What’s like a beer but not actually a beer? Sounds like a riddle, but it does exist, and it’s called Hoppy: a malt and hops beverage that’s so low in alcohol it goes untaxed in its native Japan. Clocking in at .8 percent ABV, Hoppy has landed on U.S. shores at the Lower East Side’s Azasu (49 Clinton Street), where it’s spiked with frozen shochu to make a cold and refreshing summer beverage.
The addition of shochu harkens back to Hoppy’s birth after World War II, when it was created as a low-cost beverage for the working class. Since the drink came in with less than 1 percent alcohol content, people added shots of much stronger shochu to get the desired buzz. Hoppy fell out of fashion in recent decades, but is enjoying a resurgence of popularity among Tokyo hipsters.
When he decided to import Hoppy, Azasu owner Gaku Shibata, a native of Tokyo, wanted to introduce something new and unique to New Yorkers. Hoppy is “not for the craft beer fan,” he notes, since it’s lighter than even the thinnest American adjunct lagers. But it is refreshing — like malty water– and goes great with many of the izakaya-style foods Azasu serves, including juicy, crackling crisp fried chicken and Tokyo-style gyoza — half-pork, half-cabbage, stuffed in paper-thin homemade wrappers.
Hoppy’s owner made Shibata promise to serve the drink according to three specifications.
First, the bottles of Hoppy must be well refrigerated.
Second, the glass must be ice cold. Azasu accomplishes this with a powerful instant-chilling nozzle.
Finally, the shochu should be frozen — hence the slurpee-style machines spinning lazily behind the bar. The overall effect leaves little ice chunks in the drink and, as the glass warms in the open air, a growing puddle of water.
As Shibata noted, Hoppy will not set the hearts of beer nerds a-flutter. But it is undeniably refreshing on a sweltering summer day, and very easy to gulp down with greasy fried foods.
Of the three varieties on offer, the most interesting is Hoppy Black, which imparts robust roasted malt flavors. Traditional Hoppy is extremely light bodied, while Premium tends to work best with the shot of shochu.
Right now, Hoppy can only be found stateside at Azasu, which will host events surrounding the drink in August.