Japan’s retro canned cocktails pack the punch and awesome look of a nostalgic era

Whether or not it’s Zima (yes, that Zima) or the somewhat infamously potent Strong Zero, ready-to-drink canned cocktails in Japan are a go-to for a lot of seeking to get a fast drink in after work. Particularly popular are chuhai, which is a portmanteau of “shochu” and “highball.” Whether served fresh at a bar or in a can, chuhai typically pack a shochu base, carbonated water, and flavoring reminiscent of lemon or grapefruit–although many modern varieties substitute vodka and have a wide selection of adventurous flavors.

Takara is one among Japan’s leading shochu distilleries, and a maker of one among the country’s first canned chuhai. So it’s no surprise that one among their more popular modern canned chuhai is hailed as a return to basics and inspired by scenes you may find at an izakaya pub during Japan’s Showa era (1926-1989). While that is true of Takara’s flavors, there’s one very distinct way the chuhai is a callback to the drink’s roots–with these incredibly eye-catching and retro-styled cans depict the nostalgia of old-time Japanese pubs in stylish illustrations:

Photo: grape Japan

While the cocktails are available quite a lot of old-fashioned flavors, we decided to go together with the usual lemon, umeboshi-wari (Japanese pickled plum mix), and Ramune (the beloved Japanese summertime soda) for our sampling of the drinks. First, let’s take a have a look at the unique can which are like taking a stroll back into Japan’s past.


Photo: grape Japan

For the Lemon Shochu Highball, you will notice an illustration of pubgoers having fun with lemon chuhai at an old-fashioned yakitori (chicken skewer) joint. A pleasant touch is that the paragraph describing the drink’s flavor profile is written on white slabs on the underside as if each sentence is a yakitori menu item.


Photo: grape Japan

Next up was the Umeboshi-Wari Shochu Highball. The label features drinkers knocking back umeboshi chuhai, but replacing the yakitori is Japan’s favorite winter stew–oden. Oden is a dashi and soy sauce strew that features a hodgepodge of ingredients reminiscent of dashi and soy sauce broth include daikon radish, fishcakes, konjac, tofu, sausages, boiled eggs, and skewered meats. The additional sour punch of the pickled plum is alleged to pair well with such stews.


Photo: grape Japan

Finally it was time for the Ramune Shochu Highball. As you’ll be able to see on the label, this time the drinking has moved outdoors. That is because Ramune is usually enjoyed at summer festivals in Japan, and served at food and drinks stalls outside. After all, one particular food stand here advertises what a customer is knocking back as “Ramune for adults” on a banner–which is precisely what this drink is.


Photo: grape Japan

So while things are smooth within the looks department, how did they taste? Smooth is certainly not the word for it, but perhaps that is exactly what these “old time” canned chuhai are going for. Takara’s chuhai’s definitely appear to be aimed toward older drinkers, or at the very least those preferring their booze with minimal masking flavors. For that reason, the flavors of umeboshi, lemon, and even ramune are available more as a subtle after flavor following a decisively sharp shochu kick. Even the Ramune flavor, while definitely present, took a backseat to the bite of the shochu–as it’s possible you’ll give you the chance to inform by the colour.


Photo: grape Japan


Photo: grape Japan

Available in each 350ml and 500ml cans, and starting from 5%-7% ABV, Takara’s Shochu Highball series offers a number of the country’s coolest and unique looking cans that provide a stroll down memory lane–just be able to taste your shochu.

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