It is no secret that the Japanese love to drink. With a strong economy and a recent history of importing and exporting to other countries, as well as having brews of its own, Japan has been able to provide its people different varieties of delicious and exciting drinks. Beer, nihonshu (rice wine), umeshu (plum wine), and wine are just a few of the popular beverages adults can enjoy at home or out with others.
Drinking culture is so big in Japan now – every convenience store has a selection of alcohol, business and casual nomikai (drinking parties) are all the rage, and many restaurants offer nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) deals – that it would be difficult to imagine a Japan without drinks. Beer, especially.
Beer is now hugely popular in Japan, with most people ordering “nama biru” or draft beer as their first drink of the evening and shops having a great selection of local and international brands. Suntory, Asahi, and Sapporo are examples of successful beer companies in the country. Beer is now reasonably priced, but it wasn’t always affordable.
After the end of the Second World War, there were many American soldiers in Japan. They brought beer with them, and when locals saw them drinking it, they asked what it was. At the time, people in Japan mostly drank sake; beer was a relatively new taste. During that time, though, potential distributors who wanted to sell the beer to regular people knew that this exotic beverage was very expensive to import. That is when Hoppy was born.
Hoppy was released in 1948 by the Kokuka Beverage Company. Although not containing any real beer or purine bases (a compound that usually appears in beer), Hoppy has a distinctive beer-like flavor, which made it a good substitute for those who wanted to try beer but found it out of their reach.
Hoppy is actually 0.8% alcohol, but legally speaking, it is a non-alcoholic beverage. Traditionally, it is served along with shochu, specifically korui shochu, and mixed to make a 5% alcoholic drink. The foamy, beer-like taste of Hoppy mixes with the stronger shochu flavor to make what many residents continue to enjoy. Hoppy is also served in a glass bottle, which was inspired by the American beer bottles.
Hoppy and the corresponding shochu are stored in the refrigerator and the glasses are stored in the freezer for an ice-cold serving (“san-rei,” meaning three coolings). Shochu is served in a glass, and then Hoppy is added. Don’t stir it! It is recommended that you have five parts Hoppy to one part shochu for a balanced taste, but there are people who prefer it stronger.
You will not usually find ice in the shochu, because it is said to take away from the drink’s flavor. Because of “san-rei,” the drink should be nice and cold when you get it.
Kokuka Beverage Company changed their brand name to Hoppy Beverage Co., Ltd. With the introduction to real beer and Japanese companies brewing their own, most people might assume that the need for Hoppy would die out. However, it is still a popular drink in izakayas and restaurants. Why is this?
Perhaps it is another of the nostalgic retro traditions that izakayas offer. People may remember their fathers or grandfathers drinking it in the post-war period. Hoppy has also come out with various products, such as Black Hoppy, 55 Hoppy to celebrate the drink’s 55th anniversary, and Hoppy 330, which is for home use. The beverage enjoyed a recent revival and it managed to endure Japan’s introduction to actual beer.
Next time you are out, try Hoppy if you like beer and shochu! No doubt locals will be impressed that you have heard of this drink, and it makes for an unusual and new flavor for your evening.
Hoppy Website *Japanese only