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Strong Zero: Japan’s Infamous Blackout Drink

If you’ve ever been to Japan, you’ll probably have seen the Japanese drink, Strong Zero, in convenience stores or supermarkets. You may have even been persuaded to try one. If you haven’t tried one, or if you don’t know what I’m talking about, you’re missing out! 

A Strong Zero is a chūhai, which is shōchū—a traditional Japanese liquor made from potatoes, barley, or grains—mixed with carbonated water and different flavors. They are pleasant and easy to drink. They come in various fruit flavors like lemon, lime, grapefruit, and more, and you don’t taste the alcohol as much. You could go on drinking it without realizing it’s alcoholic.

strong zero
A seemingly innocent can of Chuhai…

Strong Zeroes are named as such for its “strong” alcohol content of 9% and “zero” in that it has “zero” sugar in it. Though 9% might not sound like a lot, a single can is roughly equivalent to two beers. On top of that, it’s carbonated, and the carbonation helps transfer alcohol into your bloodstream faster; you’ll feel the alcohol kick in quicker. This is a mixed drink carefully designed to mess you up. Some have likened it to the American Four Loko. 

It is the go-to pregame drink for both locals and foreigners before heading to a club or before starting a wild night, as just a can or two (priced at around USD$1.80 for a 500ml can, and USD$1.40 for a 350ml can) will get you a proper buzz before your night even really begins. 

Strong Zeroes are also easily accessible, found in all convenience stores and supermarkets. Here’s a list of some Strong Zeroes so you’ll know what to look for when you get here. 

If you are interested in checking out other Japanese alcoholic beverages, you can have a look at our blogs on Japanese alcohol and Japanese beer!

Suntory’s -196°C Strong Zero

strong zero
An endless supply of good times.

When a person mentions Strong Zeroes, this is the one that comes to everyone’s minds. It’s the most widely available Strong Zero in Tokyo. They usually come in fruit flavors, from their classic lemon and lime to the more unique pickled plum and bitter yuzu. Though it has an alcohol content of 9%, you can barely taste the alcohol. Instead, it’s a light and refreshing drink that’ll still give you the kick many drinkers want. 

If you’re looking to get really drunk, chug this Japanese drink. It’ll hit you hard in a couple of minutes. 

Kirin’s Hyoketsu Strong

strong zero

If Suntory’s -196°C Strong Zero is the Coca-Cola of these drinks, then Kirin’s Hyoketsu Strong is Pepsi, at least in terms of popularity. The Hyoketsu Strong is in no way inferior to Suntory’s -196°C Strong Zero—they even taste pretty similar, both fruit-flavored with a 9% ABV. Suntory simply got a headstart on Kirin, having released their first Strong Zero in 2009, whereas Kirin only got into the Strong Zero game in 2013. In those four years, Suntory had made its -196°C Strong Zero the Strong Zero and the ultimate chūhai. But just because something’s more popular doesn’t mean you’ll like it better, so try them both and see which team you want to be on! 

Note that as it lacks the “zero” of “Strong Zero” in its name, there is a small amount of sugar in Hyoketsu Strongs. 

Takara Shuzo’s CHU-HI

strong zero
500 ml or bust!

Unlike Suntory and Kirin, which are both large and famous alcohol companies, Takara Shuzo is a smaller, lesser-known alcohol company that also does business in seasonings and biotechs. They sell Japanese rice wine, Japanese plum wine, Chinese alcohol, and, of course, Strong Zeroes. 

Their Strong Zero is named “can CHU-HI Dry” which has an ABV of 9%. But, it may be harder to find in convenience stores than its counterpart, the “can CHU-HI,” which is in a silver can as opposed to the can CHU-HI Dry’s black can. The can CHU-HI is classified as a Strong rather than a Strong Zero as it has sugar in it, but its alcohol by volume (ABV) is still a high 8%. If you want something sweeter, go for this one. 

Their names are similar, so you might get them mixed up in convenience stores, so here’s a simple breakdown: 

CHU-HI Dry: Black can, 9% ABV, no sugar.CHU-HI: Silver can, 8% ABV, sugar.

Asahi Clear Cooler

Asahi Clear

This Japanese drink is neither a Strong Zero nor a Strong. However, its higher-than-average ABV of 6% makes it a good backup for a stronger-than-usual drink if Strong Zeroes aren’t to your liking, so we’ve decided to include it in this list. 

Like the other mixed drinks in this list, the Asahi Clear Cooler comes in fruit flavors such as lemon, lime, grapefruit, pineapple and more. The most popular Asahi Clear Cooler is the grapefruit-flavored one that tastes similar to Fresca, a grapefruit-flavored soda but much tangier. 

Of all the drinks in this list, it’s the most affordable at USD $1 for a 350ml can, and USD $1.30 for a 500ml can. 

While you’re in Tokyo, you may want to have some wild, drunken nights out, and Strong Zeroes will definitely help you do just that. But, if you haven’t had any of these drinks before, take it easy and try them out slowly first. They affect everyone in different ways and you want to make sure these drinks agree with you before you chug one down. If you like them, try more flavors while you’re still in Tokyo! There may even be special seasonal ones, depending on the time you visit. 

This article was originally posted by our friends at FLIP Guide. Learn more about their amazing guided tours at their website.

Written by Belle Sim



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