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Culture The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks

Sake, shochu, Japanese whisky, beer, wine, cocktails, and other beverages.

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Japan is home to some of the world's most interesting alcoholic beverages—from traditional Sake and Shochu to Japanese whisky, beer, wine and cocktails that are winning global acclaim and awards.

In this comprehensive survey of Japanese drinks, experts Stephen Lyman and Chris Bunting cover all the main types of beverages found in Japanese bars and restaurants, as well as supermarkets and liquor stores around the world. The book has chapters on Sake, Shochu, whisky, wine, beer, Awamori (a moonshine-like liquor from Okinawa), Umeshu plum wine and other fruit wines. There is also a fascinating chapter on modern Japanese-style cocktails—complete with recipes so you can get the authentic experience, including:

  • Sour Plum Cordial
  • Sakura Martini
  • Improved Shochu Cocktail
  • Far East Side Cocktail

Thorough descriptions of the varieties of each beverage are given along with the history, production methods, current trends, and how to drink them. Detailed bar and buyer's guides at the back of the book list specialist establishments where readers can go to enjoy and purchase the drinks, both in Japan and cities around the world, including London, Paris, New York, San Francisco, Chicago, Washington DC, Shanghai and more!

This is an indispensable book for anyone interested in brewing, distilling, new cocktails or Japanese culture, travel and cuisine. Kampai! Cheers!

About the Authors:

Stephen Lyman was minding his own business, enjoying life in New York City as an Associate Professor at Weill Cornell Medical College when he was unexpectedly introduced to Japanese shochu at an izakaya in the Chelsea neighbourhood of Manhattan. Over the next decade, he visited Japan more than twenty times, visiting more than a hundred shochu distilleries, sake breweries and other alcohol producers in more than twenty Japanese Prefectures. In 2013 he began interning at a small shochu distillery in Kagoshima Prefecture. He subsequently became the first graduate of the Sake School of America's Shochu Adviser Course and a kikisakeshi (sake sommelier) through Sake Service International. In 2016 he was named the first Honkaku Shochu Ambassador by the Japanese government through the Cool Japan program. He now spends about half his time in Kyushu in Southern Japan where he can be found cycling around and exploring local food, drink, and culture.

Chris Bunting has worked in London and Japan for publications including the Asahi Shimbun, Times and Independent. He developed his love of Japanese alcohol while living in Tokyo and is the author of Drinking Japan. He currently lives in Yorkshire in the UK.


Latest reviews

  • Entertaining and informative
  • Enticing imagery
This book is a collaborative effort of Chris Bunting, author of widely read "Drinking Japan" (Tuttle 2011), and Stephen Lyman, an American authority on Japanese shochu and Okinawan awamori. It is a fascinating and entertaining read for everyone interested in alcoholic beverages and Japanese drinking culture.

Rich in illustrations and abundant in anecdotes, Bunting introduces the reader to Japan's rich drinking culture and to its history of producing rice-based alcohol. Sake brewing is almost as old as rice cultivation itself. The Chinese "History of the Kingdom of Wei" disclosed as early as 297 C.E. that the Japanese were fond of their alcohol; even at funerals friends would sing, dance, and drink liquor. Sake was as popular with the ruling class as it was with the ordinary Japanese who would often resort to producing their doburoku (unrefined home-brewed sake) because they could not afford the officially sanctioned version. The century-long cat-and-mouse game between rice farmers and the tax collectors from Kyoto or Edo even led to the rise of regional dialects as the officials would not able to overhear conversations. Footsoldiers were only given small provisions of rice for fear they would put most of it into sake making and starve. Even in modern days, alcohol is still considered a social elixir bringing people together, in private and in more formal situations.

The book consists of two parts: the Native Japanese alcohol traditions (sake, shochu, awamori, and umeshu), and the Western alcohol traditions in Japan (Japanese whisky, beer, Japanese wine, and cocktails). Each chapter presents in great detail the history, the ingredients, the production methods, the maturation, and the variations of the particular alcoholic beverage.

Although I am more partial to traditional Japanese liquor, I thoroughly enjoyed Part II on yoshu, Japanese interpretations of foreign alcohol. Japanese whisky has been receiving a lot of international acclaims lately, and the history spanning from Commodore Perry who brought 109 gallons of American whiskey as a gift for the emperor (none of which ever reached the latter) in 1853 to modern-day Japanese single-malts is fascinating to follow. Despite all praise, Bunting reminds the reader that not all whisky that has "single malt' and "Made in Japan" on its label is a quality product: one particular distillery has begun marketing their brew as "8- to 33-year old pure malts" which is actually low- to mid-quality malt whisky imported from Scotland and blended in Tottori. If you find the "Kurayoshi" on a shelf, study the label carefully.

The chapter on beer does, of course, focus on the recent craft beer boom but sheds some light on other trends, such as happoshu ("sparkling alcohol"), also known as "Frankenbeer", and "Hoppy", an ersatz beer that can be mixed with shochu. Bunting devotes two sections on Japanese wine and cocktails and a mini-chapter on Japanese gin.

The Bar Guide lists a few select places in Japan, the U.S. and London that specialise in one or more types of the drinks so
delightfully introduced in the book, while the Buyer's Guide will assist you in finding out what you should be trying first and where to acquire it.

The authors call Japan a "drinking paradise", a fact they prove on every page of their excellent compendium. Very educational, very entertaining, and highly recommended!
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Being an Okinawa resident, I love my awamori. That said, Japan sake is nice to sip on and relax with.

I'm not too big of a fan with the $2 beers; I find the flavor of $1 happoshu quite tasteful.

As far as whiskey goes, I don't touch it much besides in highballs.

Looks like a good book to pick up. :)
I am just sipping on a junmai shu from Ishikawa (Tengu-no-mai) while writing these lines and I cannot agree more with you on Japanese sake. I do like awamori but it's a bit on the strong side. is there any particular brand you'd recommend?
Everyone hates what I like, Kumesen 30.


(The squared bottle)

Mixed just right with water and ice, it reminds me of Tootsie Rolls.

And for what it's worth, it's almost always the cheapest on the menu (bottle) at anywhere from 1000-3000 yen depending on atmosphere and table charges I find.
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Stephen Lyman / Chris Bunting
Tuttle Publishing
Year of publication
Number of pages
JPY 2,200

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