How to navigate your way through the drinks menu at Japanese izakayas so you won’t look like a noob

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| Olivia Lin | Sponsored | November 16, 2021, 05:00 PM

Disclaimer: Mothership does not encourage excessive drinking. Please drink in moderation and follow the recommended alcohol guidelines.

If you’ve ever stepped into a Japanese izakaya, you might find the following scenario relatable.

You walk through the curtains, feeling like a confident Japanese salaryman ready to munch on some snacks and knock back some drinks after a day’s work.

You flip through the drinks menu and see the usual suspects -- Sake, Umeshu. But wait, what are all these other things on the drinks menu?

Shochu? Chu-hi? What are those? You think to yourself as the server waits patiently by the side. Suddenly, you don’t feel so confident anymore.

We gotchu.

Here are some more not-so-common alcoholic beverages you’ll find on a typical izakaya drinks menu, so you won’t feel so stressed the next time you head to one.


Shochu is similar to the Chinese Shaojiu (燒酒) in a way that it also requires a special heating process during distillation. It can be made from different ingredients, such as sweet potatoes, barley, rice, buckwheat, and even brown sugar.

On its own, the flavour of shochu is often described as nutty and earthy, although it really depends on its base ingredient and the number of times it has been distilled.

Its high alcohol percentage of 25 to 45 per cent makes it a good beverage to be mixed with flavoured drinks or fruit juices.

Photo from mateusz-feliksik/Unsplash


If you like the taste of Whisky, you would probably like the taste of highball as well. A mix of Whisky and soda, highball is one of the go-to drinks for Japanese salarymen due to its refreshing flavour.

Photo from Beam Suntory

Taste wise, it has a stronger alcohol flavour and is also not as sweet compared to other alcoholic drinks, which makes it a great accompaniment with oily skewers.


Okay so remember Shochu and Highball from before? Chu-hi is basically the lovechild of those two beverages. Even its name is a combination of its “parent” drinks -- Shochu and Highball.

If you think you’ve seen canned chu-hi in convenience stores, it’s because, well, you have.

The premixed cocktail has gained popularity over the years, especially amongst the younger crowd, due to its wide variety of flavours and how easy it is to find it.

And by wide variety of flavours, we mean really wide -- Grape, lime, lychee, yuzu, pineapple. The list goes on. Besides the extensive flavours, canned chu-hi also ranges in alcohol percentage, typically from three to nine per cent.

Chu-hi at home

Now that we can’t meet in groups of more than two, canned chu-hi also serves as an easy way to “drink” with our friends in the comfort of our own home (with Netflix party and/or video calls, of course).

Drinking alone “together” shall do for now. But hey, at least we get to drink and wear our pyjamas without being judged.

We can also mix and match different chu-hi to go along with different occasions.

Strong Zero derives natural sweetness from whole fruits and has no added sugar, which makes it a little less sinful compared to sugary alcoholic beverages.

Also, who wouldn’t want to drink something made from fruits crushed by sumo wrestlers:

(Kidding, this is not how Strong Zeros are made.)

As its name suggests, Strong Zero is a chu-hi with a stronger kick (nine per cent), making it a more celebratory drink that you can enjoy with your loved ones.

Photo by Olivia Lin

If you just want a chill night, go for Horoyoi (three per cent alcohol), which is a great after-dinner drink to be savoured with desserts like pudding and mochi.

Photo by Olivia Lin

With canned chu-hi, we can now satisfy our cocktail cravings at home without having to jostle about at a bar.

Granted, you won't get the full bar experience with the mixologist behind the counter and people serving you while you sit comfortably, but hey, you’re also paying less than half the price you pay at a bar for something equally tasty.

Look at how comfortable this woman is chilling at home with a Horoyoi. This could be you:

Also, did we mention you can wear pyjamas without being judged?

Top photo from Pema Lama/Unsplash

This sponsored article in collaboration with Suntory makes this writer very happy because chu-hi is her favourite drink of all time. Legit.