Stock Your Shelf With These Top Japanese Whiskey Brands

Food & Drink

Japanese whiskey is emerging as one of the spirits industry’s most sought-after subcategories, and it only takes a tasting to see why.

Captivating the palates of connoisseurs and casual drinkers alike, Japanese whiskey is renowned for its meticulous craftsmanship and unique flavor profile; often, led by more subtle, citric flavor profiles.

If you’re looking to elevate your whiskey collection, the Land of the Rising Sun has you covered.

What is the story behind Japanese whiskey?

The roots of Japanese whiskey trace back to the early 20th century when Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru set out to create a uniquely Japanese spirit. Torii, the founder of Suntory, and Taketsuru, the founder of Nikka, combined traditional Scottish methods with Japanese precision and innovation.

Taketsuru, who studied in Scotland’s Speyside and Campbeltown regions, brought his expertise back to Japan (as well as a Scottish ife) to launch Nikka in 1934. While the first Japanese whisky, Suntory Shirofuda, was released a few years prior in 1929, Taketsuru and his peers’ efforts played a significant role in popularizing the country’s whiskies beyond Japan’s borders.

Over the years, Japanese whiskey has evolved, winning countless awards and earning global recognition for its distinct approach to production, which tends to emphasize balance and meticulous craftsmanship.

What does Japanese whiskey pair well with?

Japanese whiskey’s versatility extends beyond sipping it neat (though, let’s be honest, that’s the best way to experience it fully). Its refined flavors and complexity make it an excellent companion for various pairings, such as:

Sushi and Sashimi: The “clean” and subtle notes of Japanese whiskey complement the delicate flavors of sushi and sashimi.

Dark Chocolate: The rich, velvety tones of dark chocolate harmonize beautifully with the sweet and smoky notes found in more complex Japanese whiskies.

Cigars: For those who enjoy a good cigar, Japanese whiskey provides an excellent accompaniment.

Our top 5 Japanese whiskey brands

Yamazaki:

  • Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Single Malt: A flagship expression from Suntory’s Yamazaki Distillery, this whiskey offers a harmonious blend of fruit, floral, and oak notes. Twelve years of maturation, in various casks, contributes to its complexity, making it a delightful introduction to Japanese single malts.
  • Yamazaki 18-Year-Old Single Malt: Regarded as a true collector’s item, this 18-year-old expression exudes elegance with layers of dark chocolate, dried fruit, and a touch of Mizunara oak spiciness. A mature whiskey, testament to the artistry and patience of Suntory’s flagship brand.

Nikka:

  • Nikka From The Barrel: This bold and powerful blended whiskey is a favorite among enthusiasts. With a high malt to grain ratio, it boasts a rich, full-bodied profile with spicy and fruity notes. The unique, minimalist bottle is as distinctive as the whiskey it holds.
  • Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt: Hailing from Nikka’s Miyagikyo Distillery, this single malt is flush with sherry-cask characteristics. It showcases the distillery’s commitment to balance, featuring fruity and floral aromas, with a gentle hint of peat.

Hakushu:

  • Hakushu 12-Year-Old Single Malt: Nestled in the Japanese Alps, Hakushu Distillery produces one of the world’s most vibrant and herbaceous single malt. The 12-year maturation imparts a crisp character, with notes of green apple, mint, and a subtle smokiness.
  • Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve: A non-age statement expression, this whiskey captures the essence of Hakushu with its forest-like freshness. It combines a variety of cask types to deliver a nuanced flavor profile, including citrus, honey, and a touch of Japanese peppermint.

Ichiro’s Malt:

  • Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The Peated: Ichiro Akuto, the visionary behind Ichiro’s Malt, is known for his commitment to quality. This peated expression from the Chichibu distillery boasts the perfect balance of peat smoke and sweet malt, showcasing Ichiro’s blending expertise.
  • Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve: A tribute to Japan’s native Mizunara oak, this expression is aged in casks made from this unique wood. The result is a whiskey with distinct spiciness, sandalwood aromas, and a hint of coconut, offering a truly Japanese whiskey experience.

Hibiki:

  • Hibiki Harmony: A, yes, harmonious blend of malt and grain whiskies, Hibiki Harmony is a symphony of flavors, including orange zest, honey, and a subtle smokiness. This no-age-statement expression is a true crowd-pleaser.
  • Hibiki 21-Year-Old: A pinnacle of Japanese blending, this aged expression presents a complex interplay of plum, Mizunara oak, and a touch of incense. It’s a rare and exquisite dram for those seeking the finest in Japanese whiskey.

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