Japanese whisky is an incredibly popular trend that has grown steadily in the West in recent years. But did you know that whisky culture in Japan itself is less than a century old? While they haven’t been around for long, the best Japanese whiskies have certainly made their mark.
Despite being relatively new hands at creating whisky in comparison to some nations, but that doesn’t meant that Japan’s whisky is any less enjoyable than other places on earth. Japan’s spirit has proven high-quality and desirable by most in the world.
They have found their flavor and give whisky fans a profile they won’t necessarily get anywhere else. In fact, they’ve grown so popular that knowing which to drink can be difficult! To that end, here are the ten best Japanese whiskies for you to add to your collection today.
Best Japanese Whiskies
There are plenty of different distilleries in Japan, but some names pop up more commonly than others. Here is a brief overview of our top ten Japanese whiskies. We’ll go into more detail further below, but if you’re in a rush, here’s our list front and center!
- Yamazaki Single Malt Mizunara 18 Year
- Suntory Whisky Toki
- Chichibu Ichiro’s Malt & Grain
- Mars Shinshu Iwai 45
- Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky
- Kikori Whisky
- Akashi Single Malt Sherry Cask
- Hibiki Japanese Harmony
- Akkeshi Sarorunkamuy
- Kaiyo Signature Japanese Whisky
Yamazaki Single Malt Mizunara 18 Year
Beginning with the Yamazaki Single Malt Mizunara 18 Year, we have one of the whisky world’s most sought-after beverages. Yamazi is a name that carries a great amount of weight, but there’s a catch to that – one of the first things most of us will notice is the steep price tag.
Launched in 1992, Yamazaki has more than a few awards under its belt. Most of the liquid is left in sherry butts to mature, while the rest stays in oak casks from America and Mizunara.
Such a combination provides a great mixture of oak, fruit, resin, and floral character.
Suntory Whisky Toki
Suntory Whisky Toki brings together tradition and modernity to blend a beautiful, gentle whisky. Toki translates to “time,” a meaning vital to the Suntory and this particular blend.
With a nose of green apple and honey, this clear-gold liquor has a palate of grapefruit, thyme, and green grapes. Finishing with hints of vanilla oak and ginger, it’s a fantastic whisky to chase away a chill or accompany a springtime day.
It’s a fantastic blend of tradition, nature, and perfect brewing.
Chichibu Ichiro’s Malt & Grain
Chichibu Ichiro’s Malt & Grain is a marriage of international and traditional brewing techniques.
The blend is a worldwide whisky from a variety of stocks, including Ichiro’s stock and eight other distilleries. These distilleries can be found in Scotland, Canada, England, Ireland, and the United States.
In aging, the whisky returns to Japan for one to three years to age in the mountainous regions. Such aging takes place after three to five years of aging in their country of origin. The result is a clean, fruity, oaky liquor that combines the best of multiple nations.
Mars Shinshu Iwai 45
Mars Shinshu holds the distinction of being the highest whisky distillery in Japan. Nestled 2,600 feet between the Southern and Central Alps of Japan, mineral-high mountain water is used to create this beverage.
One of the greatest benefits of this whisky is that it’s incredibly affordable without being cheap. While not something you’ll find in a plastic handle, it remains a great beginner whisky for its low entry cost.
Comprised of single malts, grains, and blended whiskies, the Mars Iwai 45 is a great addition to any collection.
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky
One common misconception with this particular selection is that there are coffee flavors or notes.
Nikka Coffey is named after the type of still used in its creation with a flavor that edges more towards caramel, nuts, fruit, fresh hay, and vanilla.
Nikka Coffey is an excellent middle ground between beginner whiskies and higher-budget selections. It’s a fantastic bottle that you won’t struggle too hard to find in stock anywhere that fits perfectly in your growing bar collection.
Kikori is a phenomenal whisky that might escape the view of traditionalists that stick to the same thing every time. Rather, Kikori is great for those looking for new, exciting experiences.
Kikori is aged for at least three years in American Oak, French Oak, and Sherry casks. This helps give a floral, fragrant aroma to the whisky, as well as an incredible smoothness. It’s a delicate and impactful whisky that makes the road less traveled all the more beautiful.
Akashi Single Malt Sherry Cask
Akashi Single Malt Sherry Cask is an elegant single malt. Aged for a minimum of five years, this whisky is then finished off in Oloroso casks.
Those that love sherry may find this as one of their favorite selections in the world of whisky.
Akashi is known as Japan’s oldest and smallest whisky distillery. Founded back at the end of the 19th century in 1888, the distillery runs a seven-person operation. Even at such a small scale, they manage to deliver one of the most notable, delicious whiskies in the world.
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Hibiki has several selections, but Japanese Harmony is one of the most sought after. The whisky lives up to its harmonious name, blending precision, strength, and refined boldness for an unforgettable beverage.
Many consider Japanese Harmony to be a selection for those with an intimate understanding of the intricacies of Japanese whisky. Whether you’re an expert or not, Japanese Harmony will provide an unparalleled experience in the whisky world.
Akkeshi Distillery is located in a national park in northern Hokkaido, providing a fantastic place to let whisky sit and age.
The Sarorunkamuy is the first single malt from the distillery and is aged in mizunara, bourbon, sherry, and red wine casks. Having already won a Double Gold in 2020, Sarorunkamuy is making great waves.
With a name meaning “white crane,” Sarorunkumay has a delicate, beautiful flavor. The notes come in as chocolate, yuzu, cherries, and vanilla, providing a genuine delight for whisky lovers.
Kaiyo Signature Japanese Whisky
The final selection on our list is the Kaiyo Signature Japanese Whisky. Double-distilled and double-matured, this rare and exclusive whisky is aged partially in Mizunara oak barrels.
Aging is quite the process with Kaiyo Signature Japanese Whisky. The whisky travels the seas in barrels to provide the unique aging that only maritime travel can – sloshing, temperature changes, differing air pressures, and more.
The result is a delicate and delicious whisky with notes of honey, citrus, apple, and vanilla. It’s a fantastic blend that won’t disappoint anyone who enjoys whisky.
What Is Japanese whisky?
Japanese whisky is a unique creation that has existed for less than a century yet is still deeply steeped in tradition. Primarily, Japanese whisky is modeled after Scotch whisky traditions. It’s often double distilled, aged in wooden barrels, and often has a smoky flavor to it.
They’ve also earned a significant spotlight, especially in the last decade. The most well-known brands have enjoyed a surge of popularity that has led to them becoming much easier to obtain. There’s no better time than now to get into Japanese whisky, so make sure you’re eyeing which item from this list you’d like to add to your collection.
How Is Japanese Whisky Different From Other Whiskeys?
Being primarily modeled after Scotch whiskies, there are many similarities between the two. Many differences come from the benefits of aging whisky in Japan and the climate therein. Still, the Scotch style provides many characteristics that are somewhat unique to Japanese whiskies.
These characteristics contrast the sweeter, softer American bourbons. Japanese whiskies are drier, smokier, peatier and generally come either as blends or single malts. However, many Japanese whiskies are blends of these many different styles, marrying the benefits of blurring the lines between nations.
One notable characteristic, unfortunately, is that many Japanese whiskies are still difficult to find. Many have yet to import heavily into the states, though some may be easy enough to find in your local liquor store.
How Should I Drink Japanese Whisky?
Japanese whisky can be enjoyed in a variety of ways, as can whiskies of other styles. One of the most notable is to simply drink it neat – no ice, no additives, just a glass and a pour of your favorite Japanese whisky. Doing so allows you to have purity with the taste of the whisky without anything interfering.
Enjoying the beverage on the rocks – whisky and ice – is also very common. Doing so chills the beverage and also dilutes it slightly as the ice melts, making it easier to drink if you find whiskies too harsh.
Many Japanese whiskies are also drank oyuwari – Japanese for “with hot water,” which is self-explanatory. Similar to a hot toddy in other nations, the hot water is added first, and the whisky added second. Doing so makes it fantastic on chilly days or if you just prefer a warm beverage.
As a note, many of these whiskies are delicate, subtle, and gentle. They generally do not make the best mixers, and if you ask your bartender for a Hibiki Harmony and your favorite soda, you might get a few looks. It’s best to keep the mixers to a minimum with these stellar spirits.
Japanese whisky is still budding and evolves greatly every day. As this evolution continues, we’re treated to a magnificent set of whiskies that grow more and more unique every year. This selection includes some of the best Japanese whiskeys, but there are simply too many wonderful Japanese whiskeys for us to include everything.
If you have more Japanese whiskies that you think should have made this list, feel free to contact us to discuss your favorite selection. For more information on whisky culture, browse our extensive blog.
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