Japan's Traditional Hard Seltzer: Chu Hi

by Krystina Quintana

One mention of Chu hi in Japan, and you'll get a few different answers on what the drink consists of. This mysterious drink is very popular in the country, with most grocery stores carrying chu hi in a can. It's also often found at restaurants, where you can customize the flavor of this alcoholic beverage. 

So, what is so mysterious about this mixed drink, and why is it such a unique drink? Continue reading to learn more about this delicious Japanese drink.

What Is Chu-hi?

Chu hi goes by many spellings, including chuhai, chuhi, and chu-hi. Japanese chu hi is a mixed drink highly customizable to the consumers' tastes. It has quite a long history, with its first appearance in Japan after WWII. After the war, there was an alcohol shortage, so people began producing shochu (highball). This cheaper alcohol was readily available for everyone who couldn't afford to consume whiskey.

It was originally made from any item you could distill in your kitchen, from sweet potatoes to brown sugar, buckwheat, etc. During this time, shochu did not have a favorable taste, leading to people mixing it with soda water, making it easier to drink. This drink was known as shochu highball, which was shortened to chuhai. Each person adopted the mixed drink and made it their own by adding juices, syrups, or teas.

Chu hai has come to be known as a three-ingredient drink that consists of shochu, fruit juice, and sparkling water. Luckily, shochu is much higher-quality alcohol now.

Chuhai Alcohol Content

Here’s where the mysterious part of chu hai comes in – the alcohol content. Chu hi alcohol content changes from flavor to flavor – in the grocery store and at bars/restaurants. The alcohol content of this drink even varies within the same brand depending on the flavor. You may see some cans announcing a 3% alcohol content (noted as 3% ALC) and some that go up to 9% ABV.

There are a few reasons the alcohol content varies, one being the flavor combinations. Certain fruity flavors, like citrus, pair well with alcohol and can stand up against higher alcohol content.

Other flavors, like grape, apple, and peach, taste better with lower alcohol content. These fruit flavors are considered to be more popular with women in Japan, who typically want a beverage that has less alcohol.

There are two types of chu hi – a standard type with around a 5% alcohol content and a high-alcohol version with between 7% and 9% alcohol content. 

Chuhai Flavors

There are many different chu hi flavors, which change with the alcohol content. As mentioned, citrus is generally connected with a higher alcohol content, while lighter-tasting fruit usually is mixed with lower-alcohol options.

If you typically enjoy strong drinks, you'll like the higher-alcohol variety of this beverage. Otherwise, start with a lower alcohol content variety first, as you're more likely to enjoy the flavor.

Many different brands are available for purchase, such as Suntory Chu-hi. These brands offer options for chu-hi strong, sour, and sweet flavors. As a note, Japanese strong drinks typically have a high alcohol content. Sour chu hi options include more bitter flavors, like lemon and sweet flavors are typically fruit-based.

Where To Buy Chu-hi

As mentioned, chu hi is available at grocery stores, most street corners in Japan, and restaurants/bars. Chu hi is a very affordable drink, with most options ranging between 99 yen to 138 yen per can (about $1). The affordability of chu hi is one of the many benefits of this drink. As a note, chu hi is cheaper at the stores as it usually includes vodka instead of shochu (to help keep the cost down). 

Want a non-alcoholic alternative to chu hi? Try Sangaria Ramune Soda: Original. You'll get the flavor of sangria in a deliciously sweet, bubbly alcohol-free drink. Bokksu has additional Japanese drinks, ranging from teas to coffee and more. You can also order savory and sweet snacks to pair with any new Japanese drinks you try!