Innovation is critical to all industries and the brewing industry is no exception. The customer is always looking for something new in the marketplace. A new taste, new technology or convenience, or quality enhancement. Some of the more recent innovations in the industry are described in the following text.
The tax structures in countries are often the drivers behind innovation and new beer styles. This can be clearly seen in the “malternative” beverage section in North America and in the “happoshu” market in Japan
Happoshu, which means “sparkling liquor,” is a beer-like low-malt alcoholic beverage that is extremely popular with consumers in Japan because of its lower price relative to regular beer. This price difference arose due to a loophole in the tax law. In Japan, the Liquor Tax Law defines beer to be an alcoholic beverage with 66.7% malt content and Japanese beer was traditionally taxed on malt content. Happoshu contains less than 25% malt, giving it an alcohol tax less than the amount imposed on standard beer. Happoshu, at a lower price than beer, and marketed as a sparking malt beverage, was launched in October 1994 by Suntory Breweries. Happoshu cost two-thirds of the price of regular beers and was a surprise hit. Sales rose quickly, and each of Japan’s leading breweries quickly launched their own brands. By 2003, the Japanese beer market was segmented into 61% beer and 39% happoshu. In May 2003, there was a tax increase on happoshu, which reduced sales, but happoshu still commands a significant portion of the market and offers a beer-like beverage at a competitive price. Happoshu is a beer made with less than 25% malt and as much as 75% corn or rice adjunct. Although the alcohol content is not lower than regular beer, it has tax and production advantages due to the low malt content. In 1994, brewing regulations in Japan were changed and the minimum annual volume of output required for a beer-brewing license was lowered from 2000 to 60 kl. For happoshu, the requirement was set at 6 kl. This easing of the regulations made it easier for smaller breweries to start producing low volume, hand-crafted products. This category also allowed for the production of brews made with ingredients not approved for use in beer. Hence, the Japanese craft brewers have had an opportunity to experiment with unusual ingredients including vegetables and fruits. In the ever-changing market, today happoshu is competing against lower-priced beverages such as “chuhai” a drink based on Japanese shochu liquor and soda water.
Malternatives in North America and Flavored Alcoholic Beverages in Europe The market for flavored alcoholic beverages (FABs) in the United Kingdom has been in existence for over a decade and is now mature. It is another example of beverage producers responding in creative if unanticipated, ways to government regulation. This market is now dominated by large spirit companies such as Diageo and Bacardi — Martini. A major increase in excise duty in the United Kingdom in 2002 slowed growth, but there is still a rapid introduction of new products into this market. Six brands now account for three-quarters of the volume. In North America, there is also a preponderance of these specialty malt beverages. One of the first was ZIMA Clear. It was introduced in 1992 by Coors and was available nationally in the USA by 1994. It was marketed as a refreshing, lightly carbonated alcohol beverage, an alternative to traditional beer. It distanced itself from beer in terms of appearance, flavor, and marketing. This was in contrast to the “clear beer” that Miller tested in the same time period. The next wave in this category involved variations on hard lemonade, with products such as Hooper’s Hooch during the mid-1990s followed by Mike’s Hard Lemonade and numerous similar products. These products were characterized by their sweet taste. In European countries with different tax arrangements, the malternative niche is occupied by the so-called “alcopops.” These are diluted, flavored spirit-based drinks — with no pretensions to beer