by Ewa Nowogorski
Nihonshu, or literally “Japanese alcohol”, is the king of alcoholic beverages in Japan. It is Japan’s national alcoholic drink, and there are thousands of kinds to choose from.
Nihonshu is a type of Japanese sake that is made from rice that has been carefully fermented over time, with different conditions, different rice, and different bacteria used to produce a wide variety of flavors.
Nihonshu is one kind of sake that is drunk not directly from the bottle you buy it in, but rather from tiny shot glass-type cups, which are filled from a porcelain bottle-like container called a “tokkuri”. Nihonshu can be drunk either warm or cold, and different makers will recommend different drinking temperatures.
There is also a huge science of pairing certain nihonshu with certain foods.
Unlike wine, sake does not try to “fight” on equal conditions to food, but instead enhances the flavours and textures of the food, bringing back a solid sensation of unity between solid and liquid. Lighter and more floral nihonshu are recommended with light foods, and sweet nihonshu are recommended to be drunk with sweet dishes so that the drink does not end up tasting flat and dry.
Even the glassware you use can change the entire experience of your drinking. As with wine, differently sized and shaped glasses can affect how you smell and consequently end up tasting the alcohol. In short, nihonshu is nothing short of an art form.
Drinking nihonshu is rarely done alone, as proper etiquette requires someone else pour your cup for you. This will usually be your drinking buddy, or if alone, a staff member. You should never pour your own drink if you are not alone! And be sure to constantly keep the glass of your partner(s) full!