HomeExperienceEat & DrinkLocally Produced Traditional Asian Drinks

Locally Produced Traditional Asian Drinks

One might think the extent of Asian alcohol stops at sake, but there’s a whole world of drinks and liquor from Asia that people hardly explore. There are some states where we can give some sort of leeway because of the price of imports and diversity among the population. But if you’re living in NYC? There are so many Asian alcoholic drinks to check out for a cultural and fun indulgence. 

1.) Sake and Shochu

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Starting off with sake, this is a Japanese rice beer and typically has a 10-20% alcohol content. Sake is made by a brewing process that uses Koji spores. The spores are dusted onto rice to convert the rice starch into sugar, which is then consumed by the yeast to result in alcohol. Of course, for different types of sake, there are different brewing methods involved. Sake can be served hot or cold, and can come in different flavors. Sakaya is a NYC local shop that specializes in premium sake. You can order online or go in-store to shop.

Another popular drink in Japan is shochu. Shochu has been around in Japan for at least 500 years, and unlike sake that is made out of rice, shochu is made out of sweet potato or barley. Its alcohol percentage varies between 25-30%, but since it’s usually mixed into other beverages, the alcohol percentage consumed is lower. 

2.) Soju and Makgeolli 

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This popular Korean liquor has been making its rounds for a couple of years now. It comes in the classic flavor, fruity flavors, and a strange chocolate mint flavor that was trending last year. Soju is clear in color, with no carbonation, and the texture is a little thick on the tongue. Some of the fruity flavors like green grape and peach almost have no alcohol taste, so beware of how much you’re drinking. Soju is a distilled rice alcohol and contains about 13-20% alcohol content. In Korea, the “red cap” bottles have a higher alcohol content, so that is something to look out for as well. Many liquor shops in Chinatown have soju for cheaper than if you were to go to a restaurant. If you’re looking for a drink with a mix of soju, Soku is a mixed cocktail in a can.

Makgeolli is another popular rice alcohol from Korea. Unlike how soju is usually taken as a shot, makgeolli is traditionally served in a bowl and kettle. It’s made from fermented rice, wheat, and water and has a slightly sweeter taste. It can also be a little bubbly and has 6-9% of alcohol content. This Brooklyn spot, Hana Makgeolli, sells a beautifully packaged makgeolli. The maker of Soku also has another line, Makku that is makgeolli in different flavors. 

3.) Baijiu

By HunagnTwuai – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Baijiu is a distilled liquor made from cereal grain and is one of the world’s best selling spirits. While it’s clear and looks like vodka, the taste of baijiu and specifically the brand Maotai is nothing like you’ve tasted. At first it tastes like nothing, but then it’s sweet and then it’s kind of spicy and bitter. The spirit itself is quite aromatic as well, even for the cheaper brands. The alcohol percentage on this clocks around 40-65%, so be careful if you’re planning on partying with this drink. Kissena Golden in Queens and Liquor Village NYC in Brooklyn have some baijiu selections. If you’re in Chinatown in Manhattan, pop into a liquor store and they just might have a bottle or two to try.

4.) Indian Whiskey

By User:Vikrambj – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

This popular India liquor is traditionally made out of molasses, rather than grains. Outside of the country, it would actually be labeled as run. With an ABV of 50%, this whiskey is very strong to say the least. Some of the most popular brands to try out include Amrut, Solan No. 1, Peter Scot Black, and Paul John Oloroso Select Cask. This site helps you find a selection of Indian Whiskey in NYC.

Along with Asian alcohol is the spike in people consuming hard seltzers. While there are the classic hard seltzers like White Claw and Truly, there are also Asian-owned brands that incorporate Asian flavors into these seltzers. A local NYC brand, Lunar, has flavors like yuzu and lychee. Avatar: The Last Airbender-inspired Nectar has a variety pack that includes Asian pear, mandarin, lychee and yuzu. And a special mention that isn’t a hard seltzer, Sanzo was founded by a local Queens-born Filipino American who makes delicious sparkling flavors like calamansi, yuzu with ginger, mango, and lychee. 

Nina Yu is a freelance writer who is currently based out of Salt Lake City. They are interested in topics like social justice issues, travel, and beauty/skincare. When they are not writing, you can find them hiking, laughing to a fun podcast, or reading a good book.