As someone who has a strong dislike of the taste of alcohol it was always hard for me to participate in drinking related events that my friends would often invite me to. I
n the states there are not very many cheap options for people like me, as the only thing flavor wise that was satisfying tended to be mixed drinks (which tend to be a bit more expensive since you need more ingredients) so I tended to avoid drinking all together because of that.
When I got to Japan this summer I discovered that many of the people that I was living with liked to drink and throughout hanging out with them I realized that what they were choosing were actually quite delicious despite being alcoholic.
Bring in Chuhai- the shochu and fruit flavor carbonated mixed drink that is a Japanese canned drink specialty.
What makes these drinks so pleasant and less strong is the high sugar content they contain from the fruit flavoring that you can find in them making them much more on par with soda then anything else.
Found in many convenience stores including Seven Eleven, Family Mart, and Lawsons these drinks are easy to find and have become very popular due to their low price point and are perfect for those with a low tolerance for alcohol tolerance since the highest ABV’s tend to be around 12%. Over the course of the summer I decided to try a bunch of different flavors and brands to see if I would find a favorite so here are a few that I enjoyed.
Suntory -196° C Strong Zero
One of the most popular konbini alcoholic drinks in Japan would definitely have to be Suntory’s Strong Zero. As one of the most widely available Chuhai options this drink is very popular among tourists and native Japanese people alike as the low price tag and variety of flavors available are a strong selling point. A 500 ml size can will cost you around 200 yen while a 350ml can is around 150 yen, so it’s a great option for those wanting a little bit more than a soda. Flavor options tend to be all fruit flavors- ranging from lemon and lime to the more unique Pickled Plum (Ume), and Bitter Yuzu. Being at 9% ABV, one of the best things about Strong Zero is that there is very little alcohol taste, instead being light and refreshing with a mixture of carbonation and fruity flavor, and still gives you the buzz that many drinkers look for. The most popular flavor would definitely have to be the classic lemon flavor all though many people that I have met prefer the lime as it is a bit more tangy and delicious.
Asahi Clear Cooler
For those that prefer a little bit more of a citrusy taste, this Asahi drink is perfect for you! A 7-11 exclusive, Clear Cooler comes in all the citrus fruit varieties- Lemon, Lime, Grapefruit, Pineapple, etc. bottled in either a 350ml or 500ml can. Out of all the drinks listed, this is the cheapest option at 108 yen for a 350ml can, and 140 for the 500ml.
The most popular flavor that I saw this summer was the grapefruit flavor which tastes similar to if you are drinking a Fresca, the grapefruit flavored soda, but much more tangy. It was not one of my favorites since I am not the biggest fan of grapefruit but overall it is a great option as like the Strong Zero’s it does not have much of an alcohol taste, and is 6% ABV so is not as high.
At one of the lowest percentages of alcohol, 5% abv, Kirin Freeze is a great choice for those who don’t want to get drunk. Comes in different flavors including Peach, Sparkling Grape, Ume, Pineapple, Lemon, Grapefruit.
Not only does the Freeze come in the original variety but also two other variations- the Kirin Freeze Zero Seven and the Kirin Freeze Strong. The Strong variety is a bit higher in alcohol content at 9% ABV and is a bit stronger in alcohol flavor than the original. The zero version comes in at 7% abv with the added bonus of zero sugar, using Stevia as a substitute.
Lastly you can find some exclusive flavors with Kirin’s “Traveling Freeze” series featuring unique tastes from around the globe such as Apple Orange Sangria and Mexican Style Lemon Cola Flavor.
One of my favorite drinks to buy at the convenience store would definitely be the Suntory Horoyoi cans which are filled with a super light (3-4% ABV), sparkling chuhai with some of the strongest fruit flavors you can imagine.
What I like most about this series is the beautiful packaging featuring ombre coloring and a lovely image of a fruit with a water droplet effect scattered on the can, reflecting the drink’s refreshing qualities. At a reasonable price of 141 yen for a 350ml can you can buy multiples without breaking the bank.
I recommend the traditional cider flavor for something simple, the ginger for if you are feeling a bit more adventurous. and the peach (momo) for those who want a simple fruity flavor.
Overall, I will say that while I did try a lot of these and generally enjoyed them I cannot say that I would drink them on a regular basis. In Japan, drinking is such a large part of the social culture and so I was glad I was able to find an option for myself to participate on occasion and enjoy the experience without the nasty effects.
I will say that the alcohol effect still tends to be more than I would want everyday but it is quite nice to have on a Friday or weekend after a long week of work, etc.so the next time I am in Japan, I will definitely try more!