Coca-Cola had modest beginnings in 1886 with nothing but a soda fountain in Atlanta, Georgia, the soda giant explains on its website. Fast forward to today, and it's one of the most recognizable names in stores — and probably billions of homes around the world. (In fact, the name is one of the most understood words in the world, the website says, coming in second only to "okay.") Coke has evolved and branched out over the years to satisfy our many wishes and cravings, and the newest addition to their line of beverages is venturing into more adult territory: Coca-Cola's first alcoholic drink is coming to Japan, according to Jorge Garduño — the president of Coca-Cola's Japan business unit. In an interview with Coca-Cola, Garduño shared more about the motivation behind this new beverage.
According to Coca-Cola, for decades, Japan has the hub for creativity and innovation within the brand. With a generous number of options to choose from, catering heavily to convenience with vending machine purchases at every corner, and offering products that don't exist elsewhere, Japan has become a bit of a trendsetter. Interestingly, though, as Coca-Cola points out, other countries started catching on — including the U.S. That would explain why you now see people drinking kombucha and vinegar here.
It only makes sense, then, that Coca-Cola in Japan continues to think outside the box. This time, they're doing it with a type of drink known as chu-hi.
According to Garduño, chu-hi is a canned drink made with alcohol, traditionally created with shōchū (which is a type of distilled beverage), sparkling water, and extra flavoring. Alice Gordenker of The Japan Times offers up a quick history lesson: the drink came about not long after World War II, she writes. Alcohol was very limited, whiskey was for fancy people, and the average Joe was typically left with shōchū — a cheap spirit you can distill from almost anything. While sweet potatoes are often used as the base, legally, wheat, barley, brown sugar, sesame, chestnuts, milk, and buckwheat are the bases, says Gordenker. It didn't taste all that great, so people would mix it with soda water. This helps explain its name: they started calling it a shōchū highball, which was later shortened to chuhai. Later variations were made with tea, flavored syrups, or fruit juice. In 1983, it hit store shelves.
While Chu-Hi already sounds like it'll be a hit, Garduño cautions us not to expect to see it all around the world.
"While many markets are becoming more like Japan, I think the culture here is still very unique and special, so many products that are born here will stay here," he says. Added Coke spokesperson Yohko Okabe in a conversation with CNN, this drink is a "highly Japan-specific approach given the complexity and richness." Way to dash my dreams, people. While the odds of seeing their chu-hi in grocery stores in America are slim to none, CEO of Coca-Cola James Quincey told CNN last month, "Never say never," in regard to bringing this type of drink to the U.S. There's hope! Hopefully coke will at least stay openminded to the idea, considering the people of the world are drinking 19,400 Coca-Cola beverages every second, according to their website.
Coca-Cola didn't say much else about the drink, like when specifically it'll be released this year. If you're in the neighborhood of Japan at some point in 2018, though, stop by a local convenience store and see if it's made it to the shelves yet.