Yesterday was the first truly hot day of the year. Here on the coast of Maine it got up to 73 degrees, which to an Alaskan girl like me might as well be the surface of the sun. But, I've lived in this too hot environment for almost two decades now and I've developed some wonderful coping strategies. On of my most favorite, and also the easiest, is have a fun cold beverage to drink. With this in mind, I looked up what sorts of drinks they have over in Japan and was excited to try and write about four of them. All were very easy, and scrumptiously refreshing, so I'm passing them on to you!
Let's start with the easiest, mugicha. This is a tea that is made with roasted barley and is a very popular summertime drink in Japan. It is usually drunk iced and without sugar, for a lovely and refreshing drink that is healthy. The flavor is strong and reminiscent of black tea though it contains no caffeine. Recently I read that mugicha is very good for your teeth, actually fighting the bacteria that cause tooth decay. So not only will this sugarless drink not rot out your teeth, it may make them even better!
Now let's move onto something a little more fun, the Japanese shandy. Beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan, accounting for a whopping third of the market. And of course, a cold beer is pretty hard to beat on a hot day, even I think so and I hardly drink at all. But do you know what else is hard to beat on a hot day? Lemonade. The Japanese know this and that is why they have created shandy, a drink that brings the two hot day staples together. Most often in Japan this drink is made using C.C. Lemon, a Japanese carbonated lemon drink that is very acidic and supposedly has as much vitamin C as 70 lemons. The preferred beer is Suntory Kinmugi, which is a happoshu styled beer, meaning it is low malt, making it a popular cheap beer.
I did not have access to either C.C. Lemon or Suntory Kinmugi, nor any other Japanese beer, so instead I used 50/50 parts Sicilian carbonated lemonade and St. Pauli N.A., a really good, non-alcoholic beer. But I think that this drink could work with any carbonated lemonade and light beer. I used non-alcoholic because I hardly ever drink, and because it makes a great virgin drink. But enough about how I made it, you want to know how it tasted. Oh my god, it was the best damn thing I have ever drank, and so refreshing that I felt like it was winter again. The lemon and the beer are a match made in heaven, and all this needed to be more fun was a tiny umbrella.
Last Thanksgiving I made a bunch of different mock-tails, since no one in my family really drinks, and had a lot of fun mixing them up. This and the fact that I have some lovely fancy glasses made me very excited to try making sake cocktails. In Japan the more popular option for cocktails is shochu, a very strong distilled alcohol made from either rice, barley, or sweet potatoes. I had no shochu, and anyway, I much prefer the lighter sake and it is far easier to get in the US.
The sake I used was namazake, an unpasteurized sake with a great flavor. I made two different cocktails, one cranberry and lime and the other lemon and peach. Both had sugar on the rims because I've always wanted to try that. For the first one I used Nantucket Nectar's Big Cranberry juice, a splash of namazake, some fresh cranberries for show and a squeeze of lime. For the second one I used the same Sicilian lemonade I used for the shandy, a splash of namazake, and a wedge of ripe peach. They were both smashingly light and fruity! The sake was present but not at all overpowering and the sugar on the rim was just as fun as it always looks. Drinking these made me want to wear a giant fur coat and listen to jazz, or at the very least invite some friends over for drinks (now I just need to acquire some friends that don't live hours away).
So whether you're having a party, or it's just a really hot day, try one of these amazing Japanese summer drinks! I know that I shall be trying out a few different cocktails next month for my sister's birthday, and we'll see how long I go before making another virgin shandy.
Until next time, enjoy the sun!