, you’re not going to be projecting a very professional image. To his relief, All-Free All-Time’s aroma is very faint, and smells like something between beer and citrusy soda. He couldn’t even really notice the scent until he held the open bottle right under his nose, so while you might want to pop a breath mint afterwards for maximum stealth, the scent of All-Free All-Time shouldn’t attract significant unwanted attention.
As for the flavor, Ahiru Neko found it especially satisfying for a non-alcoholic beer. He says there’s just a tiny bit of citrus in the flavor profile, something he’s notice with other zero-alcohol brews, but this is one of the best-tasting beverages in its class.
With no alcohol, limited bitterness, and a crisp finish, All-Free All-Time is more of a thirst-quenching beverage to pound on a hot summer afternoon than a substantial sipping stout. Ahiru Neko admits that it didn’t entirely eliminate his desire to stop off for an alcoholic beer on his way home from work, but as a way to tide yourself over until quitting time, it does an impressive job, provided your boss is OK with you drinking near beer in the office.
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