How to choose:
Sake or Shochu?
Confused about which Japanese Sake, Shochu, Umeshu or Wine to choose from? Learn more about the differences between each type of alcoholic beverage in this dedicated page!
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Japanese Sake, is an alcoholic beverage produced from fermented rice. Be sure to use the term: Nihonshu (日本酒) aka "Japanese Alcohol" in Japan's Izakayas when placing orders for Japanese Sake!
The main components that make up Japanese Sake are namely: Rice (Sakamai 酒米), Water & Koji Mould. The percentage of the rice polishing prior to brewing, determines the grade of the sake. In other words, the more polished the rice, the higher the grade of sake. The average ABV (alcohol by volume) of sake is around 14 - 16%, but sparkling versions can be as low as 4.5%.
Check out our blog post on Sake vs Shochu!
Junmai vs Non-Jumai
Junmai (純米) meaning "pure rice" in Japanese, refers to sake brewed without additives such as sugar or alcohol. These form tend to be richer, more acidic and relatively less sweet.
Non-Junmai sake are produced with alcohol primarily to balance the overall taste of the drink. As these tend to have a lower acidity, they tend to be smoother, lighter and have a more aromatic aftertaste.
Common types include:
Junmai Daiginjyo (純米大吟醸) | Daiginjyo (大吟醸 ): 50% Polished Rice, Premium Sake, Served Chilled, Delicate & Refined with fruity aftertaste.
Junmai Ginjyo (純米吟醸) | Ginjyo (吟醸): 60% Polished Rice, Served Chilled, Easy to Drink, Light, Fruity & Complex flavour.
Types of Japanese Sake
Tokubetsu Junmai (特別純米): 70% Polished Rice, Recommended for Beginners, Lingering Taste of Rice, Pairs well with delicate dishes like steamed food.
Junmai (純米): 70% Polished Rice, Rich full body with an Intense, Slightly Acidic flavour, Goes well with grilled dishes.
Tokubetsu Honjyozo (特别本醸造): 70% Polished Rice, Easy to Drink, Served Warm or Chilled, Light on palate.
Honjyozo (本醸造): 70% Polished Rice, Easy to Drink, Goes well with food that are lighter in taste.
Some of the more special types:
Namazake (生酒): Unpasteurized sake. Has a fresher taste & fruitier aroma. Read up more on our blog post here.
Genshu (原酒): Undiluted sake. Alcohol level ranges between 17 - 18%, but low alcohol levels do exist. Intense flavours & aroma, typically drier or very sweet & fruity.
Nigori (にごり酒): Unfiltered sake. Known as "Cloudy Sake" due to leftover rice particles in the brew, texture ranges from thick & creamy to light & misty. Served chilled & remember to shake well before serving.
Shochu (焼酎) is a distilled spirit beverage widely consumed in Japan. Unlike that of Japanese Sake which is mainly produced with rice, Shochu can be made from Sweet Potato, Barley, Buckwheat, Corn or other ingredients!
This alcoholic beverage was originally made in the Kyushu region but is produced in most parts of Japan today. The average ABV (alcohol by volume) of shochu is around 25 - 40%, but sparkling versions can be as low as 8%.
Check out our blog post on Sake vs Shochu!
Ways to drink Shochu
Straight is the best way to experience the real taste of the distilled beverage. Try drinking it at different temperatures to see how the taste changes!
On the Rock is another popular way to enjoy Shochu too! Pour the Shochu of your choice into a glass filled with ice. The unique sweet smell of Shochu will flourish as the ice melts.
Mizuwari (Cut with Water) | Oyuwari (Cut with Hot Water) can be made by simply adding cold or hot water of 3:2 (Shochu : Water) into your Shochu! For Mizuwari, add shochu in first and vice versa for Oyuwari where you add hot water in first to allow ease of mixing.
Soda-wari (Cut with Soda) is an interesting way to drink Shochu as it completely changes the taste of shochu, making it a very refreshing drink! To enhance the refreshing taste, you can squeeze some citrus juice into it.
Types of Shochu
Common types include:
Imo Shochu (芋焼酎) made from Sweet Potato has a plump aroma & soft sweetness. This is best enjoyed with fatty & fried dishes.
Mugi Shochu (麦焼酎) is made from Barley and has a light, clean & mild taste. It is easy to drink & goes well with smoked or grilled dishes.
Kome Shochu (米焼酎) made from Rice has a rather thick taste with an aroma similar to that of Japanese Sake. Generally, it goes well with most dishes, especially that of sashimi & rice dishes like donburi.
Kokuto Shochu (黒糖焼酎) is made from Brown Sugar resulting in a clean & dry taste with a slightly more aromatic taste profile. Its sweetness goes well with dishes on the sweeter side such as Yakitori.
Soba Shochu (そば焼酎) made from Buckwheat has a lingering sweet, fruity aroma. With a taste slightly milder than Mugi Shochu, it is best enjoyed with meats & seafood.
Shiso Shochu (紫蘇焼酎) is made from the aromatic shiso leaves and it carries the pleasant scent and soft flavour of the leaves. It is best to drink it before and after a meal.
Awamori (泡盛) made from long grain Indica Rice, is an indigenous & unique beverage from Okinawa. It matches well with local dishes such as Umibudo or Tofuyo, in addition its bold nature allows it to pair with stronger meat dishes and creamier food.
Umeshu (梅酒), otherwise known as Plum Wine is a traditional liqueur known for its sweet & sour flavours with a fruity aroma, is a beverage that is widely enjoyed by many. The main ingredients of Umeshu is none other than, Ume (Japanese Plum), Alcohol (Shochu/White Liqueur) & Sugar.
In fact, Umeshu can be easily made within the comforts of your home - Simply mix Ume & Sugar into the Alcohol of your choice and wait patiently. With no expiration date for Umeshu, it is no wonder that many soak them for years! The average ABV (alcohol by volume) of Umeshu is around 10 - 15%.
Ways to enjoy Umeshu
Straight allows you to enjoy the real taste of Umeshu! If you are into sweet drinks, this will definitely be on your books as the thick, sweet flavour of Umeshu lingers on your palate.
On the Rock is one popular way to drink Umeshu as the sweet & smooth smell of Umeshu would spread as the ice melts. You can also consider using crushed ice for a different texture.
Mizuwari (Cut with Water) | Oyuwari (Cut with Hot Water) can be made by simply adding cold or hot water into your Umeshu to smoothen the drink and change the flavour. Be careful not to over add, otherwise the drink would become too watery!
Soda-wari (Cut with Soda) enhances the taste of Umeshu due to the sparkling sensation from the carbonated water.
Other different & unique ways to enjoy Umeshu also include: Cocktail with Calpis, Poured over Ice Cream and in a frozen state like that of "Mizorezake" which refers to sake served below freezing temperature!
Honkaku Umeshu & Benefits
Honkaku Umeshu (本格梅酒) is often printed on the bottles of Umeshu which have been produced using real plums. One should take note when purchasing as those which do not have such wordings are usually produced with food additives which resemble the smell & taste of Ume.
Unknown to most, Japanese wineries have been hidden from plain view near Tokyo for almost 140 years before expanding to 300 wineries nationwide across Japan!
While there are wineries around Japan, major producers are located in Yamanashi, Hokkaido, Nagano, Niigata & Yamagata prefectures with the grape variety unique to each region due to the weather conditions.
Types of Japanese Wine Grapes
Common hybrids include:
Koshu (Yamanashi) Highly valued by many foreign countries, this white grape is known to be a hybrid of Europe's Vitis Vinifera & its East Asian Vitis species. Wine made from this grape is usually pleasantly acidic & fruity with notes of citrus but leaves a slightly bitter aftertaste perfect for pairing with Japanese cuisines.
Muscat Bailey A (Niigata) Cultivated in 1927 by Zenbei Kawakami, the founder of Iwanohara Vineyard, this deep pink-skinned grape is a hybrid between Vinifera Muscat Hamburg & Labrusca Bailey. One of the most popular hybrid grape types due to the wide wine ranges, you can make a light wine or oak-barrel-aged wine from this!
Yama Sauvignon (Yamagata) This particular hybrid between the Yama Budou (Mountain Grapes) & Cabernet Sauvignon has resulted in a strong distinct full-bodied wine with the deep red colour & earthiness coming from the Yama Budou genes.