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Jan 23, 2023

HOW TOTop Tipple: Introducing Interesting Spirits from Around Japan

Japan is home to many unique spirits. From the bold flavors of Japanese shochu, to the refreshing fruit liqueur umeshu, to the smooth and subtle taste of award-winning Japanese whiskey, there’s something to quench everyone’s thirst.

Jan 23, 2023

The bold flavors of distilled shochu

Shochu is a popular and traditional Japanese spirit. Shochu is distilled from sweet potatoes, barley, rice, and even sugarcane. These ingredients create a spirit that is clean and crisp and mildly sweet. There are actually two distinct ways to distill shochu. Otsu-rui is a more traditional way of making shochu made by distilling the spirit one time. Ko-rui is a newer method of making shochu made by distilling the spirit consecutively.

A classic way to enjoy this spirit is the shochu cocktail called “mizuwari.” This cocktail is created by mixing your favorite brand of shochu with some ice-cold water, bringing out the subtle flavors of the spirit and creating a very refreshing drink. Another way shochu can be enjoyed is in a drink called “chuhai.” This drink is created by mixing shochu with soda water and flavored syrups (lemon or grapefruit), creating a refreshing drink for a hot summer’s day.

Gin-credible: Japanese craft gin on the rise

This may come as a surprise to many westerners, but gin is one of Japan’s popular spirits. Not only is it popular, but Japanese gin is regarded worldwide for its unique and distinct flavor profiles. Japanese gin is described as having a “botanical-driven” flavor profile, using ingredients such as yuzu, sansho pepper and cherry blossom, which gives it a unique and complex taste. It can also be described as having a juniper berry-centric flavor.

A popular drink that uses gin in Japan and around the world is the gin and tonic. This one is a classic. All it takes is some tonic water mixed with your favorite brand of gin topped off with a slice of lime. Easy, simple, refreshing. Another gin drink popular in Japan is the “Japanese Gin Sour” – made with your favorite gin, lemon juice, simple syrup and a splash of soda water, this cocktail perfectly highlights the botanical flavors of Japanese gin.

Umeshu: A refreshing drink from a Japanese fruit

If you like a good, fruity drink, umeshu is for you! Umeshu, or “plum wine,” is a traditional Japanese liqueur made by steeping alcohol, usually shochu, in ume (Japanese plums) and sugar for several months. Over those months, the flavor of the ume and the sweetness of the sugar combine to make a sweet and sour liqueur that has a unique and complex flavor profile. Its sweet and sour flavors make umeshu a very popular part of summer beverages. 

A common umeshu drink is called the “Umeshu Highball.” This drink is a simple mixture of umeshu and soda water, creating a refreshing drink that is bound to quench your thirst on a hot day. Another refreshing use of umeshu is a drink called the “Umeshu Spritz.” This cocktail is made by mixing umeshu with sparkling wine, and soda water and garnished with fruits like orange or strawberry. 

What’s with all the whiskey?

Just like gin, the Western favorite whiskey has also become a stand-by in Japan. It’s so popular, it’s also considered one of the country’s national drinks! Similar to Scotch whiskey, Japanese whiskey is made from malted barley, alongside possible additions of corn and/or wheat. Japanese whiskey acquires unique flavors from barrels it’s aged in. Some of them are made from native Japanese tree species, providing unique flavors not found anywhere else in the world.

A popular way to enjoy Japanese whiskey is the “Old Fashioned.” This classic cocktail is made with whiskey, sugar and bitters, garnished with a slice of orange. Another classic is the Whiskey Highball. This simple cocktail combines your favorite Japanese whiskey with soda water, creating a refreshing drink that emphasizes the whiskey’s characteristics to the fullest.