Alcohol-free brew surprise hit in beer-loving Japan

Thu Apr 23, 2009 2:58am EDT
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By Taiga Uranaka

TOKYO (Reuters Life!) - Japanese thirsting for a beer, but not the buzz, are quaffing an alcohol-free brew that is a first in a country with a strong drinking tradition.

There are many beers on the market from all over the world that are labeled as non-alcoholic, but brewer Kirin Holdings, which makes "Kirin Free," claims its brew is the only one with 0.00 percent alcohol.

In Japan, alcoholic drinks are defined as those that are 1 percent or more proof.

"Those drinks, albeit in very small amounts, contain alcohol," said Kirin spokesman Kuniaki Tamai, referring to the drink's competitors.

"Restaurants and shops had not been able to loudly tout them as non-alcoholic drinks either."

Non-alcoholic beer is a niche product in Japan, home to several brewers such as Asahi and Sapporo whose drinks are as popular at home as abroad.

Japanese businessmen and executives regularly go out for drinks after work, and beer has long been one of the country's most popular alcoholic drinks.

But Kirin, one of Japan's biggest brewers, said demand for its drink, which it advertises as a soda with a beer-like taste, has been overwhelming.   Continued...