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Yoroku: Bitter beer price hike promotes taste for new flavors

A Tokyoite in the Kyoho era (1716-1735) who was the first person to drink Dutch beer in then Edo wrote about the beverage: "It's exceptionally bad, with no taste at all." They gave it a try but apparently thought it was terrible.

    Still, the reason why a lot of people later started drinking bitter tasting beer in the Meiji period (1868-1912) was perhaps it was the taste of Western civilization that they thought they should learn to appreciate. Some people today also get the same impression as the Kyoho-era person from their first beer, but it was once taught that when you appreciate that bitterness as a pleasant taste, you know you've become an adult.

    Thinking back to those old days, today's youth saying they don't like beer "because it's bitter" sounds all too blunt. But if someone says today they want young people to learn to appreciate the taste of beer, they would be called intrusive. And on top of that, the recent price hike in Japan has dealt a blow to the beer market.

    June is the month when numerous outdoor beer gardens in Japan open for the season. But this year, the price of beer sold at supermarkets went up by about 10 percent starting June 1. The price hike was the result of revisions to the Liquor Tax Act, which was meant to prevent excessive discounting by mass retailers and other similar shops. The revised law, however, has also affected the price of beer served at restaurants and bars.

    While the future of beer consumption has come under dark clouds as the bitterness of the price hike has been added, the revised Liquor Tax Act will also alter the definition of beer. Starting in the spring of 2018, beer manufacturers will be able to use fruits and spices as ingredients. It's only a natural course for such companies to seek ways for survival in new flavors. It's not even surprising that they are coming up with flavors such as yuzu citrus, black pepper, sesame, basil and honey. Future beer flavors in Japan are said to include green tea, konbu kelp, wakame seaweed and bonito flakes.

    Whether these new flavors will be popular with young people is beyond one's speculation, but perhaps even the Kyoho-era Tokyoite would have found them "tasteful." ("Yoroku," a front-page column in the Mainichi Shimbun)

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