I’m drinking from a small can of pseudo-beer, which they gave me free at the local liquor shop when I picked up some beer and wine yesterday. It’s a sample of a new product, so I guess there’s some kind of promotion going on.

Notice that I said pseudo-beer. It’s not very nice. It’s an example of a beverage known as Happoshu (発泡酒). Ever heard the aphorism, “the law is an ass?” Well, happoshu embodies this perfectly.

Japan has a higher tax on beer than other alcoholic beverages, for reasons that I don’t know. Possibly something to prevent farmers from ripping out their (food crop) rice and growing barley instead, reducing self sufficiency? That’s just a guess. However, because of the high price of beer, the product know as happoshu (literally, “fizzy alcohol") was created a few years back through a sleight of nutrobiochemical engineering. It uses less malt than beer, so as to be legally not beer, avoiding the beer tax. The can in front of me is made from: malt, hops, barley flakes, corn, starch and saccharide. I don’t think it conforms to the Reinheitsgebot!

Basically, happoshu is a substandard ersatz beverage whose sole raison d’être is to be close enough to beer to fool people without being close enough to attract the higher rate of tax. Yes, it’s cheaper, but only because of a tax loophole. If the tax on beer was lowered to the same as other alcoholic drinks tomorrow, happoshu would cease to sell.

And I can’t help thinking that it would be a good thing.