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If you are planning a trip to Japan or already live here, one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the culture is to try the different drinks Japan has to offer. Japan has a very fun and lively drinking culture embedded in many activities and traditions. There is always a drink to accompany a good time! From traditional rice wine to trendy highballs, there’s a drink for every taste and strength. In this guide, we’ll take a closer look at ten must-have Japanese drinks and tell you what to expect. You will be able to find all these drinks in a standard Izakaya! After reading this, you’ll know exactly what to order and why it’s so good!
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1. Nihonshu (fine)
Nihonshu, commonly known to the world as sake, is a fermented rice wine that has been a staple of Japanese culture for centuries. Why isn’t it called ‘Sake’ in Japanese? Well, it is, but “Sake” (usually O-Sake) is actually the generic term for alcohol in general. If you want the iconic ‘Sake’, be sure to ask for nihonshu to make sure there are no mistakes! There are many different styles of nihonshu, ranging from reishu (cold) to atsukan (hot) to nigori (unfiltered), which has a creamy texture and mostly opaque, bright white color. Atsukan is a great way to enjoy nihonshu in the winter, and there are types of nihonshu specifically designed to be enjoyed this way, just like reishu. One popular style is called genshu, which is undiluted and has a higher alcohol content. If you don’t know where to start, try a flight of nihonshu to discover your favorite style, there are many different flavors. Be sure to check out our articles that go into more detail!
Beer is a universal drink that is enjoyed all over the world, and Japan is no exception. The country is home to many excellent breweries, such as Sapporo, Kirin, and Asahi. Craft beer is definitely a thing here too and it’s definitely growing. There are some great festivals, like the Shiga Kogen Snow Monkey Beer Festival, where you can sample a wide variety of beers. If you’re feeling adventurous, there are plenty of microbreweries in Tokyo, Osaka, or Kyoto offering all kinds of craft beers. One chain that offers pints in a wide variety and at great prices is called iBrew. They also offer a wonderful selection of dishes that pair perfectly with the beers.
Shochu is a distilled liquor made from various ingredients such as rice, barley, and sweet potatoes. Tastes are very different depending on the ingredient, and our recommendation is mugi (barley) because it has a very balanced flavor! But be sure to try them all, they are all tasty and different. It’s typically around 25% alcohol, making it a good middle ground between wine-level hard drinks and hard liquor. This makes it tolerable to sip on the rocks, but it also makes a great base for a cocktail. Some popular shochu-based cocktails include chuhai, which is like an alcoholic soft drink (which comes in a variety of flavors), and oolong hai, among other types of tea.
4. Lemon sour
Speaking of chuhai, sour lemon is arguably the most popular in the category – you can find it anywhere! This Japanese cocktail is made with shochu, lemon juice, and sparkling water. It is a perfect refreshing drink for a hot summer day. It’s a bit reminiscent of sprite, for all you soda lovers out there. Although, as the name suggests, it’s quite sour compared to sodas like sprite! Either way, the refreshing citrus flavor is up to the task. Many izakaya offer different variations of sour lemon, such as sour grapefruit, sour yuzu, and even sour green tea. There are some very creative flavors, so make sure to keep your eyes peeled! And it’s worth noting that this is a common, if not standard option on Nomihodai menus!
5. Japanese whiskey
Japanese whiskey has grown in popularity around the world in recent years, and for good reason. It is known for its smooth and subtle flavor that can be enjoyed neat or on the rocks. Some of the most famous Japanese whiskey brands include Yamazaki, Hibiki, and Nikka. In fact, Yamazaki has already won the award for the best whiskey in the world, it is truly remarkable. If you love whiskey, you’ll love Japan’s skill.
A favorite among the ladies, umeshu is a sweet plum wine made by steeping green plums in shochu or sake. It has a fruity flavor and is often enjoyed as an after-dinner drink. This drink, similar to shochu, can be enjoyed on rocks or mixed with water or soda. Even though it is a drink commonly enjoyed by women, anyone who loves tasty drinks should give it a try. If you’re not a fan of sweetness, try a less sweet version called Karinshu, which is made with Chinese quince instead of plums.
7. High ball
Another great option for whiskey lovers, the highball is a trendy drink that has grown in popularity in Japan in recent years. It is made with whiskey and sparkling water and is often served in a tall glass filled with ice. Many Izakaya offer different variations of highball, such as ginger highball (a personal favorite) and grapefruit highball. Fun fact, the name actually comes from the United States; Highballs were a popular drink there in the 1950’s and were imported to Japan!
Japanese wine is a hidden gem that is not well known outside of Japan. The country produces many different types of wine, ranging from red to white to sparkling. Some of the most famous Japanese wineries include Chateau Mercian, Grace Wine, and Katsunuma Jyozo. The “delicacy” of Japanese wine is the distinguishing feature, making it well suited to accompany a variety of Japanese dishes.
Ochawari is a popular Japanese cocktail made with green tea and shochu. It is a perfect refreshing drink for green tea lovers. We said that shochu was versatile, right? Well, oddly enough in terms of a cocktail, it’s surprisingly flavorful and subtle. It’s like Long Island Iced Tea’s fancy cousin who loves Japanese culture!
10. Japanese gin
Last but not least, Japan has begun to replicate its success in the whiskey world with Gin. In recent years, craft gin has made its presence in Japan; Gin’s inherent versatility lends itself perfectly to Japan’s capacity for innovation and refinement. If you are a fan of high quality spirits, then you will regret missing out on Japanese gin!
If you are visiting Tokyo on your next trip to Japan, nightlife is definitely something to have on your list. Explore the city’s endless consumer hubs on a guided tour to discover Tokyo’s local neighborhoods with an English-speaking guide who knows the city inside out.
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