Habushu, also know as Habu Sake or Okinawan Snake Wine, is a liqueur unique to…you guessed it, Okinawa, Japan.
How it’s Made
Habushu starts with an Awamori base, which is a type of rice liqueur popular in Japan. Herbs and honey give the drink a distinct, yellow color. But what makes Habushu such a novelty is the pit viper that is preserved inside the bottle.
Yes, a Real Snake
An actual snake is curled at the base, with its head viciously rising in a striking motion. It’s straight up terrifying. A living snake is placed in the awamori, and slowly drowns; which I find to be particularly sad and highly advocate for more humane methods. A secondary method consists of sedating the snake, then inserting it into the bottle.
Similar to a copperhead or rattle snake, these native Japanese pit vipers are extremely venomous. Being submerged in alcohol apparently dissolves the poison, but produces a freaky taste.
Being such an iconic part of Okinawan culture, we stopped for a Habu Sake tasting while walking through a popular shopping area. It’s not hard to find shops that have jars of the stuff displayed in their windows. Tastings are a couple of bucks typically, and you can split one. Not many people want to down the whole thing.
The shop attendants got a good laugh from our responses; and I’m sure we aren’t the only ones who wince when tasting the pungent concoction. Imagine Jack Daniels, but with strong notes of something very earthy. Does that give you an idea of the taste? Maybe not, because it is something you just have to try for yourself.
You may love it, you may hate it, you may skip it all together because you are opposed to production methods. Regardless, it’s a part of their culture in Okinawa, and if you want to do something strange, it might be your thing.