Japan-based companies Asahi (the brewer) and Kagome (the fruit and veg juicer) have teamed up to present us with a new and unique product: a range of fruit and vegetable sake cocktails. No longer will you have to choose between getting drunk cheaply or drinking a healthy vegetable juice mix, you can now do both at the same time. It sounds like a strange concept, and it is- the marketing ploy behind it must take its inspiration from the recent upswing in the number and variety of vegetable juice drinks available on convenience store shelves- but I have to wonder, who is thinking about their health when they want to get drunk? I would imagine none of us. But perhaps that is about to change…
The new range comes in three flavors, still tomato (Tomate), sparkling grapefruit plus assorted fruit and veg (Vegesh), and still orange plus assorted fruit and veg (Vegete). They are all chu-hi drinks, chu-hi after the full cocktail name sho-chu high-ball, a very popular kind of fizzy cocktail found in convenience store fridges above the beer and alongside alcopop-style drinks like Two Dogs lemonade. They’re typically made with sho-chu, a strong Japanese liquor (25%) distilled from barley, rice or sweet potato, and combined with a wide variety of fruit juices, ranging from the standard lemon, through lime, grapefruit, apple, orange, pineapple, grape, kiwi, ume (plum), yuzu (type of mandarin), peach, acerola, and now vegetables too.
Chu-hi’s are typically a refreshing summer drink, so I waited for a suitably hot and muggy summer’s day to sample them. I didn’t have to wait long.
JUICE FILE- Tomate
I began with the Tomate, perhaps because it is the only one of the three with a forbear- the Bloody Mary, though normally that drink is made with Vodka. It comes in a Steel can, as opposed to the regular Aluminum- giving it a bit more weight in my hand, which felt good; I could easily imagine all the tomato-ey goodness inside. It decanted smoothly and with a good fresh tomato smell, which will be down to Kagome, whose chief speciality is tomato-based juice drinks. The juice was opaque and appealingly red. I sampled it, and couldn’t detect a hint of the sake, only regular tomato juice.Â I’m no connoisseur, but it went down easy, I’ll say that.
- Tomato content– 45%
- Lemon– 5%
- Alcohol– 5%
- Taste– Tomato!
- Price– Â¥210
- Alternate name– Bloody Mary!
Score– 7/10, if only because I’m no tomato juice fan.
JUICE FILE- Vegesh
Secondly I went with the Vegesh, which head-lines its can image with a grapefruit, promises carbonation, and looks much more like a regular chu-hi with its bright colors. ItÂ came in Aluminium, so it was lighter and a little less sturdy. It decanted fizzy and slightly translucent, with a slightly sour veg and grapefruit odor. The color is an unnatural orange, but that’s appealing and quite natural for a chu-hi. I tried it, and found not only could I not taste the sake, I couldn’t even taste the vegetables either, as the grapefruit was completely overpowering them. A good thing too, as I can’t see vegetable drinks that actually TASTE like vegetables ever really kicking off in the cocktail market.
- Vegetable content– 21 different types, at 20%, including asparagus, green pepper, cabbage, brocolli, and etc…
- Fruit– 5 different types at 20%, including pineapple, banana, grapefruit, and lemon.
- Alcohol– 4%
- Taste-Grapefruit, a little thick, but quite acceptable.
- Price– Â¥210
- Alternate name-Â V-hi GF (for Vegetable-hi Grapefruit, makes it seem a little sexier, in line with a chu-hi, while stil obviously being a veg juice drink)
Score– 8/10, tastes almost like a regular grapefruit chu-hi, just a bit thicker.
JUICE FILE- Vegete
Finally I went for the Vegete, which seems to have basically the same content as the Vegesh but for an orange taking center-stage, and the same unexciting (healthy?) outer packaging as the Tomate, in another Steel can, without carbonization. It decants thick and dark orange with the same heavy veg air as the Vegesh, with orange riding over the top. As with the Vegesh, I was happy to taste only the orange, not the sake or vegetables underneath it.
- Vegetable content– Same as Vegesh
- Fruit– 5 different types at 20%, including orange, lemon, mandarin, and apple.
- Alcohol– 4%
- Taste-Orange, a little thick, but pretty good really.
- Price– Â¥210
- Alternate name– V-hi O.
Score– 8/10, tastes almost like a regular orange chu-hi, just a bit thicker.
So what’s the verdict, will these things take off? Will work-rattled salarimen on the last train home grab one of these instead of a trusty beer? Will picnic-going youths on their way to Yoyogi park stock up on these instead of the much cheaper (Â¥120-160) regular chu-hi’s? Will anxious young men on their way to Gokon (group blind dates) pick up one of these for a bit of Dutch (plus veg) courage?
I don’t know. I can’t quite fathom who the target market for these things is. But, they’re surely healthier than straight chu-hi or beer, with similar calorie and energy counts per 100g (around 50-60kcal), plus all the vitamins and minerals of good honest fruit and veg. Why shouldn’t they have some success out there in the crazy product test-bed of Japan’s convenis? No reason! Best of luck to them, I say, (though you won’t catch me drinking them again myself!)
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