Whiskey, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze at it first, then it’s time to drink.
No blossoms and no moon,
and he is drinking sake
and he is drinking sake
Drink as much as you can! Most bars and izakaya will serve sake. It will come in a glass or a flask (180ml) called a ‘tokkuri‘, and you’ll be asked how many little cups (ochoko) you want with it. If it comes in an overflowing glass in a little wooden box (a ‘masu‘) or saucer, this is to show good hospitality. Drink from the glass first, and when you’ve made enough room, pour in the sake from the extra vessel. In spring, try shiboritate (freshly pressed, un-aged) sake and hanamizake (cherry blossom viewing sake, with cherry blossom petals in), in autumn try akiagari or hiyaoroshi (autumn sake, only pasteurized once rather than twice) and tsukimi (moon-viewing sake). In winter, yukimi (snow-viewing sake) and kanzake/ atsukan (heated sake). Contrary to popular belief, hot sake is not rubbish sake. It has been known to be heated overseas to mask shitty sake, but in Japan it’s different. Sake comes into its own at different temperatures (7, to be precise). In terms of variety, I prefer to drink ‘junmai‘ (without brewer’s alcohol added), and have a soft spot for ‘nama‘ (unpasteurized) varieties.
Isego Honten Nakameguro, The Hangar, Sake Stand, Kimijiyama Ebisu
Cold, hot, from a vending machine, whisked by a geisha, sencha, matcha, genmaicha.
Vending machines, Yakumo Saryo
Most commonly translated as plum wine, Japan’s purple drank. Although it’s not actually wine, it’s liqueur. Umeshu is made from May-June when ripe ume fruit (same genus as plums and apricots but actually a species of its own) drip from the trees. They’re added to a solution of liquor and sugar and left to brew for 3 months – 1 year. Longer, for a richer brew. The liquor is most often sake or shochu, but brandy can be used for more of a dessert tipple, as well as other clear liquor such as vodka or white rum. Drink it straight, on the rocks, mizuwari, with soda water (umehai), with sake or shochu or gin (umetini), with green tea (very refreshing).
Combini (if you’re getting hot add the creamer, it’s salty. The iced version are mint in summer too), kissaten, siphons, vending machine, hipster Third Wave joints, coffee tonic (lit. coffee + tonic water), coffee and orange liqueur, coffee with a shot of espresso, cold brew that looks and tastes like Guinness – show it all some love.
Streamer, Bear Pond Espresso, COBI Coffee, About Life Coffee, Omnibus.
Japan’s original energy drink. Think of a slightly boozy, sweet, fermented-smelling-and-tasting hot rice porridge, but a really tasty version. Amazake literally means ‘sweet sake’, but is either very low or non-alcoholic, made either from koji added to cooked and cooled rice, (non-alcohol version) or from sake lees mixed with hot water (low alcohol version). You’ll find it mostly around festivals and shrines, and particularly in winter. Traditionally though, it was a summer beverage, due to its power-providing qualities (amazake drips are a thing in summer). If you’re somewhere where it’s being served sprinkled with powdered or freshly grated ginger, even better.
Look for it at supermarkets (甘酒), festivals and wagashi cafes.
Most easily described as Japanese vodka, but about half the strength. Where sake is fermented like beer, shochu is distilled like liquor. The 4 main types you’ll encounter are imo (potato, probably the most common), mugi (barley), soba (buckwheat) and kome (rice). It can come infused with shiso (a personal favorite, with little of the grassiness of Zaborowska) and a personal favorite of mine you can often find on the counters of dingy nightclubs, cold-brew coffee shochu. Zero to hero. Regular shochu can be drunk in a myriad of ways: straight, on the rocks, mizuwari (on the rocks with a little water), with hot water, with oolong tea, with matcha tea, with soda and citrus juice (yuzu-hai, lemon-hai, sudachi-hai, daidai-hai), juice, or even with other booze. Often a non-alcoholic beer called Hoppy (a popular summer and salaryman number).
Winestand Waltz, Bouteille (Shibuya), Kimijimaya Ebisu, Ginza Wine Store, Osuzakura, Ahiru Wine Store, Lug, Kinasse, Ginza Cave Fujiki.
Japan is a big fan of the nama beeru (“raw beer”, ie. beer of the tap), and toriaizu nama (“a beer first-up while deciding what to drink/eat”).
Good Beer Faucets, Commune 2nd, Baird, Yona Yona Brewery (Shibuya).
All of the Suntory varieties (Chita, Hakushu, Yamazaki), Ichiro’s Malt, Karuizawa, Nikka whisky (Taketsuru, Yoichi).
Bar Moonshiner, Bar Tram, Bar Trench, Bar Bennfiddich.
“Let’s get one thing out of the way: the most well-known highball is a whisky and soda. But it’s not just a whisky and soda.“ - John deBary, Bloomberg
Any izakaya or yakitori joint.
Gen Yamamoto, Bar Radio, Andaz, Bar Tram, Bar Trench, Mixology Akasaka, Y & M Kisling (Ginza).
Vending Machine, Supermarket, Convenience Store Drinks
A drink for all occasions. My personal faves are mugi-cha (barley tea, preferably col), Royal Milk Tea (cold, not hot. Hot tastes like something you’d be served in hospital), emerald coffee (just a hint of milk and sugar), rich green tea, yoghurt tea (pleasantly tangy), genmaicha.