Books / Reviews | RECENTLY PUBLISHED BOOKS ABOUT JAPAN

'The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks': A compendium of Japan's alcohol traditions

by Iain Maloney

Contributing Writer

Following Brian Ashcraft’s excellent “Japanese Whisky,” Tuttle has brought out this compendious guide to the full range of Japanese beverages. Written by Chris Bunting, author of “Drinking Japan” and Stephen Lyman, an “expert on traditional Japanese shōchū and Okinawan awamori,” it aims to “guide (you) through Japanese alcohol traditions” rather than toward specific establishments or ranges.

The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks, by Stephen Lyman and Chris Bunting.
160 pages
TUTTLE PUBLISHING, Food & Drink.

Opening with “Native Japanese Alcohol Traditions,” the writers look at the history and development of sake, shōchū, awamori and umeshu (plum wine), delving into process, styles and advice on how to drink them. Written in an easy, flowing style, it covers a lot of ground in a short space of time. The umbrella nature of the premise means the book lacks specific tasting notes, but there is enough detail to send the novice drinker in the right direction.

The second part is devoted to “Western Alcohol Traditions in Japan” — whisky, beer, wine and cocktails. This section is much thinner and acts as not much more than an introduction to these topics, which is a shame. Given the boom in craft beers and microbreweries in Japan in recent years, more depth here would have been welcome. Similarly, given the less-than-rosy but often well-earned reputation of Japanese wine, more could have been done to guide the concerning drinker through the vineyards.

This is a beautiful, carefully put together coffee-table book full of insights, anecdotes and thirst-inducing pictures that leaves the reader yearning not just for a warm cup of sake or a stiff Yamazaki, but for individual titles devoted to each type of drink.

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