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Is it true that in normal conversation, "sake" means alcohol generically? Not sake specifically? And sake specifically is "nihonshu"?

The story is, I learned some Japanese 40+ years ago in Australia. Last year I was in Japan for the first time. I was in a bottle shop, looking for sake. I turned to the person next to me and said: "Sumimasen ga, kore wa sake desu ka?" I'd assumed, not unreasonably, that the word for sake, is "sake"!

But someone tells me this is not the case. So could or should I have said: "Sumimasen ga, kore wa nihonshu desu ka?"

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