While whisky is typically not the first thing to come to mind when the average person thinks of Japan, there are several Japanese brands of whisky which have gained worldwide recognition. The history of Japan’s whisky is somewhat of a mystery, but those who enjoy Japanese whisky should thank the “Father of Japanese Whisky,” Masataka Taketsuru, who went to Scotland to study their Scotch-making process and brought his knowledge back to Japan.
Taketsuru went on to work for what is now Suntory, a Japanese brewing and distilling company created by Shinjiro Torii, which opened Japan’s first official whisky distillery, Yamazaki Distillery, in 1923. Since its inception, this distillery has helped increase the reputation and credibility of Japanese whisky on a global scale, earning prestigious awards like Best Whisky in the World by the Whisky Bible 2015. When he left Suntory, Taketsuru created Nikka Whisky, a distillery that is still successful today.
Japanese whisky now accounts for 5% of all worldwide whisky sales. Its use of Coffey stills for distilling, lack of shared styles between distilleries, specialised yeasts, and its clear wort gives Japanese whisky its unique taste.
If you claim to be a whisky connoisseur, or you want to try some of the best whiskies in the world, you need to try whisky from Japan. Here are eight, affordable Japanese whiskies that every whisky lover should try:
1. Nikka Coffey Malt
Nikka Coffey Malt comes from Taketsuru’s company Nikka Whisky. This whisky is made from 100% malted barley and was distilled in a Coffey, or column, still rather than a pot still. Coffey stills are typically used to produce grain whisky, and they can distill proofs as high as 95% ABV. They tend to be purer than whiskies produced in pot stills. The sweet tasting Nikka Coffey Malt has an ABV of 45% and goes well with pastries. Lively and citrusy, the Nikka Coffey Malt is not to be missed if you enjoy sweet whisky with strong fruit aromas.
2. Chita Single Grain
Chita Single Grain Whisky is from the owners of the famous, Yamazaki Distillery, and it is Suntory’s first single grain whisky. This mild and smooth whisky comes from Chita Distillery, which opened in 1972. Perfected over the last 40 years, this whisky has light notes of mint and honey and is perfect for enjoying in the summer.
3. Nikka Date
For fans of nutty and citrus blends, the Nikka Date is a great option. This whisky from the Miyagikyo Distillery has 43% ABV and is available at an affordable price. Try this whisky for subtle notes of warm sherry and peat.
4. Suntory Kakubin
Suntory Kakubin is the perfect Japanese whisky for mixing. Mix it with soda water or ginger ale and lime for a delicious Highball, or with lemon juice for a Whisky Lemonade. This light whisky tastes of honeycomb, citrus peels, peppercorn, and cinnamon. If you enjoy mixed drinks, this whisky is perfect for you.
5. Yamazaki 12
Yamazaki 12 Years Old is a sweet whisky was first sold in 1984, and it is one of the first single malt whiskies that was heavily marketed. This zesty whisky has strong notes of tropical fruits and winter spices like ginger and cinnamon. This whisky is the number one single malt whisky in Japan. The Yamazaki 12 Years Old has won several awards including the Double Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.
6. Ichiro’s Malt & Grain
While it is produced in Japanese owned Chichibu Distillery, founded in 2004 by Ichiro Akuto, Ichiro’s Malt & Grain is considered an “all world whisky” made with a blend of whisky from Scotland, Canada, Ireland, and the United States. Enjoy a lovely mix of what these countries have to offer with this clean, blended whisky. Ichiro’s Malt & Grain is bottled at 46.5% ABV and has notes of vanilla, oak, and fruit.
7. Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve
Hakushu Distiller's Reserve is a fresh, smoky single malt whisky with subtle notes of vanilla, peppermint, and citrus fruit that would be good for mixing. This lightly peated single malt is produced at Suntory’s Hakushu Distillery, located in a forest in Japan giving the whisky its grassy flavor notes. This affordable whisky is bottled at 43% ABV and has a smooth finish.
8. Mars Maltage Cosmo
Mars Maltage Cosmo is a uniquely crafted blend of Japanese and Scotch whisky. It comes from Mars Shinshu, Japan’s highest whisky distillery at an altitude of 798 meters. This whisky has 43% ABV, and it’s rich, fruity, and has a hint of peat and tobacco.
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