Habushu is a traditional form of Okinawan rice liquor that comes with a fang-bearing pit viper coiled at the bottom of the bottle. Known as Protobothrops flavoviridis, or simply habu, the venomous snake lives on Japan’s Ryukyu Islands. In habushu, it combines with another Ryukyu specialty—Okinawa’s awamori, a spirit made with Thai rice and a local black mold known as kōji.
The habu’s reputation as a fierce predator has also led to a reputation as an energy- and libido-boosting ingredient. Though it’s mostly sold to visitors today, it was once used as a medicinal tonic. Producers either drown the snake in the liquor or kill and gut it before adding to the bottle. In addition to a faster death for the animal, the latter method is also said to give the awamori a cleaner taste.
How does habushu taste overall? As production methods vary, so too does the flavor—one bottle can carry mellow notes of sweetness and spice, while another might offer a harsh gut-punch. If you want to experience the best versions of Okinawa’s signature spirit, however, most distillers would recommend going for a bottle without a snake inside.
Need to Know
You'll likely find habushu on Kokusai Dori Street, a shopping hub in the Okinawan city of Naha featuring many foods, drinks, and crafts.