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Japanese Liquor: 14 Amazing Drinks You Need to Experience

You’re probably familiar with sake, but there are many other Japanese liquors worth checking out. Japan puts extra care and attention into crafting its alcoholic beverages, resulting in delicious and distinct flavors that are unforgettable.

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Shelf of Japanese liquor display on shelves in a grocery store

From wine to beer to weird cocktails, this list has the best Japanese alcoholic drinks. Check out these remarkable drinks and liquors and try some of them for yourself!

If you want cool Japanese liquor for your next drinking party, check out these 14 noteworthy options.

Many major and minor brands of Japanese liquors in a japanese restaurant

Sake

Perhaps the most popular alcoholic drink from Japan, sake is a delicious and sweet type of Japanese liquor that almost everyone is familiar with.

Japanese sake, New Year party gatherings

Sake comes from fermented rice and typically has a light pink or yellow hue. The ABV is usually around 15%, so it’s a weak drink that is easy and pleasant to sip on when drink the proper way.

People often compare it to wine because the many flavors make it fun to taste different ones and the ABVs are comparable. Sake can be enjoyed at room temperature, warm, hot, or chilled, showcasing its versatility.


Shōchū

Shōchū is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from rice barley, sweet potatoes, buckwheat, and brown sugar. It can also feature other ingredients for flavor, including sesame seeds, carrots, Japanese potatoes, chestnuts, green apples, citrus, mango, lemon juice, melon flavor, or even green tea.

This drink has an ABV of around 30% and comes in several flavors. It’s like an alcoholic fruit juice, with a sweet and succulent flavor.

People often take shots of this liquor at drinking parties or use it for celebratory shooters. And the high alcohol content makes it perfect for shots!


Awamori

While some people compare this beverage to a sake drink, it has a much deeper and warmer flavor. Unlike the fruity notes in sake, awamori is sweeter with hints of caramel and vanilla.

 3 types of Awamori liquor, served in 3 shot glasses

It is usually serviced chilled or at room temperature in a small glass. It’s meant to be sipped slowly, not gulped. The more you drink, the more the flavor profile opens and deepens.

The ABV of awamori can range from 30% to 45%. The main ingredients are black koji mold which is rice malt, rice, and distilled spirits. It’s one of the most popular alcoholic beverages from the islands of Okinawa.


Chūhai

Chūhai is a famous Japanese cocktail that combines shochu, soda, and fruit juice. It can also be referred to as Sour because of the tart and bright flavor it has.

You can find this alcoholic drink at izakaya-style restaurants, but it’s one of the more expensive beverages you can order.

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The combination of citrus, apple, yuzu, and malted barley creates rich layers of warm and vivid flavors that blend to create a well-balanced cocktail.

This refreshing drink is a must-try if you visit a Japanese restaurant, and while the ABV should be around 9%, it depends on the bartender.


Happōshu

Happōshu is a low-malt Japanese beer with a low ABV of between 4% and 7%. So it’s like a light American beer. The beer has a smooth flavor that is less bitter than many other beers. It has a weak and subtle flavor, some people find it too bland.

However, it’s wildly popular among young Japanese drinkers because it is easy to drink. Some do not consider it beer because the malt content is low.


Whisky

Japanese whisky is a special style of whisky from Japan. It differs substantially from American or Irish whisky, as the weather and changing seasons in Japan change the whisky during the distilling process.

A line up of Japanese whisky bottles

So they age it even slower than most distilleries. It’s hard to explain the flavor and ingredients, as there are many varieties and brands of Japanese whisky, all with different ingredients and distilling methods. But the ABV is usually around 50%, ranging from 35% to 65%.


Kuchikamizake

This Japanese liquor is similar to sake, as it’s rice-based alcohol. However, it uses a funky ingredient: human saliva.

The saliva is used as a starter to begin the fermentation process. This liquor is becoming rare, as the method to make it is very particular and intensive, and sake is an acceptable replacement.

People describe the taste as sour and tart compared to sweet standard sake and the ABV doesn’t typically get any higher than 7%. You likely won’t find this at your local American liquor store, but Asian liquor stores may sell it.


Absinthe

While the absinthe most people are familiar with originated in Switzerland, you can also try Japanese absinthe, which has a smoother and more botanical flavor.

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Bottles of Xenta absinthe on the store counter

Traditional absinthe is bitter and herbal, but Japanese absinthe is slightly sweeter with warmer notes of earthy ingredients. The Japanese version of absinthe has a more floral flavor compared to the sharp anise of Swiss absinthe.

However, it does have the tartness one expects from this heavy-hitting drink. The ABV ranges from 45% to 75%, so absinthe is no joke. 


Rum

Japanese rum uses the finest ingredients to create unusual flavors. There are several types of Japanese rum, including Agricole, dark rum, gold rum, white rum, naval strength, overproof, and spiced.

Some rums have unique flavor profiles, like raisin or sesame, which offer delicate and special flavors you won’t experience anywhere else.

The ABV ranges from 25% to 40%, and the drink’s color can be anything from dark brown to clear. Like all Japanese liquors, Japanese rum is fermented using rice, but it’s not necessarily white rice.


Tamagozake

This funky Japanese cocktail consists of sake, sugar cane, and a raw egg! This cocktail is perfect for the adventurous drinker who likes to try odd beverages. To make this drink you shake all the ingredients vigorously together.

Traditionally, the cocktail uses heated sake and is shaken without ice. This beverage is often used as a cold remedy, like a hot toddy in the US.

It has a sugary honeyed taste with a velvety and rich mouthfeel from the raw egg. Some people add sliced ginger to the drink to add a bit of spice. The ABV is typically around 13%.


Brandy

Japanese brandy uses unusual ingredients to create distinct and memorable flavors. Some people adore the odd and bold flavors, while others find them offputting and overpowering.

bottle of japanese brandy

Some Japanese brandies use chocolate, black vinegar, and grapes flavor, all very pungent and rich in flavor. If you love herbaceous drinks, Japanese brandy offers an aromatic and invigorating taste of Japanese herbs that American braids do not have.

The ABV of most Japanese brandys is around 25%, which is significantly lower than brandy from other countries.


Gin

Japanese gin has become incredibly popular in the US indecent years. Instead of using grain as the base of the gin, Japanese gin uses rice, barley, corn, and other neutral grain spirits to create a sweeter and smooth base.

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Japanese Rogu gin infused with Kobo root

Some Japanese gins use sweet potato liquor or aged Japanese tea as the base, typically more expensive with a herbaceous and robust flavor.

The ABV of Japanese gin is usually around 45% but can range substantially. Like most Japanese drinks, only rare and high-quality ingredients are used during the distilling process.


Umeshu

Umeshu is a Japanese plum wine that has a surprising tartness. While it’s technically wine, it’s often used as a cocktail ingredient to craft unique and delicious drinks.

It’s not a plum-flavored beverage, it is an alcoholic drink made from plums. Fresh Japanese plums are soaked with sugar cane and white liquor to create this beverage.

People make refreshing and vibrant cocktails with umeshu, including highballs, cooler, spritzes, and more. Despite this being a type of wine, it has a super high ABV of 35%.


Vodka

Unsurprisingly, most Japanese vodka comes from white rice, giving it a soft and smooth flavor. There are many Japanese vodka brands, but most deliver a floral and lightly fruity flavor akin to sake.

Bottles of Haku Vodka the Japanese craft vodka

To make Japanese vodka, 100% pure white rice is fermented, distilled, blended, and filtered to create crystal-clear alcohol.

Many Japanese vodkas have a creamy and soft mouthfeel that is a departure from the harshness of most vodkas. Most Japanese vodkas have an ABV of around 60%, but it can range anywhere from 35% to 95%, akin to Everclear.


Frequently Asked Questions

Below are a few related questions.

What is an Izakaya?

Izakaya is a type of Japanese bar that is affordable and serves food or snacks. These bars and restaurants are more casual and informal.

Is beer popular in Japan?

Yes, it is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Japan and is widely consumed.

What is habushu?

Habashu is awamori-based alcohol made by mixing herbs and honey into the liquor. But what makes it super weird and memorable is the pit viper inserted into the bottle.

Japanese Liquor: 14 Drinks

  1. Sake
  2. Shōchū
  3. Awamori
  4. Chūhai
  5. Happōshu
  6. Whisky
  7. Kuchikamizake
  8. Absinthe
  9. Rum
  10. Tamagozake
  11. Brandy
  12. Gin
  13. Umeshu
  14. Vodka

Final Thoughts

Japenese alcohol is made with the finest ingredients using meticulous methods, delivering sensational flavors and unique drinking experiences. Try some Japanese liquors you haven’t had and bask in the delicate flavors and superior quality.

What’s your favorite Japanese liquor? Leave us a comment!

Please drink responsibly, be fully accountable with your alcohol consumption, and show others respect.

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Paul Kushner

Written by Paul Kushner

Founder and CEO of MyBartender. Graduated from Penn State University. He always had a deep interest in the restaurant and bar industry. His restaurant experience began in 1997 at the age of 14 as a bus boy. By the time he turned 17 he was serving tables, and by 19 he was bartending/bar managing 6-7 nights a week.

In 2012, after a decade and a half of learning all facets of the industry, Paul opened his first restaurant/bar. In 2015, a second location followed, the latter being featured on The Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.

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