Japan has always been on my list of places to visit. From her beautiful sceneries, interesting history, exciting cuisine to their breathtaking anime collection.
I recently discovered one more reason to hop on a plane to the land of the rising sun, and that’s her show-stopping lineup of brown spirits.
While it has not been around as long as other whisky styles, Japanese whisky has been around long enough to deliver a smooth blend that ARRESTS your taste buds.
I recently downed a glass of one of the best Japanese whisky blends and researched to discover what more the Japanese whisky world has to offer.
But first, a little history of the Japanese whisky.
Our story begins in 1919, where Masataka Taketsuru left for Scotland as an apprentice at the Scotch whisky distilleries to perfect the art of distillation from brew masters. He returned to Japan in 1923 and joined forces with the other protagonist of this story, Shinjiro Torii. Together they found the Yamazaki Distillery outside of Kyoto, where they produced Japan’s first-ever commercial whiskies and laid the foundation for the House of Suntory.
Taketsuru, after a while, decided to establish a distillery on his own and thought to do so on Hokkaido, a northern Japanese island. He thought the island had a similar climate to that of Scotland.
Torri was opposed to relocating as the present location was closer to the major markets. Taketsuru opened the Yoichi Distillery in 1934 and laid roots for Nikka whisky.
The Nikka and Suntory whiskies still dominate the Japanese whisky market until today, making up a STAGGERING 90% of the market.
Now to the Japanese whiskies!
1. Ichiro’s Malt and Grain Whisky
The original Ichiro’s 54 part malt card playing series included a whisky bottle for each playing card, including two jokers. The bottles you will find on shelves are from a second distillery opened in 2008. The Ichiro Malt and Grain whisky is one of the new expressions that seamlessly handshakes whiskies from Canada, the US, Ireland, and Scotland and is anchored by Ichiro’s Japanese spirit. The result of this whisky wizardry is a spicy finish with luscious toffee, vanilla, and fruit notes.
2. Hatozaki Small Batch Japanese Whisky
The Hatozaki label is named after Japan’s oldest stone lighthouse. And like the lighthouse, this whisky is here to stay. This small-batch expression of whisky awesomeness is a mix of different 100 percent malt whiskies between five and six years old and aged in former mizunara, bourbon, and sherry casks. The result is one of the best Japanese whiskies in your glass, serving you a smoke undertone, a sherry fruited sweetness, and a sweet honey finish.
3. Nikka Taketsuru Malt Whisky
Recognize the name from earlier? This bottle was named after one of the founding fathers of Japanese whisky. This whisky expression is a blend of the company’s two distilleries, Miyagikyo and Yoichi. Nikka is believed to have stopped producing this whiskey only to bring it back more powerful than before, with the new iteration having more smoke and a floral twist.
4. Suntory Hibiki Harmony Japanese Whisky
Let’s talk about the design of this bottle! I, for one, believe that the whisky experience is more than just the taste but the whole feel. And when you see this bottle sitting pretty on the shelves, you know you want some. This blended whisky comes in a decanter and gives you a unique visual experience.
Now to the taste.
Every sip of this whisky is a memory etched in stone. The whisky is a blend of Chita grain whiskies, Yamazaki, and Hakushu malt. At the bottom of your glass is a rich malt taste with dried fruits and spice that serenade your tastebuds.
5. Suntory Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky
Once upon a time, you could get this bottle for $40. Nowadays, you’d be lucky to be thrown out of the shop in one piece if you present the shopkeeper with $40. The Suntory Yamazaki puts the icon in iconic. You can enjoy this whisky in cocktails or neat, so you can better appreciate the melon, citrus, and spice flavors.
6. Ohishi Whisky Sherry Cask
We have something for our sherry bomb lovers! The Ohishi uses two kinds of rice instead of malted barley to make its barrel-aged spirit. This whisky finds a way to balance an array of exciting flavors. You are greeted with fruity, spicy notes of custard, cherry, and vanilla with every sip.
Which should you buy?
At this point, I am tempted to say everything. All the bottles on this list take you on a different ride. Regardless of your choice, you are in for a breathtaking experience.
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