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5 Things You Want To Know About Japanese Sour Cocktail

5 things you want to know about Japanese sour cocktails Food & Recipes

Wikipedia says,

sour is a traditional family of mixed drinks. Common examples of sours are the margarita and the sidecar. Sours belong to one of the old families of original cocktails and are described by Jerry Thomas in his 1862 book How to Mix Drinks. Sours are mixed drinks containing a base liquor, lemon or lime juice, and a sweetener (triple sec, simple syrup, grenadine, or pineapple juice are common). Egg whites are also included in some sours.


A cocktail named “sour” you know is basically like this.

However, in Japan, the cocktail called “Sour” is a little (very much) different cocktail from these.

What Is The Cocktail Called ‘Sour’ in Japan

“Sour”(サワー) is a staple Izakaya cocktail in Japan, which, generally is mixed with distilled spirits (such as Japanese Shochu and Vodka), fizzy water, and fresh-squeezed fruit/ fruit syrup/ etc.

In most cases, Japanese sour is dry, not so sweet as a sweet-sour cocktail.

“Sour” is a popular drink at Izakayas as I said, you can choose a variety of fruit flavors (even non-fruit flavors) and it is often served in a beer mug or highball glass.

So, Sour is mixed Shochu and fizzy water, umm, it sounds like Chu-Hi.

Indeed, it is funny, but even most Japanese don’t know what exactly is different between “Sour” as the Izakaya drink and “Chu-Hi”.

What’s The Difference Between Sour & Chu-Hi In Japan

There is still no specific clear definition between these two Japanese Izakaya drinks, however, ‘Chu-hi” is considered the cocktail in the family of ‘Sour’.

For more Chaos, although the menu says “Chu-Hi”, actually “sour” drink is served in casual Izakaya Chains.

In other words, when the cocktail is made of the authentic Shochu is called Chu-Hi, and it will likely not be a Sour, but it can be sour or Chu-hi when it is made of distilled liquor made by the multiple distillation.

Moreover, sour drinks served in casual Izakaya chains or Karaoke rooms are used fruit-flavored sweet syrup, so sour is often considered as cheap Izakaya drinks.

As checking out the ingredients of canned Chu-Hi, it is made from vodka, not Shochu.

I know… Japan is so chaotic.

The History of Japanese Sour

It is said Lemon sour is the origin that the Japanese drinking enthusiasts started to use “Sour” after WW2 in Japan.

Until then, the cocktail made of Shochu and fizzy water was called “Shochu highball”, and one day, a customer started to enjoy Shochu highball with fresh-squeezed lemon at a mahjong club in Tokyo.

Since then, it became the popular Lemon Shochu highball and it was called “sour”/”lemon sour” because it was a sour taste!

As Lemon sour has become so popular among drinking enthusiasts, more kinds of sour have been developed, and the drink made of distilled spirits, fizzy water, and added flavors was called “sour”.

In 1980, a lemon sour mix, “High sour”, had produced by “Hakusui-sha” and then especially “Lemon sour” got a more common drink at home, at Izakayas in Japan.

Popular Flavors In Japanese Sour Drinks

As I said, “sour drink” in Japanese izakaya often refers to nearly the same as the “Chu-hi”.

Lemon sour, grapefruit sour, the sour drinks mixed with oolong tea called oolong-hi, or Sencha green tea called ‘Ryokucha sour’, are the staple sour drinks in izakayas.

These sour drinks are refreshing and easy to drink, so it’s very popular for those who don’t like beer or sweet cocktails.

So, it is not only “Lemon sour” in Japan, there are more flavors in drink menus in Izakayas and canned sour products today, from simple to unique.

Grapefruit sourグレープフルーツサワーgrapefru~tsu sawa(ah)
Green Apple SourりんごサワーAo Ri(Li)ngo sawa(ah)
Japanese Plum sour梅サワーUme sawa(ah)
Grape Sourぶどう(巨峰サワー)Budou (Kyohou) sawa(ah)
Calpis Sourカルピスサワー*Karupisu sawa(ah)
Peach Sourピーチ(桃)サワーPeach sawa (ah)
Japanese Plum sour梅サワーUme sawa(ah)
Casis sourカシスサワーKashisu sawa(ah)
Lime (or Japanese Citrus) sourライム(かぼす)サワーLime (kabosu) sawa(ah)
Yuzu sourゆずサワーYuzu sawa(ah)


“Kabosu” (かぼす) is a Japanese citrus fruit especially popular in Oita Prefecture, Kyushu.

Its taste is close to lime but maybe more bitter and tangy.

There is similar Japanese citrus called “Sudachi”(すだち), it is popular in Tokushima Prefecture, in Shikoku island, it is much smaller (golf ball-big) than Kabosu (tennis ball-big), and its taste is little milder than Kabosu.

These are often used for cocktails and are also more popular than Limes, so it may happen the flavor will be Kabosu or Sudachi especially when you buy a canned Chuhai or Sour in Japan.


“Yuzu(ゆず)” is a citrus fruit in the family Rutaceae, it has a relatively thick yellow skin and is more aromatic and much sourer than other citrus fruits.

However, Yuzu has a slightly sweet and refreshing flavor, unlike sudachi or Kabosu.

Yuzu has been well-known for its health benefits and a part of life in Asian countries for a long time.

What’s Nama Shibori Sour (Sawa)

You’ll often see “Nam Shibori Sawa” on a drink menu at an Izakaya restaurant, Japan.

Nama Shobori literally means “FRESH SQUEEZED”, so the drink is made of fresh-squeezed fruit juice, fizzy water, and distilled spirits.

Sometimes, Namashibori sour is served with fresh-cut fruits and a squeezer, a beer mug filled with ice and distilled spirits.

Do you want to try my unique Namashibori sour at home?

The “Lemon Sour” Booming In Japan

In a couple of years, “Lemon sour” has been trending in Japanese drinking culture, especially among young girls.

“Lemon sour” is nice to drink because of the strong fizz and lemony refreshment flavor, low calorie, low carb compared with beer.

Also, they enjoy updating photogenic ‘Lemon sour” on their SNS, this is why many Izakayas have been competing making ‘Lemon sour” photogenic.

Not only young girls but also people who care about healthy bodies but still want to enjoy drinking likely choosing “Lemon sour” because of using distilled spirits.

Compared with a few years ago, several kinds of canned “lemon sour” are overwhelmingly filled with shelves in stores.

The Bottom Line

When you visit Japan or someone talks about Japanese sour, it’s different cocktails what you think.

A big difference is using carbonated water and not so sweet.

Generally, the price of “Sour” is not expensive but it depends on it is used fresh fruits or “sour mix”.

It’s very easy to make yourself, why not make your own tonight?

You can make “Japanese sour” with vodka or gin, any distilled spirits but if you want to feel more authentic Japanese, you can try “Shochu”, but, it can be Chu-Hi…Haha.

“Shochu” is low calories and low-carb drink, do you want to know healthy snacks that Japanese often order at Izakayas?

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