Alcoholic beverages in general

1. How much alcoholic beverages are produced annually in Japan?

The amount* of alcoholic beverages produced in Japan in 2011 (from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012) was 8,109,662KL, 1.8% less than the previous year's 8,258,273KL. The figures for major Japanese distilled and fermented drinks:

  • Japanese sake (Seishu) - 440,472KL (1.5% less than the previous year)
  • Shochu (single distilled) - 459,371KL (6.6% less than the previous year)
  • Beer - 2,895,187KL (2.0% less than the previous year)
  • Wine - 80,000KL (8.4% more than the previous year)
  • Liqueur (including what is called 'the 4th beer', defined elsewhere) - 1,837,676KL (7.2% more than the previous year)
What are the differences between beer, low-malt beer, and malt-free beer?

For further details, please refer "National Tax Agency Report" found on the website of the National Tax Agency.

National Tax Agency Report (website of the National Tax Agency)

* 'Amount of alcoholic beverages produced' means the amount produced in factories.

2. How many alcoholic-beverage-producing sites are there in Japan?

There were 3,107 licensed alcoholic-beverage-producing sites in 2011 (from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012), which is 0.03% more than the previous year's 3,106. Number of sites licensed to manufacture the major types of alcohol:

  • Japanese sake (Seishu) - 1,709
  • Shochu (single distilled) - 374
  • Beer - 181
  • Wine - 262
  • Liqueur - 170
  • Other fermented beverages - 243

3. How much alcohol drink is sold annually in Japan?

The total amount of taxed alcoholic beverage* in 2011 (from April 1, 2011 to March 31, 2012) was 8,935,681KL, 0.3% less than the previous year's 8,962,580. The amounts of taxed major alcoholic beverage

  • Japanese sake (Seishu) - 603,026KL (0.05% more than the previous year)
  • Shochu (single distilled) - 507,541KL (0.1% less than the previous year)
  • Beer - 2,859,334KL (2.8% less than the previous year)
  • Wine - 302,045KL (10.2% more than the previous year)
  • Liqueur - 2,058,444KL (7.4% more than the previous year)
  • Other alcoholic beverages -724,368KL (0.2% less than the previous year)

* The amount of tax-charged alcohol drink means the amount of alcoholic beverages taxed and shipped from production sites. This amount is nearly equal to the amount sold to consumers. I would like to make fruit liquor by soaking fruit in a bottle of liquor. Please tell me what precautions I should take.

4. I would like to make fruit liqueur by soaking fruit in a bottle of liquor. Please tell me what precautions I should take.

Making liquor requires a license. The Liquor Tax Law prohibits people from converting an alcoholic beverage by adding some material except water to existing liquor. However, in 1962 an exception was added to the law. Now, in Japan, it is permitted to make a liqueur by adding some other material, such as ume plums, to existing liquor, only when it is made for private use.

Be sure to observe these three precautions.

  1. The liquor you use should be 20% alcohol or higher.
  2. Please note: Article 13-3 of the Liquor Tax Law specifies materials you should not use as follows: rice, wheat, barley, millet, corn, kaoliang, proso millet, barnyard millet, starch, koji made with those cereal, grapes, wild grapes, amino acids or their salts, vitamins, nucleic acids hydrolyzates or their salts, organic acids or their salts, non-organic salts, food colorings, or spices.
  3. After the fruit is added to the liquor, the alcohol level must not rise more than 1%.
See page 6, Liqueur, in 'The Alcoholic Drink Story', Volume 6. In Japanese only. English version is preparing.

5. Tell us how to store alcoholic beverages.

Storage condition varies with the type of beverage you want to store: distilled liquor (whiskey, shochu, etc.), fermented beverages (Japanese sake, beer, wine, etc.). Fermented beverages contain more ingredients than distilled liquor, so their quality can deteriorate more easily, and thus more careful control is required.

The quality of fermented beverages is affected by the presence of oxygen, the storage temperature, and light.

Oxygen combines with the ingredients in alcoholic drinks (through oxidation), and the quality of a beverage deteriorates. Once a bottle was opened, it is important to avoid exposing the alcoholic drink to air. Keeping the remainder in a smaller bottle is a good idea. High temperatures accelerate various chemical reactions. Alcoholic beverages change in quality when they are stored at too high a temperature. That's why you should store them at a moderately low temperature environment*1. Light (especially UV light)*2 promotes chemical reactions and accelerate the change of the quality of the beverages. That's why it is important to protect your alcohol from sunlight and artificial lights.

*1 On the other hand, when alcohol is stored at an excessively low temperature, its quality will also change. Beer and shochu that are kept too cold can become cloudy because sediment develops. Wine, for example, can develop crystals of tartaric acid. Therefore, it is important to store your alcoholic beverages at an appropriate moderate temperature.

*2 Please note that light from fluorescent lamps, as well as sunlight, also promotes chemical reactions in alcoholic beverages.

See page 9, Sales, in 'The Alcoholic Drink Story', Volume 9. In Japanese only. English version is preparing.

6. I found some old alcohol that had been stored away. Should I try it?

Drinking old alcohol is not bad for your health. However, its quality may have been changed by oxidation, temperature, and/or light exposure during long storage. Because fermented alcoholic beverages have more ingredients than distilled liquor, they are especially likely to suffer a significant loss of quality. Generally, alcohol manufacturers bottle or pack their products in order to deliver the products to their customers in the best condition. Storing the beverage for a long time in your home may result in a reduction of the quality of your purchase. However, the taste of consumers vary a lot. It's up to you if you want to try it!

Japanese sake (Seishu)

The quality of sake changes during storage. The Maillard reaction between sugar and amino acids in sake causes yellow to brown color. The Maillard reaction is stimulated when it is stored at a high temperature and/or for a long time. Also, proteins and other substances may precipitate out, causing cloudiness and sediment. Its flavor and aroma will change to that like Shaoxing rice wine.


Each bottle or can of beer has a best-use-by date specified on it. We recommend drinking it before that date.


The best time to drink wine is within one or two years after it is shipped, except for full-bodied wines. Full-bodied wines are more suitable for aging, and they will have a pronounced flavor and aroma. The color and flavor will change during storage. White and rose wines become deeper in color, or turn brown. Even red wine will turn to red-brown or black. In some cases, the proteins and tannin precipitate out and make the wine cloudy. Red wines with high tannin, which are suitable for aging, become milder through aging, because they lose astringency. Good aging produces "bouquet" (matured flavor) of wine.

Whiskey and shochu

After they are bottled, these kinds of liquor do not lose quality unless they are exposed to light. Shochu made from sweet potatoes will lose its characteristic sweet flavor over time.

See page 5, Alcoholic Beverages & Sales, in 'The Alcoholic Drink Story', Volume 9. In Japanese only. English version is preparing.

7. What is drunkenness?

When people drink liquor, the amount of alcohol in their blood rises. Drunkenness is believed to be the result of the combination of the effect of alcohol on the central nervous system, and the effect of acetaldehyde, an intermediate metabolite of alcohol, on the body. Each part of the central nervous system -- the cerebral cortex, the cerebellum, the medulla oblongata, and the spinal cord -- is affected by a different level of alcohol in the blood. That is why the symptoms you exhibit change as you continue to drink.


The Health and Medicine of Alcohol Association (In Japanese only)

8. Would we get alcohol sickness if we drank different types of alcoholic beverages (such as sake, wine, whiskey, and beer) at the same time?

People often say that drinking many different types of alcohol caused drunken sickness. Actually, it was caused by drinking an excessive amount of alcohol, not by mixing many kinds of drinks. Different flavors of foods can lead a person to eat even when they are full. Similarly, the different flavors of a variety of alcoholic drinks may lead you to drink too much.

9. Do people inherit their alcohol tolerance?

After your body absorbs alcohol, the alcohol is sent to the liver, and changed to acetaldehyde. The acetaldehyde will be broken down to carbon dioxide and water. A person's ability to drink alcohol is dependent on the amount and activity of the enzyme that breaks down ethyl alcohol (which is the initial cause of drunken behavior) and the enzyme that breaks down acetaldehyde (which causes drunken sickness). There are two forms of each of these enzymes: active and inactive form. The type of enzymes determines the ability to drink alcohol. These enzyme types are inherited from one's parents, so it is true that the ability to drink alcohol is to some extent inherited.


The Health and Medicine of Alcohol Association (In Japanese only)

10. How many calories do alcoholic beverages have?

The calories in drinks are derived from the extract (mainly sugar) in the drink and the calories in alcohol. Calories of alcohol and sugar (glucose) are 7.1 and 4 kcal/g, respectively. Generally, a drink with high alcohol concentration has higher calorie than that with low alcohol concentration and sweet taste. Comparing calories per 100g* in various drinks:

  • Shochu (25% alcohol) - 146kcal
  • Japanese sake (josen) - 109kcal
  • Red wine - 73kcal
  • Beer - 40kcal

* For comparison, 100g of boiled rice has 168kcal.

11. Are Japanese alcoholic beverages safe?

After the accident of the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant in March 2011, NRIB is carrying out analyses and researches to keep the safety of alcohol beverages produced in Japan. These operations are carried out in cooperation with the National Tax Agency, which is responsible for the quality and safety of alcohol beverages in Japan. Up to July 31th 2013, 6,434 items were analyzed, and none of them exceeded the standard limits for radioactive cesium. The analytical results are used for the certifications of exported alcohol beverages from Japan, when it is needed. Thus, it is guaranteed that Japanese alcohol beverages are safe.