It is no secret that the Japanese love to drink. With a strong economy based around importing and exporting to other countries, as well as having a historical alcohol tradition of its own, You can find all kinds of delicious and exciting drinks in Japan. Beer, nihonshu (rice wine) and umeshu (plum wine) are just a few of the popular beverages adults can enjoy at home or out with others.
Drinking culture is big in Japan now – every convenience store has a selection of alcohol, business and casual nomikai (drinking parties) are popular outings, and many restaurants offer nomihoudai (all-you-can-drink) deals – it would be difficult to imagine a Japan without drinks, especially beer.
Beer is hugely popular in Japan, with most people ordering nama biru or draft beer as their first drink of the evening. At many convenience and liquor stores you can find a great selection of local and international brands. Suntory, Asahi, and Sapporo are some of the most successful beer companies in the country. While you can cheaply get beer nowadays, it wasn’t always so affordable in Japan.
After the conclusion of World War II, there was a large American military occupation presence in Japan. They had brought various foods and drinks with them from the United States, namely beer. At the time, the Japanese mostly drank sake as their source of alcohol; beer was a relatively new taste brought over by the occupation. 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. This led to the development and distribution of Japanese-made drinks like Hoppy.
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 Japanese citizens who wanted a taste of beer but found it financially out of 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, a design inspired by American 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. 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. For the best flavor, you shouldn’t stir after adding Hoppy.
Shochu usually isn’t served with ice, because it’s said to dilute the taste of the drink’s flavor. But because the drink goes through the “san-rei” cooling period, the drink should be cool and refreshing when it’s served.
The Hoppy drink brand was so popular that the Kokuka Beverage Company changed their brand name to Hoppy Beverage Co. As regular beers from both overseas and Japan became more popular, you would assume Hoppy has become a niche drink. But it’s still a very popular drink around Japan. Why is that?
One factor may be that izakaya restaurants are perceived as places that have a retro and nostalgic appeal to them. People may remember family members drinking Hoppy in the post-war period. Hoppy has also distributed a variety of drinks besides their signature drink such as Black Hoppy, 55 Hoppy to celebrate the drink’s 55th anniversary, and Hoppy 330, which is for home consumption. The beverage enjoyed a recent revival and over its history has successfully stayed relevant amidst the growing beer market in Japan.
Next time you go out for a few drinks in Japan, try Hoppy if you like beer and shochu! You can further appreciate the history of alchohol in Japan, and it makes for an unusual and new flavor for your evening.
Hoppy Website *Japanese only