Found yourself roaming around the streets of Tokyo, planning a trip to Japan or just want to impress some Japanese guests with your knowledge about the heart of their culture. Well then my friend you need to sign up for another lesson at the esteemed university of Monkey Brew U. You are already well informed on Kegs, Peruvian Pisco and Martinis, now your next class takes us all the way to Asia.
Before we dive in deep, we need to clear up a common misconception, Sake is not a rice wine, it’s not a wine at all because it is fermented. Confused, that’s OK so is most of the US. Sake has a high alcohol percentage like a wine which is why it is usually referred to as a ‘rice wine’ but in reality it’s more of a rice beer, which is why they are made at sake breweries.
Sake is usually served either hot or cold but can come in many different forms such as bitter, sweet, dry, cloudy or clear. If you are unfamiliar with sake it is likely best to start with cold sake, especially in the US this is more likely to be a sweet and better quality sake.
Here, beer is king. You might think Japan is all about sake but you would be wrong, sake takes the backseat next to beer. Your most common beers are rice lagers, and I can’t tell you how many advertisements boasting that their beer was ‘Super Dry’. It could be because that was the only phrase in English, but either way your beer will be more malty and dry. The top beer companies are Sapporo, Asahi, Kirin and Suntory. I know Anheuser-Busch owns Kirin in the US market at least, I’m not sure how much influence they have over the Japanese production, but you are likely able to find Kirin easily in the US.
What if you like dark beers? Not a problem there are plenty of options here too. I had a delicious Yebisu Black (product of Sapporo) that had a good chocolaty taste that wasn’t too sweet. If you want a dark hoppy beer then be aware that you are going to get a little more than what you asked for, I know I did. Last night I ordered a beer called Hoppy, a non-alcoholic beer that tastes a little like soy sauce.
What gives Cornelius, an NA beer?
…Not exactly because they serve this beer with a traditional sake, which is not as refined as the typical sake you drink. You pour your Hoppy beer into the mug full of Sake and keep filling it up as you drink it down. This used to be a more common way of drinking for less wealthy Japanese, as beer is expensive here. This is similar to a boiler maker in the US.
You can buy your red and white wines here like anywhere else but if you want to explore a traditional Japanese drink ask for umeshu a sweet plum wine. This is a bit of a girly drink but I still enjoyed it with some dessert to satisfy my sweet tooth. What through me off about this drink is that it came in a milk carton, so I took it for juice. Don’t be fulled by its sweetness it has about the same alcohol percentage of any other wine because it is made with shochu.
Shochu is a distilled barley beverage that is gaining popularity in Japan, not to be confused with sake. However, my dear reader I haven’t had the chance to sample this drink yet so we’ll leave that for another day.
Whiskey is also a popular drink in Japan, and is served with water and ice, which for a quality whiskey opens it up.
Japan is a very ritualistic place and this is no different when it comes to drinks. When you go out to drink it is important to not drink until everyone has been served, in reality it is best to wait until someone else drinks first just to be safe.
What is it that they are yelling? That my friend is Kampai.
It is best not to fill your own glass, as well as it is proper not to refuse someone offering you something to drink. This holds especially true if someone is older or your superior, which means it might be best to leave your glass full once you’ve had too much.
In the end if you are a foreigner they will likely forgive your faux pas, but it is also best to know a little bit about the culture especially if it involves drinking.
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