Updated: January 15, 2017
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5 Japanese Alcoholic Drinks You Should Know

Drinking is so common in Japan that there is even a word to describe communicating while drinking: nominication. But what beverages to drink? Here are 5 common kinds of alcohol you should try!

1. Sake or Nihonshu

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Sake has a rich history of over 2,000 years
Made from fermented rice, water and koji mould, sake is also known as nihonshu or seishu. It boasts a crisp, refreshing taste and can be used to complement everything from red meat and seafood to steamed vegetables to desserts and even cocktails!

If you are new to sake, remember this principle: begin with a light nigorizake (cloudy-looking sake) and then pair a junmai daiginjyo (highest-grade sake) with seafood or sashimi. Subsequently complement your meat dish with koshu (aged sake that has a more intense flavor). Last but not least, drink a sweet sake to round up your meal with dessert.

2. Shochu

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Shochu is much stronger than nihonshu
Especially popular in Japan's southernmost main island, Kyushu, shochu is made from distilled rice, unlike sake which is made from fermented rice. For example, awamori, Okinawa's version of shochu, is made from Thai rice and rice malt. Besides rice, shochu can be made from other base ingredients as well, including sweet potato and barley.

Since it has a higher alcohol content (25-45%) than sake (15-16%), it is more versatile as you can enjoy it in varied ways: shochu on the rocks, shochu mixed with water or soda, and shochu as a cocktail base. So do experiment with shochu to find out your own preferred way of savoring it!

3. Whisky

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Suntory's Yamazaki is one of the world's most famous whisky brands
Whisky lovers can rest assured that they are in good hands when they drink whisky in Japan. After all, the 2013 edition of the Suntory Whisky Yamazaki Sherry Cask was crowned the world's best whisky in 2015! Aside from Suntory, Nikka is another popular whisky brand that will delight your palate.

Like in other countries, whisky is either served on the rocks or mixed with water and ice. So for an experience unique to Japan, order a highball, which is a refreshing drink made up of whiskey and sparkling water. Perfect for summer!

4. Chuhai

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Drink Chuhai without feeling tipsy!
If you are not such a good drinker or simply want to pace yourself throughout the night, chuhai is the way to go. Short for "shochu highball", chuhai is the happy marriage of shochu and flavored soda water. So you can find it in a bewilderingly wide range of flavours, ranging from the conventional like lemon and lime to the more exotic like yuzu, lychee and winter pear. Packing a punch in flavor, one can of chuhai makes you yearn to try them all!

5. Umeshu (Plum wine)

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Green Japanese plums are one of the ingredients of umeshu
Besides chuhai, another sweet, fruity drink you should try is umeshu (plum wine). Made from ume (Japanese plums), sugar and shochu or nihonshu, umeshu is as heavenly as it is healthy! Do you know that there is a Japanese proverb that attests to the health benefits of ume - that ume can kill poisonous substances found in food, water, and blood?
With this handy guide, doesn't the prospect of navigating the world of Japanese alcoholic beverages sound very exciting? Kanpai! (Cheers!) and gambatte not to let yourself get drunk!

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