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Sake Savvy? Now Try These 6 Unusual Japanese Tipples

japanese spirits

In addition to sake, Japan boasts of drinks that don’t always make the global headlines. We're not just talking about what these drinks taste like; let’s explore where they're enjoyed, the occasions they light up, and what foods they buddy up with best.
Umeshu, Japan's Homely Plum Wine
First up, Umeshu. Many families in Japan make their own, steeping those green ume plums in liquor and sugar. Imagine popping into an izakaya (those laid-back Japanese pubs), and you'll probably find umeshu on the menu. It's the kind of drink you have when you're kicking back with friends or starting off a meal. And for pairings? Try it with some light starters; it's a winner with anything from edamame to a light tofu salad.
Awamori: Okinawa's Lively Spirit
Now, let’s head down to Okinawa, where Awamori is the local hero. It’s strong, sure, but it’s also got this smooth character that makes it super drinkable. Picture an Okinawan get-together; Awamori is likely to be the guest of honour. And food-wise, it’s perfect with heartier Okinawan dishes—think of something like Rafute, that sweet and savoury braised pork belly. It’s comfort food meets comforting drink.

Yuzushu: The Onsen Companion
Yuzushu is this lovely, citrusy drink that’s a bit of a hidden gem. In Japan, you’ll often find it in those onsen towns—because what’s better than a relaxing hot spring bath followed by a refreshing yuzu drink? It’s light and has a subtle sweetness, making it a great palate cleanser. Pair it with some delicate seafood or a light Japanese dessert, and you’ve got yourself a beautiful match.
Shochu: The Everywhere Drink
Shochu is the jack-of-all-trades in Japanese spirits. Every region's got its own version, so it's like a tour of Japan in a glass. In any izakaya worth its salt, shochu’s a staple. It’s flexible with pairings; you can have it with just about any typical Japanese dish, from yakitori (grilled chicken skewers) to a fresh sashimi platter.

Shochu with food

Amazake: The Festive Sweet Sipper
Amazake might not be as boozy as the others, but it's a festival favourite. It’s sweet, a bit creamy, and totally comforting. You’ll find it at street stalls during festivals, often served warm. It's great on its own, but if you’re snacking on some mochi (those soft, chewy rice cakes), amazake is like the perfect sweet companion.
Chuhai: The Karaoke Go-To

Finally, there's chuhai—a fun, fizzy highball that's a hit in karaoke bars. It’s shochu mixed with fizzy water and fruit flavours, making it super refreshing. It’s the kind of drink you want when you’re belting out tunes with friends. Pair it with some salty snacks, and you’re all set for a night of fun.
So, there you have it. A little peek into the world of Japanese drinks goes beyond sake. Each one tells a story about where it’s from, how it’s enjoyed, and what it’s enjoyed with.

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