Japan: Sugar-free beer becomes a new trend

Suntory Beer Ltd. is the second of the four major brewing companies in Japan to offer a non-sugar beer variety. Kirin Brewery launched a non-sugar beer under its popular Ichiban Shibori brand last October that became an instant success selling 2.5 million cases within four and a half months.

After its launch on April 13, Suntory aims to ship 2.3 million cases of Perfect Suntory Beer by December.

The new trend comes after Japanese government changed beer taxation and made beers with a higher malt content more competitive. On October 1, 2020 the first step of the new beer tax came into effect in Japan, which decreased the tax of all-malt beers but increased at the same time the tax of so-called third-category quasi-beer and fruit-based alcohol, such as wine. After a second step in 2023, there will be uniform taxation of all types of beer in 2026. (inside.beer, 1.10.2020)

Kirin as the first company in the market with a non-sugar beer refused to disclose the secrets behind the “New Sugar-Cut Method” which took Aiko Hiromasa, lead developer at Kirin, and her team five years and 350 attempts to develop. “Since the product was to be released under the Ichiban Shibori brand, we could not have made it commercially available if we had failed to achieve a satisfactory level of taste,” Ms. Hiromasa said.

The company describes the method as a "combination of malt selection, preparation, and fermentation." In September 2017, Kirin applied for a patent for “a low-saccharide, beer-taste beverage having a thickened flavor.” According to the application “the invention provides a beer-taste beverage in which malt and/or non-germinated barley are used as at least a part of starting materials and which has a saccharide concentration of lower than 1.1 g/100 ml.”

Suntory did not say if it uses a method similar to Kirin's process but revealed that it developed a fermentation process where yeast can decompose sugar more efficiently and prolong the fermentation so that all sugar content is broken down. With this method no additional sugar needs to be added and the starch and malt sugar which comes from the raw materials are more or less completely converted into alcohol and carbonic acid gas.

While Suntory’s new product will boast 5.5 percent alcohol by volume Kirin’s beer has only 4 percent alcohol.

Asahi and Sapporo, the other two major brewers in Japan have not disclosed plans about a non-sugar beer so far. Asahi, however, indirectly confirmed that the company is also working on a non-sugat beer. The company said it “will consider handling that type of product if a certain level of flavor that satisfies customers can be achieved.”

Share this article: