The Birth of Japan’s Third-Category Beer Explained

Wow. Just imagine the thrill I felt this evening when I came across a summary of the history and taxation based reason for Japan’s dai-san biiru or thirdcategory beer, as you know a minor fascination of mine. Thrill along with me to the genesis of the substance caused – as we see all too often – as a response to taxation regimes which create both hardship and opportunity:

In 1994, Suntory began marketing beer-like happoshu with malt content of 65 per cent, while Sapporo developed happoshu containing less than 25 per cent malt. Each attracted lower tax rates, and hence could be sold much more cheaply than real beer. From 1996, however, the government responded by hiking the tax rates for both types of happoshu. In 2003, it also raised tax on happoshu with 25-50 per cent malt content. However, its tax and that of happoshu with less than 25 per cent malt remained less than that on high-malt happoshu or real beer. In 2004, Sapporo and Suntory responded with a zero-malt dai-san biiru, which incurred an even lower tax, and hence retail price, than any happoshu.

Previously I believe I have called third-category beer happoshu. I have failed you. I have failed the honour of beer blogging. I am but a grasshopper the ways of Japanese beer categorization. We also continue to await a brave reviewer who has documented the way of dai-san biiru. Life is so rich, when you think of it.

One thought on “The Birth of Japan’s Third-Category Beer Explained”

  1. [Original comments…]

    Knut Albert – January 19, 2009 6:13 AM
    Zero malt, eh?
    Is it still a beer, then?

    john turningpin – January 21, 2009 7:17 AM
    Both happoshu and dai-san biiru taste, for the most part, like wet dog.

    Asahi released a ginger-infused happoshu called Ginger Draft ( ) late last year, and that one’s actually not so bad if you drink it quickly enough. Also, Sapporo released Mugi to Hoppu (”Barley and Hops”) happoshu and has been touting how beer-like it is. Which it sort of is if you drink it fast enough, but it has the same sort of artificial crisp dryness that identifies happoshu and dai-san biiru.

    The only really good beer here is from microbrewers (the devil take the Kirins and Asahis of the world), and they aren’t cheap. A single can of good stuff from a brewer like Kinga Kogen ( ) will set you back 260 to 280 yen for a single can, as opposed to 130 to 160 yen for happoshu. The good stuff is definitely worth it though.

    john turningpin – January 21, 2009 7:19 AM
    p/s – Sorry for the double post, but LOL at noticing Knut Albert’s post above mine. I’ve poked around your blog as well, sir. 🙂

    john turningpin – January 21, 2009 7:36 AM
    Very sorry for the triple post — re: Mugi to Hoppu, I meant to say, if you drink it *cold* enough. Feel free to edit the original post and delete this one.

    Alan – January 21, 2009 8:08 AM
    No problems! Thanks Jon.

    DH – January 29, 2009 11:07 PM
    Friends, Japan is in some rough times when it comes to good beer. To my knowledge, we have the only English language site totally devoted to Japanese ji-beer and Japanese beer news. Come and poke around , comment and tell us what you think.

    Oh yeah, and happoushu sucks.

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