My Not so Secret Love Affair with Chuhai

I love chuhai. If I had to choose a favorite Japanese beverage genre, it would most definitely be chuhai. It’s cheaper and tastier than beer, comes in a multitude of flavors, and is readily available almost everywhere. Well, in Japan, anyway. Sadly for me and foreigners everywhere, chuhai, at least in America, is not so common. Why must my love go unrequited? Why, chuhai? WHY!?

What is Chuhai?

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For those unfamiliar, chuhai is the nectar of the gods. And by nectar of the gods I mean an awesome canned alcoholic drink. The name is derived from “shochu highball” and is made with shochu and flavored soda water. Shochu is an alcoholic beverage distilled from barley, sweet potatoes, or rice, and is usually around 25% ABV. Mix that with flavored soda water and you have yourself a tasty mixed drink. Put the two together in a can and sell it for dirt cheap everywhere and you have a nationwide sensation.

Some modern chuhai use vodka in place of shochu, but if there is much difference in flavor I can’t tell. There are a ton of flavors including lemon, lime, grapefruit, apple, orange, pineapple, grape, kiwi, ume, yuzu, lychee, and peach. It’s hard to choose just one favorite, but I would say the citrus flavored varieties are the best.

Why Chuhai is Awesome

Japan-ChuhaiSo far, you might think that chuhai just sounds like your run of the mill flavored malt beverage, like Mike’s Hard Lemonade or Smirnoff or something, right? Well, yeah, they’re actually pretty similar in flavor, but there’s a few things that really set the chuhai apart. Firstly, I don’t even think they package chuhai in bottles. If they do, it’s very uncommon. Cans are much cheaper, and this keeps the chuhai very affordable.

Pretty much anywhere, a malt beverage like the above mentioned would be the same if not more expensive than the cheapest beer. When I was in Japan, at least the area I was around, chuhai was on average about half as expensive as beer. Why get one average tasting beer when you can get two awesome tasting chuhai for the same price? Your guess is as good as mine.

Japanese-beerJapanese beer: not as good as chuhai.

Another thing that really sets chuhai apart is their diversity, both in flavor and in alcohol content. I saw chuhai ranging from 2%-9% ABV when I was over there, with most of the lower percentages not tasting like alcohol at all. These are great for those who don’t like beer or anything that’s very strong. Perfect. And then there are the manly ones for those who both want a nice flavor and a kick.

And like I mentioned before, there are a ton of flavors. Malt beverages come in a lot of flavors too, but I’m confident that there are way more chuhai varieties than there are varieties of Smirnoff/Mike’s Hard/etc.

Will I Ever be Reunited with my Precious Chuhai?

chuhai-and-iChuhai and I have a special relationship.

I’m pretty sure that chuhai is actually available in some parts of the United States, but nowhere close to where I am. I don’t really see it being imported anytime soon either. Sure we get the top three beers from Japan, but strangely, chuhai seems to go by unnoticed.

But if you ever have the chance to try it, PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, DO SO. Let me live vicariously through you. Actually, Hashi just told me the other day that one of the first things he did after getting off the plane in Japan was find himself a chuhai to drink in my honor. You’re a true friend, Hashi. Good man.

And since somebody needs to keep all the Tofugu things from falling apart while the guys are gone, my own trip back to Japan will have to be taken some other time. Hopefully sooner than later. Wait for me, chuhai. We’ll be together soon.


So tell me, have you experienced the glory that is chuhai? Have any particular flavors you want the team to look out for while they’re over there? Share your love, suggestions, and comments down below!

  • Argos

    I’ve actually only ever had homemade chuhai, and it was SO good! We have a Japanese market nearby so we bought some sochu there, and then used soda water and those Italian soda syrups as the mixer and flavoring. If you can’t taste the difference with the vodka ones maybe you can try making some with vodka to hold you over :)

  • BassWaffle

    Right now they are running a limited edition peach chuhai, and man, it’s pretty darn tasty… I think some of them are kind of rough tasting, but it seems like everyone kind of finds their own favorite.

  • Teksah

    Grapefruit/lemon Strong Zero is my absolute fav!!! why, why, why don’t they market this in Canada….we need it here!! (^.^)/

  • Bacon22

    I LOVE chuhai, especially the lemon variety. When I vacationed in Japan, I spent a lot of money at the conbinis and hotel vending machines picking some up every night. I like how Kirin has a variety that’s twice as strong as its regular version for basically the same price. At baseball games, it’s a good choice because you don’t get half a cup of head like you do with beer. I’ve seen some chuhai for sale in Little Tokyo in LA, but that stuff was pretty vile and tasted nothing like the stuff in Japan.

  • Andrea Williams

    Cassis chuhai is one of the loves of my life.

  • Manni

    Just reading about the “distilled from sweet potatoe” made me be interested. Are there alcohol-free versions around? If there are, definetely going to try, sounds really cool :)

  • Yuu

    YES! I love chuhai! my favorite is peach! The Japanese supermarket near my place used to sell chuhai but now….they bankrupt and I lost my chuhai intake. I don’t know if the other store sell it too :(

  • Jon E.

    It’s hard being a heterosexual male in his early 20′s who pretty much never drinks, and when he does, he prefers the nice flavor of a mixed drink to the “acquired taste” of a nasty beer or whiskey or something. And by hard, I mean it’s hard not to get 328093 rude comments about it in social situations. Somehow it is considered “womanly” to prefer this type, according to the public at large, still.

    However, I am totally with you John (and my name is Jon, by the way!), and while it may have been Dec. 2009 when I was last in Japan, I definitely remember enjoying my chuhai while there! So *raises imaginary glass* cheers to the John/Jon’s and chuhai relationships of the world, mate!

  • http://www.facebook.com/alexander.angold Alexander Angold

    Love that stuff, especially the YUZU flavor tastes divine :) (somewhat between lemon, orange and lime)

  • http://twitter.com/brightest ◕ ◡ ◕ thea

    There are Japanese groceries here that sell chuhai and I just might try some. Is there any particular brand or flavor that you can recommend?

  • shiro

    The best flavors are as follows: yuzu, pineapple, nashi, la france. They’re all seasonal, naturally. Some of them are pretty sweet though, so if that turns you off you should try the Strong Zero types which don’t use sugar (and have extra booze as a bonus!). The best in that lineup is probably シークヮーサー which coincidentally I don’t even know how to spell in English, was always too hammered to ask.

  • John

    Strong Zero can’t be beat, but I think all of the citrus flavored ones are the best. You should definitely give them a try!

  • John

    I will always seek out chuhai as my main drink in Japan just because I can’t get it here, but otherwise, whiskey, rum, and beer will do me just fine in America. Cheers!

  • http://zoomingjapan.com/ zoomingjapan

    Well, Chuhai is not bad. I like it, but I certainly can do without it! *g*

  • linguarum

    Really? Where are you? I’ve never seen chuhai in the States, even at the big Japanese chains like Mitsuwa or Marukai.

  • Churapop

    I’m working in Okinawa at the moment and I also worship the Chuuhai. That 9% alcohol in one TINY can was… AMAZING.

  • http://www.mikesryukyugallery.com RyukyuMike

    A beer and sake drinker, by nature, I may have to take a sip of some of that chuhai stuff. Always thought it was a ladies drink. Hmm…

  • David J.

    Another great perk is being able to down a few of these preflighting in the front seat of the cab on the way to the bar.

  • http://twitter.com/brightest ◕ ◡ ◕ thea

    I live in the Philippines. I think I’ve spotted the Strong Zero variety here.

  • http://twitter.com/brightest ◕ ◡ ◕ thea

    Since I don’t really drink alcohol and have quite a low tolerance for it as well, I might not try Strong Zero immediately. I’ll definitely try a citrus one when I get the chance. Thanks!

  • Wendy

    My love affair with chuhai is no secret! Chuhai and tantakatan+mizu will fool you that you’re not drinking much, and it taste so awesome. I can’t smell the alcohol, so there can’t be alcohol in it, right? Then you stand up 6 drinks in, and you’re wondering how all these people are so calm with the obvious earthquake going on under you.

  • x_stei

    Someone should write a fanfic about the love story between John and his chuhai.

  • John

    This makes me nervous for some reason :| hahaha

  • Chewy

    In breaking chuhai news, I’ve now discovered strong zero peach, yes, PEACH!

  • Ruben

    “CHUHAI”, lets remember that name and try it when the opportunity is there ! Thanks for the tip John !
    Until now I was more familiar with sake which is pretty good too, but I have a “problem” with it. Sake is in my opinion delicious but also too expensive, not worth the price. A small bottle can easily cost more then € 10 (around $ 13), regardless of the quality, it’s like the minimum, just because it’s sake.

  • Mordoc

    I’ll head by the conbini after work and pick up a chuhai in your honor. Or I probably have a couple of cans sitting in my pantry already. かんぱい!

    My favorite flavor in the winter is Apple Nouveau, it’s seasonal and on it’s way out right now, which reminds me, I should hit up the store and stock up for the summer. But that leaves room for the spring and summer varieties that are on their way in! I also love shikwasa chuhai. It’s a citrus flavor, also seasonal. When the pickings are limited, I usually go for a strong grapefruit or lemon, I can’t stand the fake sugar flavor of the ZERO flavors though.

  • ky42141usa

    Hi, I am Japanese, living in Bangkok Thailand now. I have lived in KY USA for 3.5 years.
    I like TAKARA CAN CHU HI LEMON( ALC 8%). But I could not buy it in US, so when my friend
    or parents came to US, they brought CAN CHU HI for me.
    Unfortunately, JAPAN Postal service can not send alcohol to US (personally).
    I think store selling CHUHAI in US is seldom because CHUHAI itself cheap, not profittable for them.
    Some internet service may deliver CHUHAI to you. Here is example. (not STRONG ZERO…)
    http://www.clubjapan.jp/exec/_alcohol/jenre/j1/2/j2/1.html
    This service is for delivery fron Japan to US. You can try if you can read Japanese!

  • Bifurious

    I enjoy smirnoff ice, I’ll try and find it in Australia.

  • Brad

    That commercial……

  • Red walking hood

    “T0o high”, nice.

  • Eevee

    This happened to me too….so happy!

  • http://twitter.com/DJMercyMerc Mercy

    Oh man, CHUHAI! Obviously THE superior drink in Nihon. When I did a homestay in Japan in high school, some of the best times we had included melon chuhai and dried squid–BAM!

    Hey John, did you find that people would eat particular snacks with chuhai, or no?

  • David Sharp

    I love the seasonal Chu-His, especially the apple one that comes out at the end of autumn! PS, thanks for using my photo and linking to me! ;)

  • Pizzaphile

    …It’s funny because “Chuhai” mean (or sounds like) smelly puss in cantonese, just a random trivia.

  • Tachypsychia

    I will definitey try this at my layover in Tokyo! Have you ever heard of a beverage called Panache? Its a French alcoholic beverage. I tried it when I was in Paris. This reminds me very much of it, without even tasting it yet.

  • Kdeez

    Had the Chu Hi in Japan when we went to Yokosuka to visit our son, who is in the Navy. My Chu Hi of choice is the strong grapefruit 16 oz. Wow, a couple or three of those will get you just right. Wsh I could get a few of those in Southern California.

  • Ryan Rivers

    My understanding is you can’t easily buy chuhai in the U.S. because of restrictions on selling mixed drinks that come in a can/bottle. All the flavored drinks that are currently sold in stores are just malt beverages and don’t actually contain spirits. Chuhai actually contains liquor and thus cannot be sold alongside beers and wines. I suppose someone might be able to stock it in the hard liquor section, but with such a small market in the states that would be very unlikely that a business would elect to carry it, unless it was a specialty store.

  • Japanman

    I have! I’m stationed here in Yokosuka, and all the sailors know chu-hi. Good stuff! If anybody goes to Japan, they need to try the strawberry Chu-Hi. Best one by far!

  • Dan

    Where are you from in So-Cal? I’m from Ventura and also stationed in Japan.

  • Dan

    Hi fellow lovers of Chu Hi. I recently spent four months in Japan as part of an exchange program, and this is where my love of Chu Hi began. There was a small alcohol store with a vending machine out the front, and i would regularly make visits to purchase Chu Hi (my favourite flavour is Grapefruit by the way) on the weekends and late at night. Since i have returned i have missed Chu Hi and am currently looking for a way to import it. Sadly the closest thing i have come to in my search for Grapefruit Chu Hi is a grapefruit scented handwash :(

  • http://turtlestravel.com Donny Loeber

    Great post, I too am a chuhai lover! Nearly everyday I spent in Japan I was popping into a Family Mart and grabbing a can or 3. And forget the vending machines, grab a can and continue walking! Thanks for sharing and safe travels.