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.
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.
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, TokyoDesu has done the work for you and chosen the five happoshubrands that are worth your time:
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 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 give a fuck 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.
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.
Read the Tokyo Cheapo team’s review of 9 other pseudo-beers here.