Japanese beer makers are in trouble. Retail sales for regular beer have been declining for years now as salarymen who like a can of fizzy lager in the evening opt for cheaper variations. Even happoushu, the first kind of ersatz beer the makers came up with to get round the tax on booze, is no longer popular, usurped by the even cheaper (and even more fake) daisan (“third”) beers.
In other words, no one cares about quality any more. It’s just about the price.
Some people are fighting back, hence the gentle growth in craft beer bars in Tokyo over the last few years, where people are willingly to pay for high-end ales and (over-priced) food.
But what about the big beers? How can they try to whip up excitement in a cynical consumer base?
Kirin has succeeded with its frozen beer campaign, where you can get a beer that not only has a large head — the typical serving style in Japan, much to the exasperation of foreigners — but is even frozen so as to offer a hyper-cool drink for the summer. The result is below-zero beer slushies (at least, for around half an hour, before it melts). They are also advertising this with popular actress Yu Aoi to show that drinking beer is not just for middle-aged businessmen.
Following its successful launch last year, there is now frozen beer on tap at the “Ichiban Garden” spaces in Tokyo and elsewhere. And for 2013 it’s not just the basic Kirin Ichiban Shibori lager but a stout and others, all available with frozen foam to chill you down in the humid months. It has been particularly popular at baseball games at stadiums where the frozen foam head servers are available.
It reminds us also of the success that Asashi enjoyed with its “sub-zero beer”, a special Extra Cold version of its Super Dry lager, which you can get at certain bars with the right equipment. They even opened a special bar for sub-zero Super Dry suds in Ginza in 2010, which had huge lines outside during the summer. Asahi continues its aggressive expansion of special Extra Cold bars, and the number of Extra Cold servers in regular bars and restaurants around Japan.
In the same vein, Takara Tomy has been releasing a series of home beer-drinking gimmick toys. They all make a joke about the word “hour” meaning “drinking time” (Happy Hour etc) and also awa, or foam.
The latest is the Sonic Hour Beer Head Froth Maker, a special platform that uses sonic waves to generate the right “head” that Japanese drinkers want from their beers, even ones that they pour at home out of a can.
The first was the Beer Hour, an unusual beer can pourer that gave you the much-desired foamy head, which was followed by the Beer Jokki Hour, a unique type of beer glass (jokki) that had a very analog-looking switch that generated the right amount of foam.
These people seem to love it, at any rate.