As Japan begins the new fiscal year in April, a revision to the Liquor Tax Act that changes the definition of beer will also go into effect. The Mainichi Shimbun answers some common questions readers may have about the change to the lawful definition of beer and what it means for the industry.
Question: The definition of beer is changing from April?
Answer: Yes. Until now, beer was defined by law as a beverage made from at least 67 percent malt in weight of all the ingredients that go into it, excluding hops and water. Extra ingredients were limited to things such as rice and corn, and beverages with other ingredients were not recognized as beer. But with the new law, the malt content minimum has been lowered to 50 percent, and for taste and aroma, a variety of secondary ingredients can now be used in the brewing process.
Q: What kind of other ingredients can be added?
A: Fruit, including dried and concentrated juices, spices and herbs like coriander, pepper and chamomile, soba and sesame, salt and miso, tea and coffee, marine products like konbu, wakame and bonito flakes -- along with a wide variety of other products can now be used. However, in order not to stray too far from the original form of beer, the newly approved secondary ingredients can only make up a total maximum of 5 percent of the weight of the malt used for the drink to be recognized as beer.
Q: Why was the definition changed?
A: Many imported and craft beers use secondary ingredients like spices and fruits, or did not meet the 67 percent malt requirement, and thus were classified as beer-like liquor instead of beer. While a beverage may be classified as "beer" overseas, it was not treated as such in Japan under the old rules. There were also cases where these beverages were slapped with the higher tax rate for certified beer but still labeled as beer-like liquor.
Brewing powerhouses in Europe as well as domestic craft breweries let their dissatisfaction with all this be known. The new law also benefits manufacturers by giving them the creative freedom to develop more unique products.
Q: Which products will be affected by the change in designation?
A: Major manufactures have so far put out products according to previous guidelines, so there will be no changes in the labeling of existing beverages. However, a slew of new products are planned for release this month. The key point to these new products is to preserve the original flavor of beer, but also add hints of fruit and other flavors, using ingredients like lemons, oranges and grapefruits. Consumption of beer has been falling for some time, so manufacturers are hoping the changes will be just the spice to liven up the market again. (Answers by Akane Imamura, Business News Department)