Japan’s Alcohol-Free Beer-volution in Nagoya

ByBert Wishart
Dec 31, 2021

Japan’s Alcohol-Free Beer-volution in Nagoya

Japan is, it’s pretty safe to say, something of a boozy country. Whether social events, ceremonies or even work, most milestones are marked with a nomikai [drinking party] and a kanpai [cheers]. This is all well and good if you enjoy a tipple, but for many people – those who for whatever reason prefer not to drink – it can be a little isolating, and there is commonly a peer pressure to drink – even if it is ‘just the one for kanpai’.

And even if you do avoid the pressure, the non-alcoholic options are generally pretty uninspired: tea, ginger ale, or… well, that’s about it. Fortunately, there has been a recent rise in the production of non-alcoholic beers and cocktails in Japan. From 2019 to 2025, Global Market Insights predicted that Asia’s low- to no-alcohol beverage market would grow 7 percent from $20 billion to $30 billion, a vast 80 percent of this expansion coming from the beer sector.

While the Japanese beer market is nowhere near as advanced as other nations, things are improving. But which to go for, for the uninitiated? Well, following my ‘No-booze-November,’ I have become quite acquainted with a few of them, so let me tell you about some of the most easily accessible non-al beers.

Kirin Zero Ichi

Kirin was one of the first to enter Japan’s non-al beer market, with their Kirin Free back in 2009. That attempt did not delight drinkers exactly, so they came back with Zero Ichi. According to their marketing, it is “a unique brew made exclusively from the first press of the wort,” a procedure used to produce Kirin’s signature beer brand Kirin Ichiban Shibori.

Zero Ichi is a little sweet with a wheaty flavor. Though there are no added sweeteners, it packs much more flavor than you would expect. Having been early to the market, this is the beer that you are most likely to find in bars and izakaya.

Suntory All-Free

With zero calories and zero sugar, All-Free on the face of it is more like a beer-flavored seltzer than a non-al beer, suitable for those who want a malty taste guilt-free. The Suntory guys say: “like traditional beer, Suntory uses only the two-row barley malt which contributes to the rich flavor of ALL-FREE, while the aroma hops give it its bitterness and signature sophisticated bouquet,” and there is definitely is a bitterness to it.

It’s also got a bit of a fruity – almost apple –  taste to it, which I grow tired of after a while. Mind you, it wouldn’t be bad for a summer afternoon.

Asahi Dry Zero

Asahi has exploded in the non-al market of late, and Dry Zero is my tipple of choice when I’m abstaining from the booze. Much like the All-Free, this is of the beer-as-seltzer variety, and some may point that it does not have the sweetness of other brands. But what it lacks in fruitiness, it more than makes up for in dryness.

It is clean, crisp, bitter, and is thankfully free of the yeasty aftertaste that most non-al beers have. Also, it’s less carbonated, so beery-belches are a thing of the past!

Asahi Healthy Style

If you want to take care of your body while enjoying a beer, well, Asahi Healthy Style…. might be the one for you. And I say it might. First, let’s get to the healthy aspect. Not only does it have zero calories and sugar, but it also has a little Food of Specified Health Use (FOSHU) stamp on it that indicates that it moderates the rise of triglyceride in the blood after meals through added fiber.

Mind you, it’s certainly not the best-tasting of the bunch. Less flavor than the Dry Zero but lacking in the bitterness, it slightly makes up for it with a more rounded texture.

Asahi Beery

Ah, now we have something that actually tastes like beer. Rich and hoppy, according to Asahi Breweries, the idea behind this product was to help create a society in which drinkers, non-drinkers, and those who sit somewhere in-between can respect each other and appreciate diversity. That doesn’t mean much more than marketing spiel to me, but what I think they are getting at is that, with 0.5 percent alcohol, it is neither a beer nor a non-al.

With that said, the black beery is a pretty reasonable facsimile of the real thing, while the craft version in the white can has got real saison vibes – so much so that my wife, a huge beer fan, often plumps for it over real beer when we are at home. However, one way in which Beery lets itself down is the high-calorie content compared to the others on this list, though perhaps this can’t be helped due to the alcohol. Something that could have been helped, though, is that stupid name. Beery? Seriously?

Craft Beers

If your beer-drinking tastes are a little more extravagant than lagers and pilsners, unfortunately, things may be a little more complicated. However, if you are in the Nagoya Station area, try popping over to craft beer emporium Binge. Though a little (well, a lot) more pricey than the Japanese brews, they have a fair range of imported non-all beers and drinks.

Where: 4-10-22 Meieki, Nakamura-Ku, Kohaku Building 6F (map)
Website: craftbeerbinge.com

Images By Mark Guthrie

About the author

Bert Wishart editor

Novelist, copywriter and graduate from the most prestigious university in Sunderland, Bert whiles away his precious time on this Earth by writing about popular culture, travel, food and pretty much anything else that is likely to win him the Pulitzer he desperately craves.

2 comments so far

Rud Ward 642102637615Posted on2:24 pm - Jan 1, 2023

Love non-alc and Japanese beer.

D’y know where I might score some in the Hamilton/New Plymouth/Auckland triangle – or anywhere in New Zealand?

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