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Sake And Shochu: The Sophisticated Spirits To Sip Now

Discover the contemporary cool of Japan's trendsetting tipples!

There's a growing fascination with Japanese spirits that's capturing the attention of enthusiasts and connoisseurs alike in Metro Manila. Among the array of libations from the Land of the Rising Sun, sake and shochu have emerged as stars in their own right, infusing local bars and dining establishments more and more with their unique flavor, fragrance, and versatility.

A snippet of the sake selection at Sakagura Manila | Sakagura Manila

The recent two-day “Art of Japanese Liquor" hosted by the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) in collaboration with premium sushi bar Sakagura is a prime example. The event offered an exquisite glimpse into the world of Japanese liquor craftsmanship as part of JETRO's "Bringing You A Taste of Japan" campaign. This intimate dinner showcased the meticulous skill and expertise behind Japan's finest culinary offers and liquor, emphasizing their diverse range and exceptional quality. 

At the heart of the event were premium selections of sake and shochu, meticulously curated to highlight the artistry and innovation of Japanese distillers. Guests were treated to an array of exquisite flavors, from the crisp elegance of Amabuki Tokubetsu Junmai Yamadanishiki Chokarakuchi Namasake to the refined complexity of Masamune "Malola" Junmai Ginjo. Expertly crafted cocktails featuring Japanese spirits added a creative twist to the evening, showcasing the versatility of shochu in mixology. 

A selection of Japanese spirits for one evening | JETRO Manila

At the event, we enjoyed bespoke cocktails like the Nihon Sidecar made with Daiyame Sweet Potato Shochu, lemon juice, Cointreau, Aperol, brown sugar; Kagoshima Gimlet, my personal favorite, made of Kakushigura Barrel Barley Shochu, lime juice,  and simple syrup; Sakagura Martini, a strong contender made with Kakushigura Barrel Barley Shochu and Masamune “Malola” Junmai Ginjo Sake, Takara Mio Sparkling Sake (a great drink on its own, too) with Tanqueray Gin; and Yuzu Margarita with Daiyame Sweet Potato Shochu, Arette Blanco Tequila, lime juice, and simple syrup.

The Sakagura Martini with hand roll sushi | Sakagura Manila

Shochu: The Unsung Hero

While sake might be more familiar to many, shochu is quietly gaining prominence, carving its niche in Manila's cocktail bars and dining establishments. Made from various base ingredients such as barley, sweet potatoes, or rice, shochu offers a versatile drinking experience. Its lower alcohol content compared to other spirits makes it an appealing choice for those seeking a lighter yet flavorful option.

What sets shochu apart is its ability to embody the essence of its base ingredient, resulting in a diverse range of flavors. From the earthy notes of barley shochu to the subtly sweet undertones of sweet potato shochu, each variety offers a unique drinking experience that pairs well with a myriad of dishes.

Sophisticate cocktails, traditional spirits | Sakagura Manila

Sake: The Pride of Japan

Sake, often referred to as rice wine, holds a revered status in Japanese culture and is celebrated for its craftsmanship and heritage. Made through a meticulous brewing process that involves fermenting polished rice, sake boasts a delicate balance of flavors, ranging from crisp and dry to rich and velvety.

In Metro Manila, sake bars and izakayas are popping up left and right, and even mainstream bars are increasingly featuring an extensive selection of sake, catering to aficionados and curious newcomers alike. Whether enjoyed warm or chilled, sake enhances the dining experience, enhancing the flavors of Japanese food and more.

Makoto Sudo, Director of JETRO Manila | JETRO Manila

Pairing Sake and Shochu with Filipino Flavors

While traditionally paired with Japanese dishes, sake and shochu also complement the vibrant and diverse flavors of Filipino cuisine, especially since both cuisines go very well with rice.

For those looking to recreate the magic at home, here are a few tips for pairing sake and shochu with Filipino favorites.

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Lechon and Sake

The clean, refreshing taste of sake pairs beautifully with the rich, succulent flavors of lechon, accentuating the dish's indulgent appeal. Sake also works as a palate cleanser of sorts to gently wash the glorious fattiness of the lechon off the tongue.

Sinigang and Sake

Yes, you can pair sake with soupy dishes like Sinigang. Whether you’re enjoying it with beef, pork, or shrimp, the crisp acidity of sake cuts through the tangy broth of sinigang, balancing its flavors and leaving a refreshing finish with each sip.

Adobo and Shochu

The earthy notes of barley or rice shochu complement the savory flavors of adobo, creating a delightful contrast that enhances the dining experience. The hint of sweetness from the shochu also highlights the depth of flavors in slow-cooked dishes like adobo. 

Kinilaw and Shochu

The subtle sweetness of sweet potato shochu enhances the delicate flavors of kinilaw, creating a balanced pairing that delights the palate. The sweetness of the liquor balances the pucker-inducing sourness of kinilaw, mellowing the flavors, marrying them together, resulting in a more harmonious bite.

According to Mr. Makoto Sudo, director of JETRO Manila, “In the same way that some local areas in Japan drink Shochu with hot broth, Shochu and Sinigang can also be a good combination… [I think] sake would also pair nicely with kinilaw, since it is quite the same as sashimi with its raw fish ingredient.” This only goes to show the versatility of both drinks.

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As Metro Manila continues to embrace the diversity of global culinary traditions, the rise of Japanese shochu and sake signifies a broader shift towards appreciation for craftsmanship, tradition, and the art of savoring fine spirits. Whether enjoyed at exclusive culinary events or sampled at local izakayas, these Japanese libations offer a taste of Japan's rich heritage and culinary excellence, inviting enthusiasts to go on a flavorful journey through the Land of the Rising Sun.

Event and product photography courtesy of JETRO Manila | Food photography courtesy of Sakagura Manila.