Stopping by a 7-Eleven and grabbing a Strong Zero is, and will always be, one of the all-time greatest Japanese experiences. It’s the availability, the fact that Japanese 7-Eleven’s are so nice in the first place, and the fact that Strong Zero’s signature lemon/vodka/shochu has always been a killer drink.
But what’s always made Strong Zero’s lemon offering is a couple of things: it’s relatively cheap, the drink itself is fairly light thanks to its traditional shochu base, and there’s enough lemon to make it refreshing. Strong Zero has never been a weak drink either, so it’s no surprise that grabbing a Strong Zero for a stroll was a popular choice for a lot of Australians when touring Japan.
Aussies have turned to lots of treats, foods and snacks to remind them of the pre-COVID times. And Suntory’s timing with the 196 Double Lemon honestly couldn’t be better. The vodka/shochu/soda drink officially launched in Australia last month, and from August it should be available from all major and independent retailers. For now, the best deal available is through Liquorland where you can get a 4-pack for $20 and a 10-pack for $43.
There is a small change from the original Strong Zero formula. Strong Zero’s original cans weigh in at 9% ABV, while the rebranded -196 Double Lemon drinks here are 6% ABV. That works out to be about 1.6 standard drinks per can, which is plenty. The shochu/vodka mix is extremely light, and the appeal of drinking Double Lemon is for that refreshing lemon/soda combo, with a bit of sharpness from the alcohol. Making it too alcoholic would remove the refreshing aftertaste, and it’d also increase the calories substantially.
196 Double Lemon is only 510Kj/122 calories a can; it’s nicer and punchier than than your average vodka/soda too. That makes it a good option for people who want to grab something while they wind down from, well, everything that’s going on in the world right now. And it’s an extra bonus that the 4 and 10-packs are so well priced in Australia, which I didn’t expect.
While the traditional experience is to enjoy Strong Zero walking out of the 7-Eleven, the Australian version is probably best served on ice. Our version is slightly sourer than what I remember from my trips to Japan, but only just. It’s obviously a good pairing if you’re frying or grilling any skewers or recreating an izakaya-type experience at home. A good Aussie take, however, is to get some takeout fish and chips — calamari and muscles if they’ve got them — and have a big glass of Double Lemon over ice with that.
Obviously, it won’t recreate the experience of actually being in Japan. But Australians won’t get to enjoy that for at least a year, maybe more depending on everyone’s individual situation. And while I’m not suggesting Strong Zero’s Double Lemon is the nostalgia you need to cast the last 18 months aside, pairing a 4-pack with a solid JRPG, delivered katsudon and okonomiyaki is at least one recipe for a decent night in.