12 Japanese Drinks for an Unforgettable Journey

What to Drink in Japan: Shuu, Avamori and Other Alcoholic Traditions We Don’t Understand

Asians, and Japanese in particular, seem to Europeans like people from another planet. They all look alike. They have absolutely unique local customs and traditions, including the culture of alcohol consumption. Although they don’t refuse European drinks either.

To write this article I was motivated by watching at the weekend Oscar-winning film “Memoirs of a Geisha. It’s very atmospheric.

Traditional Japanese alcoholic beverages

The first association with the words “Japan” and “alcohol” is, of course, sake. In Japan, however, what the entire world calls “sake” (rice wine or vodka – even the experts have difficulty pinpointing it) is called “nihonshu”. It contains 10-20% alcohol, depending on its type:

  • Junmai. The purest pure rice-only sake.
  • Honjozo. Yeast is added to the liquor.
  • Ji-Zake. “Craft drinks from very small companies.
  • Nigori-zake. Milky white sake with an unusual sour and creamy flavor.

Outside of Japan, the most “mainstream” brands are available:

  • “Sawanotsuru”;
  • “Hakutsuru”;
  • “Nishinomi Shujo;
  • “Nihon Sahari;
  • “Gekkeikan”;
  • “Takara Shuzo.”

Now sake in Japan is more a tribute to tradition than a popular alcoholic beverage.

Much less known to the European consumer:

  1. Shoyu. Roughly speaking, moonshine made from “wild” raw materials (potatoes, buckwheat, barley, rice, carrots, chestnuts, yams, sesame seeds) with an alcoholic strength of 25-40%. Strangely nutty and earthy taste – a consequence of distillation of broth, then diluted with water. The number of distillations is determined by the manufacturer. The name roughly translates as “burnt liquid.
  2. Awamori. Alcohol from the island of Okinawa strength of 30-43% (sometimes up to 60%). It is the product of distilling long-grain rice specially imported from Thailand. The name “filled with foam” roughly reflects the essence of the process.

It is almost impossible to buy shochu and avamori outside of Japan.

Hard liquor

It seems strange, but Japan has an excellent whiskey industry. The Americans, who essentially controlled the country after World War II, played a major role in popularizing the drink. The Japanese simply adapted its name to their own language – “wuisuki.

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The quality is more than good, with Japanese brands even winning awards at international exhibitions. A bottle of Yamazaki Suntory, Shirasu, The Hakushu or Hibiki is a great souvenir and a work of art.

Japanese whiskey has received acclaim from foreign experts.

Low alcohol

The most popular low-alcohol drink is beer (4-5,5%). Here the Japanese are in solidarity with the rest of the world. Famous brands:

  • “Asahi” (the most “mass-produced”);
  • “Suntory (“premium,” rich in flavor);
  • “Sapporo (unusual bitterness);
  • “Kirin (typical lager);

Important: in Japan, only beers with a malt content of 67% or more are called beer. If it is less, the alcohol is called “second beer” (“happoshu”), and when there is none at all, it is called “third beer.

“Asahi is a mass-produced Japanese brand that produces not only beer but also non-alcoholic beverages.

Ladies in Japan prefer shu-hai, a light fruity alcohol (5-8%). The flavor palette is very broad, the most popular being any citrus, pear, peach, and pineapple.

Traditional Japanese wine is plum (ume-shu). The taste is very mild and pleasant. Alcohol is almost not felt, the drink is more like a juice. It is aromatic and sweet, but not sugary. Apricot, raspberry, and blackcurrant wines are also popular. The best brands are Takara Shujo, Gakeikan, Toya, and Fu Ki.

Important! The gift of a bottle of fruit wine in Japan is a wish for health and longevity.

The Portuguese Franciscan monks introduced grape wine to Japan. The climate there is, to put it mildly, unsuitable for grapes, but in more than four centuries there have been several worthy brands whose production is exported abroad:

  • L’Orient Sakura No Wine Shirayuri
  • Choya Silver
  • Magrez-Aruga.

What the Japanese prefer to drink

The Japanese traditionally prefer beer as a low-alcohol beverage. The country ranks fourth in the world in its consumption.

Wines imported from the United States, Australia, Italy and France-red, white, pink and sparkling wines-are popular with young people and ladies. Japanese are very likely to choose whisky, gin or even vodka among strong drinks, but dilute them with water (from 1:4 to 1:10).

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In bars the Japanese often solve business and other important issues.

For the constantly disciplined and rule-driven Japanese, alcohol is a way to relax and diffuse the situation. At the same time they pay great attention to the culture of drinking, buying expensive glasses, drinks of prestigious brands and visiting trendy bars. They drink both traditionally Japanese and European drinks.

Excessive consumption of alcohol is detrimental to your health. Take care of yourself!

Have you ever been to Japan? Have you ever had a drink with the Japanese? What are your impressions of the liquor itself and the “drinking companions”?

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