In recent years, many of the Japanese breweries have been producing a low malt beer like beverage known as Happoshu. This beer containing less malt content than that of normal beers you will find anywhere else in the world.
This type of beverage was designed to get around the nation’s tax laws so the drink was not classed as beer and received a lower tax rate for manufacture, making it cheaper for the consumer. If the beverage contained less than 67% of malt in its weight of its fermented ingredients, then the product was not classed as beer.
The government soon caught on and realised it was losing quite a bit of tax revenue, so they raised the stakes and changed the malt ratio level to 50%. The brewers followed suit and decreased the malt in their happoshu to under 50%, this way they still stay below the tax bracket.
The brewers have now even gone further and decreased the malt content in many of their products to less than 25%, to get in under another tax bracket. There has been a massive increase in new brands of Happoshu in recent years to increase the market share. Lately, new trends have emerged, like mixing happoshu with other types of alcohol or making more healthy products with low carbohydrates and purines. There are also products using unmalted barley. Sapporo has a popular product called Mugi 100% that uses the unmalted barley process.
There are some other quite innovative recipes with Sapporo’s Draft One using pea protein, Kirin’s Nodogoshim Nama using soy protein and Suntory’s Super Blue using wheat spirits.
In most cases, alcohol levels are the same in Happoshu as with normal beer and the taste is nearly as pleasurable. They can sometimes appear to be a little less appealing, with a flavour that is not as full and more sweet than bitter, but for the cheaper price you can’t have everything.