Japanese has recently become more well-known for whisky production, but there were other spirits before whisky that have become a staple in everyday Japanese culture. Now that the holidays are here, we’d like to introduce you to other Japanese liquor. These alcoholic beverages make wonderful gifts for friends and family or even for yourself. If you’d like to try other spirits that aren’t whisky, check out the following top-selling alcohol in Japan:

Sake

Sake (pronounced like ‘sah-keh’) is known around the world as Japan’s famous fermented rice wine drink; but what most people know saké is known as ‘nihonshu’ in Japan. This is because the term ‘sake’ in Japanese is referred to alcoholic beverages in general, not rice wine specifically.

For centuries, sake has been a part of the Japanese culture to the point where it’s known as Japan’s national alcoholic drink. It can be served chilled, warm, hot or at room temperature. Often served in ceramic bottles with sake cups, this popular alcoholic beverage is excellent to sip as you enjoy your meals.  

Featured Saké: Chienomizu Junmai Daiginjo

Shochu/Awamori

Shochu is another favorite in Japan. The main difference between sake and shochu is that shochu is not fermented, but distilled. Instead of being made solely from rice, shochu can be made with different grains or sweet potato. Although they’ll still be called ‘shochu,’ shochu made with sweet potato and shochu made with grains or rice will taste very different from each other. Kyushu is one of the best places in Japan to indulge in this classic Japanese liquor, and Japan’s southernmost regions tend to be better for shochu drinking and dining.  

Although shochu is called ‘Japanese vodka,’ shochu is actually distinctively different from vodka. The alcohol for most shochu is around 25 percent while vodka has a much higher alcohol percentage; the alcohol percentage for shochu goes down when mixed with cold or hot water. Another difference is that shochu is single distilled while vodka, like many other alcoholic beverages, is multi-distilled. These types of spirits lose the flavor and fragrance of the main ingredient. With shochu, though, you can still taste the primary ingredient. In fact, shochu is more like wine than vodka.

Shochu Buying Tip: Always buy ‘honkaku shochu,’ which is genuine or authentic shochu, because they’re single distilled. This is the traditional Japanese way of making shochu.

Awamori

A traditional rice-based alcoholic drink, Awamori is a famous type of liquor in the islands of Okinawa that is distilled; many call it the shochu of Okinawa. Awamori tends to have higher alcohol content, and you can drink it in various ways (e.g., on the rocks, with water). One well-known mixture is by combining awamori with fruit juice, specifically shikuwasa (a citrus fruit that originates from Okinawa). You can find awamori cocktails to try here.

Featured Awamori: Sen Nen No Hibiki

Wine/Plum Wine (Umeshu)

Made with plums, liquor, and sugar, umeshu is a wine exclusively from Japan. Shochu and brandy are often the main liquors for umeshu (depending on the company), but you can make plum wine with almost any kind of liquor. Authentic plum wine will have ‘honkaku umeshu’ on the label; other plum wines who don’t have this on the label use flavor enhancers or additives to make the liquor taste like plum wine. This sweet-and-sour Japanese spirit is popular among women and can be used in countless ways, from making cocktails or simply enjoying a splash of it over the rocks.

Featured Umeshu: Umeshu Japanese Apricot Wine “Yukikirara”

Other Honorable Mentions

In this section, we’ll put a spotlight on some rare and unique Japanese spirits that are different from the main ones listed above.  

Sakura Kirakira 500ml

Sakura, or cherry blossom, is a famous Japanese flower that blooms in the spring for about two weeks. Many companies from all over Japan, from food to liquor, incorporate sakura into their products, even if it’s just simply designing the product label with sakura flowers. Sakura is a major symbol in Japan, and these beautiful pink flowers can be used to cultivate one-of-a-kind alcoholic beverages like the Sakura Kirakira. Fruity and floral, this sakura-based liquor is a must-try and gives you a taste of Japan’s culture in a bottle.

Okuhida Rice Vodka

Made from distilled rice rather than fermented, which is used for sake, Okuhida Rice Vodka is a revolutionary addition to Japanese spirits made in Okuhida Shuzo Brewery. This vodka contains 55 percent alcohol, perfect for those who desire a stronger spirit.

Although Dekanta is a Japanese whisky provider, we also carry the spirits mentioned in this gift guide. Check out our Exotic Spirits Collection to discover more Japanese liquor that aren’t whiskies that you can taste! These bottles make great gifts for friends and family members who prefer other spirits other than whisky.

Emily