Not long ago, Hoppy was a drink associated with working-class, middle-aged men in the older neighborhoods of Tokyo.
Recently, however, it has begun to be chugged by a younger crowd at bars and cafes in such upscale districts of the capital as Akasaka and Azabu-juban.
The carbonated drink, with an alcohol content of 0.8 percent, was introduced in 1948. It is a nonalcoholic beverage as far as the Liquor Tax Law is concerned, but at first glance its amber color and creamy head make it look just like beer.
“At the time (we put it on the market), beer was a luxury item well beyond the means of common people,” said Koichi Ishiwatari, president of Hoppy Beverage Co.
“Hoppy was accepted by the masses as a substitute drink and it sold like hotcakes.”
At Shiriusu, a watering hole in Akasaka, the drink is served very cold. Many patrons mix it with domestically distilled “shochu,” cut with water.
“It goes down really smoothly and it’s good,” said Manami Uekusa, a 28-year-old designer. “It’s also nice that you can adjust the amount of shochu you drink.”
Observers say Hoppy’s low price is what appeals to the younger generation. In many bars, patrons order shochu to blend with their Hoppy, and roughly 1,000 yen will cover three glasses of the mix.
Mina Ishiwatari, vice president of Hoppy Beverage, pointed out that Japanese also have become more health-conscious.
“Hoppy is low in calories and saccharine, and you don’t need to be concerned about gout,” she said. “I think one reason for its current popularity is that more people have come to think of it as a healthy drink.”
Ishiwatari also said that the “retro feel” of the bottle’s design is a novelty for younger people.
According to the firm, sales projections for the current year are set at 24 million bottles, a roughly 40 percent rise from the year before.