If you want to know more about Japanese alcoholic drinks, "Drinking Japan: It’s Not Just Sake" (Sanshusha) might be just what the sommelier or bartender ordered. This handy bilingual (English & Japanese) book covers everything from Japan’s well-known libations like whisky and sake to lesser-known beverages like Denki Bran and Yamabudo wine.
The first chapter the reader encounters is “Wine,” which may seem counterintuitive—it should be sake, right?—considering the fact that that beverage was not associated with Japan until relatively recently. However, the authors point out that to make sake, one needs rice, which did not enter Japan until the Yayoi Period. In the preceding Jomon, people were most likely drinking wine!
Chapter 3, “Beer,” is especially interesting for a number of reasons. Beer has a very colorful history in Japan, and the product has gone through a number of transformations both to meet market demands and as part of a cat-and-mouse game with the taxman. The first recorded serving of beer in Japan, which was held when the Treaty of Kanagawa was signed in 1854, had one Japanese official opine that the drink “tastes like horse piss.” The government’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for revenue has seen it zeroing in on the ever-popular beer. In an attempt to circumvent higher taxation rates, some brewers have developed innovative beverages that resemble beer but in a strict sense are not beer. How about a brew made from peas? The government’s “call” and the brewers’ “response” bears more than a passing resemblance to the relationship that the government had previously had with kabuki.
The book is replete with historical references and peppered with alcohol-related historical slang (e.g., “overdoing the Dionysian rites,” aka intoxication), but it is also highly practical. Terms and production methods are clearly defined, and the appendices list the names of wineries throughout Japan and English-language-friendly beer and shochu bars. Food-pairing recommendations are provided as well, so the readers are not tempted to drink on an empty stomach.
"Drinking Japan: It’s Not Just Sake" was written by William F. O’Connor, Ed.D., who holds a number of drinks-related certifications (Whisky Ambassador, WSET Level 3, Cicerone Beer Server) and Robin O’Connor, J.D., who is a Whisky Ambassador and an SSI International Sake Sommelier.
Available at Amazon.co.jp and other online outlets, as well as brick-and-mortar bookstores.© Japan Today