Teetotal Tipples: 7 No-Alcohol Drinks in Japan
By Liam Carrigan
On August 15, 2017
One of the best — and sometimes worst — parts of my job here at GaijinPot involves reading and responding to messages from readers.
Recently, someone sent a message looking for some information regarding no-alcohol beers in Tokyo. I previously wrote about this topic a couple of years ago, when I was on a health kick and trying to go a summer without alcohol.
Much to my dismay, I learned last week that my favorite no-alcohol beer, Asahi Black Zero, has been discontinued. Thankfully, Japan is never short of new ideas when it comes to alcohol-free alternatives to that cold, refreshing summer pint.
So, today for your consideration, here are some beer and cocktail alternatives for you try this summer that contain no alcohol and are readily available in convenience stores and bars across Japan. Some are good, some are bad and some are barely drinkable — but I’ll leave the taste testing up to you.
1. Asahi Dry Zero
Pretty much the go-to drink for anyone looking for an alternative to a can of lager in Japan. Of course, the taste isn’t exactly the same as its 5.5 percent alcohol sibling, but Dry Zero is a pretty good facsimile.
Clean, crisp, and lacking any of that stale, yeasty aftertaste that is so often the deal-breaker when it comes to zero alcohol beers, Dry Zero is also noticeably less fizzy than other alternatives available in Japan. This is another point in its favor — cutting out alcohol negates a hangover, it doesn’t necessarily prevent flatulence!
2. Asahi Style Balance
Another, more recent, addition to the Asahi stable of alcohol-free beverages. For those who aren’t used to the sometimes harsh or bitter taste of beer — which Dry Zero very accurately replicates — Asahi Style Balance is noticeably lighter, sweeter and easier to drink.
If you’re in one of those awkward social situations where everyone else has cans of beer and you don’t, then it makes for a reasonable substitute. But those of you who are looking for an actual replication of beer taste, feel and flavor will be left disappointed.
3. Suntory All-Free
Have you ever had a beer in a foreign country and thought to yourself: “This tastes exactly like a certain beer I had back in my hometown.” For me, it wasn’t really a surprise to learn that Budweiser, Heineken and Amstel all used the same basic recipe, with local water being the only major difference. Sometimes, such similarities are by design, perhaps because the different brands are owned by the same parent company, and sometimes they are genuinely by coincidence.
In the case of Suntory All-Free, I’m assured that its similarity to non-alcoholic Becks lager is entirely coincidental. Unfortunately, non-alcoholic Becks is one of the singularly most unpleasant drinks I’ve ever had the misfortune to imbibe in my life. Likewise, a friend of mine, upon trying Suntory All-Free for the first time, commented that it tasted like “fermented horse urine.” Now, never having tried that particular beverage, I’m not really in a position to comment. But suffice to say, Suntory All-Free is not a drink I would recommend.
4. Kirin Perfect Free
Next up we have Kirin’s entry into the world of alcohol-free beer: Perfect Free.
…cutting out alcohol negates a hangover, it doesn’t necessarily prevent flatulence!
If Asahi Dry Zero is too bitter for you and Asahi Style Balance is too sweet, then Kirin Perfect Free is probably your proverbial Goldilocks of beers, sitting in a taste zone that makes it feel “just right” between the sweet and bitter others.
It’s also a pretty decent imitation of Kirin’s Ichiban Shibori lager, which is itself noticeably sweeter and easier on the palette than Asahi Super Dry.
It is, unfortunately, a bit harder to come across, but you can probably still find it at the larger convenience stores or supermarkets in your area.
Additionally, they also sell it at the popular chain of pubs Hub, if you’re looking for teetotal options while you’re there. Unfortunately, since Perfect Free isn’t currently included in Hub’s happy hour menu, it’s actually cheaper to go there and get drunk than it is to try and stay sober! You can buy two gin and tonics for the cost of one bottle of Perfect Free.
On that note, why are pints of beer in Hub so much more expensive than spirits or cocktails? Answers on a postcard, please!
5. Choya no-alcohol umeshu
Back in 2015, when I first compiled my list of alcohol-free drinks in Japan, this was one of my favorites, and it remains so today. The sweet, saccharine, syrupy flavor of this particular umeshu (plum liqueur) is the closest I’ve ever come to being unable to tell the difference between an alcoholic drink and its zero percent imitator.
In fact, it’s so sweet you may want to consider cutting it with a little water or soda, just like the real thing.
Hoppy is not exactly a beer and not exactly a soft drink. It reminds me of the cans of shandy we used to get back in high school in Scotland. A shandy was said to imitate the taste of beer blended with lemonade, but in truth, it was a taste all its own. Hoppy is the same.
Bizarrely enough, these days Hoppy is popular in many Japanese izakaya (Japanese pubs) as a mixer, most commonly with shochu — though I personally think it tastes great on its own.
7. Mitsuya Cider
This last inclusion is something of a cop-out, as Mitsuya Cider clearly has no pretensions towards trying to imitate an alcoholic beverage. However, coming from the U.K., I did find it funny when I learned that in Japan, cider — the cause of many a headache whenever I visited Devon in the southwest of England — is not a lethal beer alternative brewed from apples, but is actually a mixed fruit soft drink.
Coming from Scotland, it was a funny experience trying it for the first time many years ago, when I was expecting a taste like Strongbow (a popular apple cider in the U.K.), and instead I got something more like Irn Bru (a sugary soft drink popular with kids back home).
The pressure to drink excessively is, unfortunately, something of an occupational hazard in Japan. The “work hard, play hard” mentality is still very much a part of life here. However, hopefully, these suggestions will give you an alternative to that horrific Sunday morning hangover!
There are plenty of teetotal tipples that imitateadult road pops in the Japanese konbini — what are some of your favorites? Let us know in the comments below!