Japanese alcoholic beverages run the gamut from bittersweet nigorizake (cloudy sake) to robust lager beers, subtle whiskys, and shochu that dances across the tongue. Drinking has long been an indelible part of Japan’s social fabric, and today it is common to see people raising their glasses in a gesture of “Kampai!” (cheers), savoring a quiet nightcap at a favorite haunt, or chatting over a glass brimming with a fragrant tipple. Once you discover the diverse range of beverage options—as well as the varieties of each—you will no doubt want to join them.
Sake has continually maintained its place as the country’s quintessential libation of sophistication and good taste. Often referred to as “rice wine” overseas, the fermentation process taken upon master sake craftsman is much more akin to brewing a fine ale than fermenting grapes for wine. Like wine, however, there are an endless number of lesser-known craft labels, each with wholly unique flavors and complexity that often cannot be found in foreign markets. To truly understand the art of sake, you must come to Japan—but even then there is much to learn before taking the first sip.