Below is some information about the different types of alcohol commonly found in Japan. Please note that some ‘beauty’ drinks, usually found in izakayas, contain collagen and are therefore not vegan. Look for コラーゲン (korāgen).
As well as regular beer, there is also ‘happoshu’ (low malt beer) and ‘third beer’ (no malt beer made from wheat, soy or other ingredients) in Japan.
According to Barnivore the following Japanese beer is vegan: Kirin, Asahi, Sapporo and Baird Beer (craft beer). Almost all the Kiuchi Hitachino Nest beer is vegan too (the Sweet Stout contains lactose). Unfortunately there is no listing on Barnivore for Suntory.
Per an article in LiveKindly in November 2018, Kirin Holdings Co., Ltd., the second-largest alcoholic-beverage manufacturer in Japan, has agreed to join Asahi Group Holdings, Ltd., Suntory Holdings, Ltd., and Sapporo Holdings Ltd. to stop animal testing that is not required by law.
Kyoto Brewing Company stated that they don’t use any animal products such as isinglass to filter their beer. The only clarifying agent they use is called Koppakleer, which is derived from carrageenan, a seaweed.
As most vegans are aware, some wines are not vegan as animal products (such as egg whites, gelatine and isinglass) are used in the manufacturing process. We contacted the following Japanese wineries to ask whether their wines are vegan:
– Chateau Mercian
– Grace Wine
– Hakodate Winery
– Haramo Wine
– Katsunuma Winery Co
– Kurambon Wine
– L’Orient Wine
– Lumiere wine
– Manns Wines (Kikkoman)
– Rubaiyat wine
– Soryu wine
– Tomi No Oka Winery
– Yamato Wine
Unfortunately we only received a response from Kikkoman, informing us that they are unable to provide any information about whether Manns Wines are vegan.
So if you’re looking for wine, it may be better to search Barnivore for information on imported wine.
Like wine and beer, sake may or may not be vegan depending on the manufacturing process.
Sake is only made from a few simple ingredients: rice, water, yeast, and Koji mold (Aspergillus oryzae – this mold is also used to make miso and soy sauce). However, as with some other types of alcohol, the issue is whether it is filtered or fined using animal products. Below is what John Gauntner (the world’s leading non-Japanese sake expert) has to say on the issue of vegan sake:
““Q30. Vegetarian Sake. As a sake lover and a new vegan, I need to find sakes that do not use any animal product in their brewing and refining. Can you give me any information on how to double check a sake as “vegan-friendly?” Most sake does not use gelatine finings, although we cannot determine what does and what does not, and there is no way to know from the label. Powdered active charcoal is used for fining of most Japanese sake. This is made from (as far as we know) wood and plants, but we cannot be sure about all stuff at all places. Sake called “muroka” is unfiltered and unfined so that would be a safe bet.” – see the FAQ section of his website.
So in short, look for unfiltered and unfined sake if you want to be sure it is vegan.
The Sake Brewery Nanbu Bijin in Ninohe, Iwate, which exports to 38 countries and regions around the world, obtained the world’s first vegan sake certificate on January 25th, 2019 from Vege Project Japan. Read more about their products and awards here.
Shōchū (and Awamori)
There are at least two major differences between sake and shōchū. First, sake is only made from rice, whereas shōchū can be made from a number of different ingredients, including rice, sweet potatoes, wheat, buckwheat, sugar and corn. Second, sake is fermented (like beer) whereas shōchū is distilled (like whisky, vodka, gin and other liquors).
Awamori is the Okinawan version of shōchū. Shōchū and soda (often fruit flavoured) is sold in cans as ‘chūhai’ and as a ‘sour’ in restaurants/bars. Chūhai is a shortening of ‘shōchū highball’. Umeshu is a liquor made by steeping unripe plums and sugar in shōchū. Similarly, yuzushu and momoshu are made with yuzu fruit or peaches and either shōchū or sake.
Like other liquors, shōchū is likely to be vegan, although this will ultimately depend on the manufacturer (and whether the shōchū is flavoured with animal products like honey). Unfortunately it is difficult to find information about whether particular brands of Japanese shōchū are vegan. There are a couple of shōchū manufacturers listed on Barnivore, but they are in America and Canada. We contacted Choya Umeshu Co Ltd and asked whether their products are vegan, but we did not receive a reply.