Which alcoholic beverages contain lemon?

Everything about Japan's alcohol

Believe it or not, drinking is a very important part of Japanese culture. Be it sake made in a generation old brewery, an award-winning whiskey that is increasingly difficult to buy, or a quick drink from a convenience store; Japan is home to a liquid hodgepodge of local alcoholic delicacies. If you want to know more about it, we will help you!

A (very) brief history of Japanese alcohol

Japanese food culture has earned a well-deserved reputation worldwide (Tōkyō has the most Michelin stars of any city in the world) and the nation's alcoholic beverages - collectively as sake (酒) - have recently attracted more and more international attention. Local whiskeys join the traditional nihonshu (日本 酒) and shochu (焼 酎), Japanese beer from major breweries and craft microbreweries, popular spirits and soda mixes only available in Japan, seasonal fruit liquors, and even a recent surge in popularity of distilled gin!

The Japanese, like most people, have always consumed some form of alcohol. Nihonshu (which literally means "Japanese alcohol" and is used by the Japanese as a name for rice wine, which the western world knows as "sake") was a central part of ceremonies, events, celebrations and noble meals in ancient Japan. While it is difficult to say when exactly sake production began in Japan, it has a history that goes back more than a thousand years, and sake is produced in virtually every corner of the country.

Modern Japan has a reputation for being relatively buttoned-up and strict when it comes to social interactions and other aspects of everyday life, but it is fairly open to its own drinking culture. It is probably one of the most popular pastimes: pubs, bars, restaurants and izakaya are often full, Monday through Sunday, all year round (especially in large cities). Let's dive deeper and find out what all the fuss is about and what else it has to offer.

Sake ・ Nihonshu

First a quick note: What can sometimes cause confusion is the mistaken name of "sake". sake literally means "alcohol" in Japanese and accordingly can refer to any alcoholic beverage. Nihonshu however, this is the Japanese term for rice wine that most visitors to the country think of when they think of sake.

Now that that's out of the way, what exactly is nihonshu? There are three main ingredients in sake: rice, water, and a special type of mold called kōji (aspergillus oryzae) used in fermentation. Each of them plays an important role in determining the final taste profile; the water quality, the type of kōji and rice, combined with the techniques and environment used during the brewing process, all of these together create the end product. Speaking of rice, it is worth noting that the rice used in sake production is quite different from the rice that ends up on the dining table - it is inedible! The rice grains are much thicker (which is very important, and again explained in more detail later), with a nice, starchy core, essential for the fermentation process.

Over the years, Japanese rice wine has become a wonderful expression of craftsmanship. Breweries have expanded from north to south over the years, and each prefecture has its own distinctive tastes and recognized brands - Niigata, Hyōgo and Kyōto are the three most prolific prefectures in the nihonshu-Manufacture (about 30 percent of what is produced in Japan nihonshu comes from Hyōgo), together with Akita, Fukushima and Hiroshima. Many of these breweries have been run by the same families for generations (some even longer), slowly and steadily perfecting their craft. Today we all benefit from it; the extensive selection of sake across Japan is more delicious, affordable and generous than ever before.

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Nihonshu has one of the highest naturally occurring alcohol percentages by volume (many breweries add their own alcohol to spirits to increase the alcohol content), usually between 15-20 percent. Just like wine has nihonshu an exceptionally wide range of flavor profiles and tasting notes directly influenced by the ingredients used during the brewing process, as well as special brewing techniques. Do you remember the rice mentioned earlier? During production, the outer layer of each grain of rice is polished away, and one of the most common methods of categorizing nihonshu, is based on what percentage of the grain was ground! With all of that in mind, let's discuss a few vocabulary that you are likely to find in relation to the various nihonshu-Types will come across, okay?

  • Futsū (普通): literally translated "normal" means futsu-shu everyone nihonshuwhich has no special designation; it is made from rice whose grains have been ground to 30%.
  • Junmai (純 米):junmai-shu consists exclusively from rice and kōji (i.e. no alcohol was added by the brewery).
  • Honjōzō (本 醸 造):honjōzō-shu contains brewery alcohol added during the fermentation process.
  • Ginjō (吟 醸):ginjō-shu is made from 40% polished off rice grains.
  • Daiginjō (大 吟 醸):daiginjō-shu is made from 50% polished rice grains.
  • Namazake (生 酒):namasake is a non-pasteurized sake, and compared to other varieties, this must be kept in the refrigerator, otherwise the taste and aroma may change.
  • Nigorizake (濁 り 酒): Pretty popular in the west, is nigorizake an unfiltered, typically cloudy sake that may kōji and is generally sweeter than other varieties.
  • Shinshu (新 酒):shinshu is nihonshuthat is brewed, delivered and consumed in the same year of manufacture.

Traditionally, nihonshu Served cold, but in the freezing winter months many establishments offer it both hot and warm - this will atsukan (熱 燗) and nurukan (ぬ る 燗), and the heating process has the added benefit of opening up the flavors (which in turn makes some snappy variations much more palatable). Usually it is brought in ceramic, metal or glass carafes, called tokkuri (徳 利), together with small drinking cups (ochoko・ お ち ょ こ) for each person. Some restaurants pour yours nihonshu alternatively in a glass, which is then called in a wooden, square drinking vessel masu (枡) overflows. Both are great traditional ways to enjoy Japan's most traditional drink! There are also somewhat ritualized methods to nihonshu enjoy in a group (e.g. who is pouring who, the correct way to hold the bottle and glass, and other tiny details) but this is a little beyond the scope of this article.

Note that the list above is by no means exhaustive, it is just a good introduction to getting started with your nihonshu-Vocabulary (and palette) to be expanded! Uninitiated people probably would junmai daiginjō as the “best variety”, but as with wine or beer, it is best to think about which flavor profile suits the “drinker” individually, rather than trying to evaluate each type simply on the basis of its purity.

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You would have trouble finding a fully licensed facility rather than at least one variety nihonshu has in its range; you are literally spoiled for choice across Japan.

Tōkyō has some excellent tasting shops that are great options for different types of food nihonshu to taste in a single session while hopefully becoming more familiar with the intricacies of the drink - of which there is no shortage. The Meishu Center in Hamamatsucho (near Roppongi) is extremely popular with tourists and employees alike, while Imadeya Ginza, near the Ginza Six shopping center, is a higher quality tasting shop and specializes in all Japanese spirits. If you're looking for a little more than just tasting, Kurand Sake Market has several locations in the Tokyo metropolitan area that offer all-night reservations that serve over 100 different bottles for diners nihonshu can enjoy from all over the country!


Until recently it was shochu (焼 酎) hardly known outside of Japan, but meanwhile it is enjoying growing popularity both nationally and internationally, and is sometimes called the “Vodka of Japan”. Even if this is a bit misleading (you will understand why in the course of the text), it is shochu an actually distilled spirit - either distilled once or several times - which usually contains between 20 and 35 percent alcohol. The main ingredient can be one of several types of starch - rice, barley, sweet potato, raw sugar, buckwheat, or others. Depending on which starch is used during the distillation, the taste profile varies greatly, which is why shochu is usually classified according to its main ingredient. You will likely come across these categories:

  • Kome (米): Rice-shochu
  • Mugi (麦): Barleyshochu
  • Imo (芋): Sweet potato-shochu
  • Kokutō (黒 糖): Raw sugarshochu

Besides strength can shochu also made from various local citrus fruits such as sudachi (similar to a slightly bitter Japanese lime) or yuzu (a very aromatic, slightly sweet citrus fruit that is reminiscent of lemon). Certain regions in Japan are praised for their specifics shochu- Varieties: Kagoshima, for example, is nationally known for its sweet potatoshochu, Tokushima is one of the leading manufacturers of sudachi-shochu, and Okinawa has its own regional riceshochu, Awamori. Needless to say, the variety of flavors, aromas, and potency is quite astonishing, especially for a single spirit, and can for the uninitiated shochu hand it out properly!

There are different ways shochu to enjoy. The most common is to drink it neat or on ice (both self-explanatory), as well as oyuwari (お 湯 割 り), that is shochu with hot water. As with whiskey and other spirits, not only can the addition of hot water be beneficial on cold days, it is also a great way to get the more subtle notes of the shochu to highlight. How nihonshu Most restaurants are a variety of particularly popular shochu- have brands in stock and you can order it however you like to drink it.

There are special types of shochu, some less well known, but no less satisfying to the taste buds.

Habushu ("Snakebite Liqueur"), for example, Awamori is mixed with various herbs, honey and the venom of a pit viper snake. Matured in barriques shochu (as well as those made from less conventional ingredients like Japanese yam) is also becoming increasingly popular - you can often recognize it by its golden brown color. If this is a little too much for your palette, pretty much any one izakaya or the restaurant has “Sours”, which are relatively cheap shochu and soda cocktails with various fresh fruits, teas and other unique blends (such as with the Japanese soda Ramune). If you go to a hangout for gray-haired employees, you might find a "half-half" on the map, that is shochu mixed with Hoppy (a beer-like, almost alcohol-free drink - more on such drinks will follow in a moment).

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Even if shochu relatively unknown to non-Japanese people, its popularity is growing slowly but steadily. If you want to find out more about this special drink, check out “The Shochu Handbook” by Christopher Pellegrini! And, of course, try as many varieties as possible!


As mentioned earlier, beer is (without a doubt) Japan's most popular drink. This is unsurprisingly given the quality of the local brands - Sapporo, Asahi, Kirin, Yebisu, and more.

Beer was first brought to Japan by Dutch traders during the Edo period (1603-1868) who arrived at Dejima, a trading port in Nagasaki. But it was not until the late 19th century that Japan tried its hand at beer. According to the Brewers Association of Japan, the first beer was brewed on a test basis by a Japanese doctor of Dutch medicine, according to a recipe he found in a Dutch book. Japan's first real brewery, Spring Valley Brewery, was opened in Yokohama in 1870, and it was actually by an American. The first Japanese-owned brewery was founded in Osaka in 1872, followed by the Hokkaido Kaitakushi Beer Brewery in 1876 - which eventually became the beloved Sapporo brand.

In 1901 the government introduced a Beer Tax Act, which required breweries to meet certain production volume requirements in order to obtain a brewing license. This production volume eventually increased to 1,800 kiloliters, which had various effects - companies like Asahi and Kirin, which were already relatively successful anyway, were able to increase their production even further, while small businesses with potential that could not meet the minimal production requirements of the The screen disappeared. In addition, the tax system ultimately stipulated that a beer could only be categorized as such if it consisted of at least 67% malt. This led to the emergence of happōshu (発 泡酒), a cheaper, beer-like malt beverage that didn't have the required 67% malt (and which explains in part the origins of the aforementioned hoppy).

While the industry experienced its ups and downs in the turbulent Shōwa era (1926–1989), the stringent laws on production quantities were relaxed in 1994, which allowed breweries to produce a minimum of 60 kiloliters (a far cry from the previous 1,800 kiloliters or more ). Better late than never, but these laws are part of the reason why craft beer and microbreweries have been a rarity in Japan for so long.

Regardless of the size of the brew, Japanese beer is celebrated everywhere for its quality these days, and many of the bigger brands have a presence around the world. It may even be easier to tell you where to go Not can find; Breweries and beer museums that offer incredible tours with free drinks, convenience stores and supermarkets that have so many varieties they almost fall off the shelf, or restaurants that are practically guaranteed to have one or two nama Have tapped (draft) beers. There are also plenty of microbreweries serving some classic Japanese beers - although newer versions of these taverns tend more towards the world of international craft beer.

Some of the most famous Japanese craft beer breweries are Far Yeast, Baird Beer, TY Harbor, and Hitachino Nest Beer (a family business that has been brewing alcohol for eight generations). Craft beer taprooms are popping up everywhere in Tōkyō, demonstrating classic drinks alongside interesting new creations and mixing Western flavors with delicate Japanese ingredients. The majority of these taprooms will offer you a small tasting opportunity where you can sample selected brews; like liquid tapas if you will.Check out the links to see where to find the mentioned breweries!

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Right, wine! Sure, when it comes to wine, one might not immediately think of Japan (maybe it wouldn't even cross your mind!), But the country has a long history of growing grapes. Two of Japan's native grape varieties - Kōshū and Muscat Bailey A - have even been recognized by the International Organization for Vine and Wine. Like other types of alcohol that Japan cannot produce itself, winemaking is a direct result of Western influence. Traders brought him into the country and the famous Iwakura mission came back with information on European wine culture; that is, this craft is relatively young. In fact, it is said that the first real attempt at making it by two young men - Yamada Hironori and Takuma Norihisa - was in Kofu, Yamanashi Prefecture in the 1870s - they used sake brewing tools and grapes ... Needless to say, this is not necessarily so most promising start was.

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From these humble beginnings, wineries - both private and public - sprang up across Japan and winemakers traveled abroad to study the craft in France and other countries. Nonetheless, it took a long time for wine consumption to reach a real audience in Japan. After World War II and the 1964 Tōkyō Olympics, widespread adaptation to Western culture created a small boom in wine and resulted in slow but increasing growth and awareness of the drink.

According to the Japan Wineries Association, there are about 200 wineries in Japan today, although most of them are small or medium-sized businesses. Although the majority of the wine consumed in Japan is imported, some regions in the country have earned a reputation as pioneers in wine production; there would be Ikeda and Furano in Hokkaidō, Tendō in Yamagata and Jōetsu in Niigata, among others. Still, the gem of winemaking is where it all began - Yamanashi Prefecture. Many wineries offer tours and tastings, and the scenery alone is worth the trip!

In general, it can be said that Japanese wine tends to be more sweet, presumably due to the sweet local grape varieties. Kōshū grapes are pale purple and have a slightly fruity scent reminiscent of peach. Because it is such a popular variety in Japan, it is said that wines made from Kōshū grapes go very well with Japanese cuisine. The Muscat Bailey A, on the other hand, is a hybrid grape that was developed to adapt to the local climate. It's supposed to have a sweet taste similar to grape juice, but it's also been blended or ripened to make a full-bodied wine that is meant to appeal to different tastes, making it a very versatile grape!

While Japan has not been around for long, there is clearly a dedicated and passionate group of artisans who refine their products and strike a delicate balance between respecting the history of craftsmanship and savoring the boundaries while continuing to stimulate their target audience. The next time you walk into a Japanese restaurant, check their wine list for local wines. You might be pleasantly surprised!


While the classic spirits aren't necessarily traditional, Japan more than made up for the lost time! Let's take a look at the delicious spirits that Japan distills domestically.


Just like beer, the origins of whiskey in Japan can be traced back to the late 19th century, but it did not become popular until after 1924 when the first distillery - the Suntory distillery in Yamazaki - was founded by the (well-known) fathers of whiskey, Torii Shinjirō and Taketsuru Masataka, founded in Japan. Torii was a successful wholesaler (and inventor of Akadama Port) while Taketsuru studied distillation in Scotland, which may explain why many of the Japanese whiskeys tend to be similar to scotch.

In less than a century, many whiskey distilleries, large and small, fitted their ranks alongside Suntory; Nikka, Kirin, White Oak, and the highly acclaimed Chichibu, to name a few. The price of Japanese whiskeys can vary widely, not only internationally, but also nationally. A fifth of Chita or other mass-produced single malt whiskeys can cost anywhere from 5,000 to 7,000 yen - not bad for a delicious, alcoholic souvenir - whereas a small-volume or award-winning whiskey like Ichiro's Malt or Yamazaki can cost a small fortune (if you can can buy at all).

Japanese whiskey distilleries have been showered with prices everywhere since the turn of the millennium, which logically led to more attention from tourists. Since then, it's easier than ever to experience tastings. The elegant area of ​​Ginza is certainly one of the best places to get Japanese whiskey - Apollo, Rock Fish (which serve a fantastic whiskey Highball; a local favorite), and Hibiya Bar Whiskey-S are just three examples. Just note that Japanese whiskey is typically 40 percent alcohol, so it's best to enjoy each glass individually rather than tackling the whole bottle!

The premium on Japanese whiskey is sure to be pretty big in your home country, so if you're a big fan, taking a few bottles home with you can save you a lot of money!


Since this is one of the most popular spirits in the world, it's no wonder Japan is part of it! Granted, Japanese gin production is a fairly recent phenomenon - the Kyoto Distillery started making their own gin in 2016 - but as it is, it didn't take long for them to add their own unique twists to ingredients and manufacturing methods. Their flagship is KI NO BI, a dry gin, produced in northern Kyoto with Japanese plants such as yuzu, Cypress, bamboo, gyokuro tea and Japanese peppercorn. Interestingly, the plants are distilled separately before they are then mixed together to deliver the final product.

The whiskey-making veterans Nikka and Suntory stepped on the scene shortly afterwards in 2017 and also used unique Japanese ingredients to produce a spirit that is unmistakably among fans and yet essentially Japanese. If you want to try a completely different craft cocktail, then this is the one for you! The aforementioned Imadeya Ginza in Tokyo has an excellent selection of Japanese gins, perfect for the accomplished connoisseur or motivated tourist.

What else is there?

Now that we've checked off all of the Japanese alcohol classics, quickly check out other variations of local punches that might spark your imagination.

Seasonal fruit liqueurs

Seasonality is an important part of everyday life in Japan, especially when it comes to alcohol. Each season of the year is marked by the sudden oversupply of fresh vegetables and fruits, and as a result, seasonal fruit liquors have become particularly popular. Most people probably already have from umeshu heard - a liqueur made from plums pickled in sugar and alcohol (ume). Other popular versions are: mikanshu (out mikan, a citrus fruit similar to the mandarin) and yuzushu (from the popular yuzu-Fruit). There are also pears, apples, apricots ... if Japan grows it, it has probably already been made into alcohol! Fruit liqueurs in Japan tend to be quite sweet with an alcohol content of 10 to 15 percent, which makes them a good pre-dinner aperitif. Most izakaya and run restaurants in Japan umeshu, although other fruit liqueurs may be available to buy on a seasonal basis.


Strong Selterwasser has become really popular in the west, and if you're a fan of these cans, oh boy, we have a treat for you! Japan's liquor and soda mixes are particularly popular with young people and college students (and here and there with the clerk on the last lane on the way home), and it's easy to see why. These canned cocktails are cheap, sweeter than beer, and have a comparatively high alcohol content. The two most popular brands are Kirin Chu-Hi and Strong Zero - both are canned versions of the chūhai (short for "shochu highball ”), a mixture of shochu and soda. But there are plenty of other brands out there, some even containing vodka and other spirits.

This ubiquitous booze can be bought in convenience stores from Okinawa to Sapporo, and since they are typically 5 to 9 percent alcohol they are a quick, easy, and powerful fix to sobriety!

Drink responsibly, and cheers!

This article was originally published in English by All About Japan and was translated and edited by JAPANDIGEST.