Japan is home to the interesting happo-shu class of “not really a beer” beers, low-malt lagers brought about by the country’s unusual – and high – beer taxes.
See, if happo-shu is made with more than 65 per cent malt then it’s reclassified as beer and subject to a tax of about $2.50 a litre, meaning a six-pack of bog standard lager is about $15. But if it’s happo-shu, then they can sell a sixer for about $8 – not hard to see why it’s the central part of the Japanese beer market.
They do have craft breweries over there but, as they have to import just about everything – equipment and ingredients – it tends to jack up their prices. On top of which, fully imported craft beer can undercut them.
Like in Australia, there is talk of changing the beer taxation system. Over there the idea is that the tweaking would reduce the attractiveness of happo-shu and work in favour of the craft brewer.
Again, like in Australia, something like that isn’t going to happen any time soon.
What’s the go here?: For those who have just stumbled across this post, I’m going through the fascinating Oxford Companion to Beer (OCB) and posting an entry for every letter. Why? Because I have a copy at home but hadn’t really gone through it page by page and I figured this would be an exercise that would force me to do that.