I wasn't much of a drinker before I came to Japan. Or rather, I wasn't a drinker at all. From age 14 to 20 I was a Mormon and Mormon's don't drink as it's considered not healthy. Even though I stopped being a Mormon around 20 the influence from those years kept me from ever getting into drinking. Except for a about 3 months when I was 25 and my new girlfriend at the time wanted me to drink with her I never go into it. That is, until I came to Japan.
I'm still not much of a drinker but unlike before I won't go out of my way to not drink. For one, I don't drive in Japan so there is no need to worry about that. For another, if you are asked to go out with your co−workers they will basically expect you to drink and unlike the USA it's not quite socially exceptable to say you don't drink. Of course you can say it but it will be considered like not participating where as in the states I never got that vibe for not drinking.
Anyway, since I've been here I've started drinking a little more. I still have not gotten a taste for anything non−sweet. Beer (yuck!), Wine (blech!), Whiskey, Vodka, Tequila, Gin, Scotch, (plech). I can put up with a glass of beer if I have to. Wine is harder. The rest are pretty much impossible so far. I don't know if I just don't like them period or if this is one of those things you have to get used to and as I don't have years of drinking exprience behind me so I just haven't gotten there yet.
Basically I still go for the sweet stuff. I like the break from tea and soda sometimes although I don't like *getting a buzz*. What I find most interesting is how different the drinks are.
For example, a couple of years before I came Japan and related my experience with liquor to date with a friend and he recommended I try an Amaretto Sour or a Midori Sour. Both I actually enjoyed. Well, ... Midori is a melon based liquor MADE IN JAPAN and yet you'd be hard pressed to find it at most drinking places in Japan. It's not common here at all.
The most common sweet liquor in Japan is Cassis or as it says on the bottle, "Creme de Cassis de Dijon" which is made from Black Currant (a small berry like a blueberry). It's similar to Grenadine (pompgranet liquor). The most common drink made with it is Cassis Orange or as it's pronounced in Japanese "Caw She Sue Or en jee" (mix it with orange juice). Other common mixes are Cassis Soda and Cassis Oolong (mix it with Oolong tea) in which case it takes pretty much like a fruit punch.
Cassis appears to be from France. It's strange to me that it's the #1 cocktail drink here in Japan and yet I've never heard of it in the USA. I know it exists there it's just not been made popular. It would be interesting to know the histories of why certain drinks are popular in different areas. It seems like it would be very popular anywhere because it's pretty tasty, very easy to drink.
Japan itself has Umeshu or plum liquor. It's generally clear and it tastes awesome. Maybe it just needs a little more time to spread but it seems like it would do great anywhere in the world. In fact if you have a bar or restaurant in the west maybe you should get some and promote it to set your restaurant apart 😛. If you drink Umeshu straight it would be a little strong but mixed with like soda it basically tastes like plum soda. You can't tell there's an alcohol except after a couple when you fall over. I know you can get it in LA at many Korean markets in Koreantown.
Anzushu or Apricot liquor is also pretty common and another one I've never seen evidence of in the USA. As far as I can tell this is a Chinese liquor. I'm basing that only on the fact the the most common brand is Chinese. They sell it everywhere including many convenience stores. (Umeshu as well)
It's in the same category as cassis and umeshu in that it's a tangy fruit flavored liquor. It's great stuff and I'm sure it would also be great as an additive to lots of desserts.
Since I started drinking sometimes I like to try something new. This usually happens when I'm needed to waste some time in Shibuya and I'll remember the a certain liquor store and decide to go see what thye have. In the last few years I haven't had a whole lot of amazing finds but there have been a couple.
One is called Dooley's. I was in some store and saw it on the shelf. It's toffee liquor. Similar to Baileys. It's great with milk or on ice cream. My impression is it's not gotten great distribution yet. In fact since I found it 3˜4 years ago it's no longer available in Japan. I've asked both the places I found it before and they both said it was no longer distrubuted here. I guess that's good for my waist line because it's really delicious.
Another I had seen on the shelf for a while but it looked pretty strange and I couldn't talk myself into buying it. I mean, come on, the bottle looks like a fried egg and the contents is cream yellow, not a color I usually associate with liquor. I don't even know what to call it. There is no name on the bottle and no name even on the company's website.
It's listed as Egg Liquor in Japan and it can best be described in one of two ways. #1. Take some vanilla ice cream, poor some scotch in it, stir it up, let it melt, put it back in the bottle and sell it. #2 take the custard cream from a cream donut or pastry, mix in some scotch, put it back in the bottle, sell it. It's actually a little scary because you can basically drink it straight out of the bottle even though it's 26% alcohol.
As for Sake and Shochu, they basically fit the same category as Whiskey, Vodka etc for me in that I still don't have a taste for them.