Just as Americans use the word “soda” to refer to carbonated beverages, the Japanese use the word “sake” to refer to all alcoholic beverages. However, in some cases, “sake” also refers to a specific short-grained rice wine.
At over 2,000 years old, rice wine sake is one of the oldest Asian liquors. During its first years, sake was part of religious ceremonies in which villagers chewed rice and nuts then spit them into a communal tub. Today, making sake is far more involved process.
Instead of fermenting the chewed rice grains, modern sake makers use koji, a mold enzyme, and yeast to ferment the rice. The sake tradition has given rise to many different Asian liquors, including:
- HAN Asian vodka
While sake is the most popular Asian liquor overall, many people in Asia, America and other parts of the world also enjoy other Asian liquors.
Asian Hard Liquor Ingredients
While many Asian liquors use rice as their base ingredient, several other raw materials can also create Asian liquors. For example, shochu is made from sweet potatoes. Other raw materials used to make Asian liquors are:
- soba (Japanese noodle made from flour)
- white or brown sugar.
The rice Asian liquor, HAN, has a unique story attached to it. Legend says that the last HAN emperor had magical powers enabling him to control the four elements: earth, wind, fire and water. It is through distilled Asian liquor made from polished rice that his powers were so great. Consequently, modern-day HAN symbolizes the powerful liquor described in this legend.
Unlike western vodkas, this Asian liquor is made from barley vodka that has been distilled four times, mixed with polished rice and not diluted with water. Like all vodkas, HAN is best straight or mixed with any juice. Try HAN using one of these popular cocktail recipes.
HAN Pomegranate Martini
- 2 oz. HAN Asian vodka
- 1 oz. pomegranate juice or pomegranate liqueur
- splash of fresh lime juice.
- Shake with ice and strain into a martini glass.
- Garnish with a lime and enjoy.
Thai One HAN
- 2 oz. HAN Asian vodka
- 1 c. thai tea
- 3/4 c. sweetened condensed milk or coconut milk.
- Pour prepared thai tea and HAN Asian vodka over ice.
- Top with milk.
- Garnish with whipped cream.
The warmer climates of Kyushu and Honshu allow for distillation of the liquor known as shochu. There are two methods of distillation. The older method involves one round of distillation and one raw material, whereas the newer method involves several rounds of distillation and many raw materials.
Honkaku “the real thing” shochu can be enjoyed straight or on the rocks. Another type of shochu, Kou-rui shochu, contains many ingredients, so it can be complemented by a variety of mixers. Want to be traditional? Topping off either type with hot water is a formal way of drinking schochu.
Often mistaken for rice wine, this Asian liquor made in Korea actually contains more than just rice and has a much higher alcohol content. Soju is similar to vodka but has a sweeter finish. This is due to the fact that tapioca and sugar are often added during the distillation process. The alcohol content of soju is 35 percent.
Koreans have specific ways of serving and drinking soju. Sip it from a shot glass or, if you must, down it in one single gulp. However, according to Korean tradition, don”t pour it yourself, and wait until the entire shot is gone before having seconds. If someone of higher stature is pouring for you, put both of your hands on your glass of soju.
Unique to Okinawa, awamori is an Asian liquor distilled from long-grain rice. While awamori is popular, only 47 manufacturers of this Asian liquor exist worldwide.
If you enjoy awamori and want to become more of a connoisseur of this liquor, check out “Kusu,” an aged form of awamori. While 10 years of aging yields a tasty awamori, after 25 years of sitting, its mellow, smooth flavor is even better. In fact, since most people enjoy drinking aged awamori, the industry struggles to stay financially stable because of the time needed to properly age awamori.
Baijiu is made from sorghum (a type of exotic cereal grass), wheat and glutinous rice. Meaning “white liquor,” baijiu is a powerful Asian liquor that the Chinese, in particular, enjoy during special occasions. Some say baijiu”s closest neighbor is vodka, but its taste is unlike any other. With an alcohol content of 60 percent, baijiu definitely packs a punch.
Different types of bajiu are categorized by flavor or “fragrance.” The different types are labeled as sauce, heavy, light, rice or honey.
Traditionally, a ceramic bottle is used to serve warm baijiu.