From Awamori to Habushu and More: An Okinawa Alcohol Guide
6 September 2017
An Okinawa Alcohol Guide
To vacationers who have tasted the spoils of island life, it is no mystery why so many travelers seek the delightful blessings of southern climes.  While shimmering waters, alabaster beaches and warm ocean breezes are no small part of the allure of a vacation in Japan’s tropical paradise, they are but a few of the archipelago’s many exotic offerings.  Among other excellent reasons to book a trip to the Okinawan islands is one of the prefecture’s best kept secrets: Its unique collection of local alcoholic beverages, starting with world-renowned awamori. After highlighting some of the best Okinawa alcohol, each suffused with tropical charm and island character, we will also introduce some wonderful places to drink it. 



 

Okinawan Alcohol from Awamori to Mango Mojitos

Awamori

Awamori
Photo by rch850 on flickr

By far the most popular locally produced Okinawa alcohol is awamori. Distinguished from the somewhat similar tasting Japanese shochu by its specific ingredients and fermentation techniques, awamori is made from the combination of indica rice imported from Thailand with a special black rice mold in a single fermentation process. Typically, the alcohol is aged anywhere from one to five years before it is bottled and sold. ‘Kushu,’ or ‘old alcohol,’ is generally aged for 20 to 30 years to bring out the subtle flavors and aromas as well as minimize the harshness common to un-aged alcohol.  While awamori pairs beautifully with Okinawan cuisine, the locals enjoy it with all manner of dishes from around the world. 



 

Habushu

Habushu
One distinctly Okinawan twist on alcoholic beverages is habushu (literally, ‘habu alcohol’), which incorporates the entire body of a venomous habu snake and is said to enhance virility and sexual potency for men. Generally made with awamori, the process is quite specific and requires that a snake be captured alive, its entrails squeezed clean after being starved for several months, then deposited live into the large jar of alcohol where it will be pickled for six months or more. Considered a delicacy in the Okinawan archipelago, habushu is understandably quite expensive. However, the uniqueness and exotic nature of the beverage make it a popular choice among discerning visitors.



 

Okinawa Beer

Okinawa Beer
Given the menu offerings of most restaurants and bars, travelers to Japan could be forgiven for thinking that the only beers available are those from the mega-breweries like Orion, Ebisu or Sapporo. In reality, Japan has a thriving culture of microbreweries, most of which serve an almost exclusively local market—the Okinawa beer market being no exception. Throughout the Okinawan island chain and elsewhere, what differentiates the microbreweries from the large producers is their attention to fine detail. For example, the source of water is a point of great pride for the microbrewers. One producer takes its water from Gyokusendo limestone cave, considered one of Japan’s 100 purest water sources. Similarly, Miyakojima Microbrewery takes water for its special coral ale from the deep, mineral rich waters around Miyakojima island. 



 

Rum

Rum
An island as rich in sugarcane production as Okinawa would necessarily have to be home to local rum distilleries. The high quality of the local sugarcane lends an almost legendary body to the rum distilled in Okinawa, most of which is consumed locally. There are at least three distilleries on Okinawa itself, each of which produces its own unique brand.  Of course, Okinawan rum production isn’t limited to the main island. If staying on Miyakojima, for example, you’ll definitely want to drop by the Natural Farm Market and pick up some of the local fair for yourself.



 

Fruit Wine

Fruit Wine
Few people think of Okinawa as a winemaking region, but local wines have actually taken top prizes in international competitions. Mango wine produced by Uchina Farm in Itomon at the south end of the main island took first prize in one of Asia’s most prestigious wine contests, Japan Wine Challenge 2016. Made exclusively from super-fragrant locally grown mangos, the wine is said to mirror the experience of eating one of the mangos itself! As you’ll see below, this fruit wine isn’t the only Okinawa alcoholic treat that takes advantage of Okinawa’s locally-grown jewels.



 

Mango Mojito

Mango Mojito
Those who prefer even more fruit in their alcoholic beverages can order a mango mojito. The desire for a taste of this uniquely local fare made with Okinawan rum, sugarcane juice and highly-prized Miyakojima mangos is likely what has made mango mojito such a popular item at upscale bars like the ones you can find on Miyakojima and surrounding islands.



 

Some Great Places to Enjoy Okinawa Alcohol

Shigira Bar North24, Shigira Resort area

Shigira Bar North24
With a magnificent ocean view and an outdoor terrace perfect for gazing at crimson sunsets and starry night skies, North 24 is a great place to enjoy some of the finest alcohols to be found anywhere in Okinawa. The famous mango mojito is only one of many luxurious drinks on the menu, which, in addition to top-tier imports from Europe and other regions, includes unique regional offerings such as a mango cocktail based on ‘mangoyan’ alcohol distilled from mangos grown on Miyakojima. The softly lit, muted interior sets a restful mood to help guests unwind after a day of sightseeing or a round of golf at Shigira Bay Country Club. Shuttle service is available to take guests from the bar back to any of the hotels which are part of Shigira Resort.



 

The Bar, Kohamajima

Nestled in Allamanda Hotel close to the renown restaurant Deep Blue is ‘The Bar’, a cozy six-seat counter-bar known for its selection of awamori and other local offerings. The Bar provides an adult resort experience for travelers looking for a place to relax after dinner. 



 

Chichi, Iriomote Nirakanai

The Bar, Kohamajima
On the unspoiled island paradise of Iriomote, within Nirakanai Resort is the bar Chichi. This charming, open and calming space gives guests a sense of freedom. The natural atmosphere is enhanced by the trees and tropical flowers which grow thickly around it and the bar catches the reflections of the sparkling pool right in front of it. At Chichi, guests can enjoy cocktails and awamori as well as a selection of wine and spirits.




 

Have your Favorite Okinawa Alcoholic Beverage—Or go for Coffee Instead

Of course, these are just some of the great spots throughout the islands where guests can savor the wonders of Okinawa alcoholic drinks. And for travelers who would prefer not to drink at all, there are relaxing cafes like Nirakani’s Jungle Book Café or other breezy options like Blue Café, which is part of Blue Cabin on Ishigakijima. Whatever your tastes, you will find what you desire at one of Shigira’s fine resorts.





 

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