Japan: A "Third Beer" Country

This summer, the major Japanese brewers have all been pushing their new “third beer” products. I was motivated to sample them by the relative price–about ¥600 for a six-pack, as opposed to at least ¥1200 for malt beer.

The “third beer” boom was sparked by Sapporo, which launched a beverage called Draft One in February 2004. Made with protein extracted from peas, Draft One’s selling point is its light taste and drinkability. Meanwhile, Kirin’s Nodogoshi Nama, made with soybean protein, touts its good flavor and crispness. Asahi’s Shin Nama, which uses soy peptide and a yeast that the company also employs in beer making, offers a dry finish. And Suntory’s Super Blue, which contains low-malt beer mixed with liquor distilled from wheat, has a crisp, refreshing taste.

Determined to avoid the high taxes imposed on beverages made using malt as a raw ingredient, the brewers went to a lot of trouble to find alternatives. Sapporo, the pioneer in this market, experimented for four years with a series of ingredients that included two types of millet and corn before hitting on pea protein as a raw ingredient.

I’ve now sampled all of the above-listed “third beers”–plus Sapporo’s new low-calorie, “high fiber” Slims–and the only six-packs I could finish were Sapporo’s Draft One and Asahi’s Shin Nama. And if the weather hadn’t been so hot and muggy, I’m not sure I could have accomplished even that much.

Now I guess I’ll have to sample a couple of Japan’s “second beers”–the low-malt happoshu. But, except in really hot weather, I prefer my beers flat, dark, and bitter, not sudsy, pale, and yeasty. I could drink Guinness for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if I never had to get any work done.

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