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Top 10 Japanese Whiskey (Whisky) to Savor

In recent years, Japanese whisky has gained a lot of popularity throughout the world. But Japanese whisky has been on the market and commercially produced since way back in the 1920s. One of the first distilleries to produce Japanese whisky was an establishment outside of Kyoto called the Suntory Yamazaki Distillery.

This distillery is where Japanese whisky was born. Not only is this distillery famous, but the area around it is too! The water around Suntory Yamazaki has been hailed as one of Japan’s 100 best natural mineral waters according to the Ministry of the Environment. One can say that Yamazaki is a haven for whisky production.

Today, Japanese whisky has flourished beyond its Scottish roots. One notable thing retained, however, is the Scottish tradition of spelling whisky without an “e”. 

Wherever you are in the world, you’re sure to find a good Japanese whisky. But it can be challenging to choose which whisky to try. What are the best Japanese tasting whiskies today? How can you discover a Japanese whisky that suits your taste? Which whiskies are affordable and easy to acquire?

 

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Find out more below as Social Scene brings you the top 10 Japanese whisky brands to look out for!

 

1. Suntory Yamazaki 18-Year Old

Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, 5 Chome-2-1 Yamazaki, Shimamoto, Mishima District, Osaka 618-0001

 

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A very rich Japanese whisky with mature autumn fruit flavors
(Photo from @suntorywhisky Instagram)

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The Suntory Yamazaki 18-Year Old is one of Suntory’s most well-loved products, and it has ranked highly in international awards over the past several years. It’s a favorite among whisky elites and is regarded as one of the highest quality bottles to come from Japan.

You are greeted with a nose of Mizunara (a Japanese oak),  cafe au lait, raisin, and apricot. The taste consists of strawberry jam, blackberry, and dark chocolate. The finish leaves you with a smooth long spicy taste.


2. Nikka Whisky Single Malt Yoichi 15-Year Old

The Nikka Whisky Distilling Co., LTD, Kurokawacho 7-6, Yoichicho, Yoichi-gun, Hokkaido 046-0003

 

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A Japanese whisky that’s quite strong but still pleasant to drink
(Photo from Marek Okon via unsplash.com)

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The Nikka Whisky Single Malt Yoichi 15-Year Old embodies the characteristics of the first distillery in Nikka, established in 1934. This whiskey has 45% ABV and a bold, strong taste. You can also catch hints of smoke and peaty notes. The smokiness comes from the tradition of direct coal-fired distilling, and the aging process makes use of the natural sea breeze to get the briny hint.

Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of the distillery, chose Yoichi as the location of the distillery in Hokkaido due to its resemblance to the conditions of Scotland.


3. Suntory Whisky Toki

Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, 5 Chome-2-1 Yamazaki, Shimamoto, Mishima District, Osaka 618-0001

 

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A silky drink with an amazingly subtle sweet and spicy finish (Ph
oto from @suntorywhisky Instagram)

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The Suntory Whisky Toki is one of the easiest Japanese whiskies to find. It’s a blend of malt and whisky grains fresh from the three Suntory Distilleries (Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Chita). The resulting spirit is quite light and can be easily enjoyed on its own -- no wonder it’s become so popular.

Expect honey green apple and basil for the nose. The palate gives you peppermint, green grapes, thyme, and grapefruit.  And as for the finish, you get a subtle sweet and spicy flavor with hints of oak, vanilla, ginger, and white pepper.


4. Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

The Nikka Whisky Distilling Co., LTD, Kurokawacho 7-6, Yoichicho, Yoichi-gun, Hokkaido 046-0003

 

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One of Nikka’s signature grain whiskies showcasing the beauty of Coffey Stills
(Photo from Dylan de Jonge via unsplash.com)

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The Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky is named after Aeneas Coffey, an Irishman responsible for patenting the column still in 1830. This drink is made from 100% malted barley and distilled using the column still, resulting in its distinctive bourbon taste.

One thing to note about this drink is that it’s not categorized as a malt whisky -- since it’s distilled using a pot still, it’s technically a grain whisky. This whisky’s unique production influences its unique flavors as well.


5. Suntory Hibiki Harmony

Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, 5 Chome-2-1 Yamazaki, Shimamoto, Mishima District, Osaka 618-0001

 

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A Japanese whisky with a harmonious blend of wonderful flavors and aromas
(Photo from @suntorywhisky Instagram)

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The Suntory Hibiki Harmony is a combination of malt and grain whiskies blended to create a Kanzen, or complete package. Its taste and aroma is enigmatic, blossoming, and very seductive.

Upon coming into contact with the whisky, you start to smell scents of rosemary, lychee, rose, sandalwood, and mature woodiness. The palate begins with candied orange peel, sweet honey, and white chocolate flavors. You are then treated to a subtle but tender long finish and lingering hints of Mizunara.


6. Super Nikka Rare Old

The Nikka Whisky Distilling Co., LTD, Kurokawacho 7-6, Yoichicho, Yoichi-gun, Hokkaido 046-0003

 

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A classic blended whisky with well-rounded and balanced flavors
(Photo from Andrew Seaman via unsplash.com)

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The Super Nikka Rare Old dates back to 1962. It was born out of Masataka Taketsuru’s deep love for his late wife Rita -- without support from his wife, he would have never achieved his goal of making a premium whisky in Japan.

This Japanese whisky gives you a nose of exotic spice, dried herbs, and roasted almonds. The flavor plays with lemongrass, light and sweet honey, and hints of tarragon in new oak. You are then given a long and crisp finish with tastes of baking spices.

 

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7. Suntory Hibiki 21-Year Old

Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, 5 Chome-2-1 Yamazaki, Shimamoto, Mishima District, Osaka 618-0001

 

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The Hibiki 21-year-old whisky is a graceful drink that tenderly unfolds a calming essence
(Photo from @suntorywhisky Instagram)

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The Suntory Hibiki 21-Year-Old was one of the best-selling Japanese whiskies in 2019. This drink gives you great value for your money, not to mention it’s a delight to indulge in. It truly showcases the mastery of the brand when it comes to producing Japanese whisky.

Enjoy a nose of blackberry, caramel, cooked fruit, and ripe banana. The palate consists of dried apricot, honeycomb, sandalwood, and Mizunara. Expect a rich and long finish with a lingering aroma of incense.


8. Suntory Yamazaki 12-Year Old

Suntory Yamazaki Distillery, 5 Chome-2-1 Yamazaki, Shimamoto, Mishima District, Osaka 618-0001

 

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The Yamazaki 12-year-old whisky is very succulent with the softest fruit flavors
(Photo from @suntorywhisky Instagram)

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The Suntory Yamazaki 12-Year-Old came out back in 1984. Nowadays, it has cemented itself as one of the best Japanese whiskies, enjoyed by people all over the world. It stays on top of the game because of the supreme quality it offers.

Indulge yourself in aromas of vanilla, pineapple, peach, candied orange, clove, and Mizunara. The taste includes butter, cranberry, and coconut. Its finish consists of a long and sweet taste of cinnamon and sweet ginger.


9. Iwai Tradition - Mars Shinshu Distillery

Hombo Shuzo Ltd., 4752-31, Miyada-mura, Kamiina-gun 399-4301, Nagano Prefecture

 

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The Iwai Tradition is a Japanese whisky produced in a location with a high-quality water source
(Photo from Mathew MacQuarrie via unsplash.com )

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The Iwai Tradition comes from Mars Shinshu Distillery, located in the village of Miyada about 800 meters above sea level in Nagano. From 1922 to 2012, the distillery stopped whisky production, but nowadays it continues to produce Japanese whiskies in brandy, sherry, and bourbon casks.

Iwai Tradition is a blended Japanese whisky that combines three-quarters malt whisky with one-quarter grain whisky. It is then aged in sherry, bourbon, and wine casks and can be enjoyed as a sipping whisky or savored in cocktails. You’ll find notes of chocolate malt and cherry in the taste.


10. Nikka Whisky From The Barrel

The Nikka Whisky Distilling Co., LTD, Kurokawacho 7-6, Yoichicho, Yoichi-gun, Hokkaido 046-0003

 

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Nikka Whisky from the Barrel is a Japanese whisky exploding with rich and strong flavors
(Photo from Miguel Maldonado via unsplash.com)

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Nikka Whisky From The Barrel might come in a small bottle, but it sure does pack a punch! It’s a wonderful Japanese whisky with plenty of flavor and quality. The whisky blends more than 100 varieties of malt and grain and is aged in different casks for unique flavors.

This complex blend is bottled at 51.4% ABV. The liquid is aged in used barrels for a few months to “marry” the flavors perfectly. This is where the richness and the full flavor of the whisky come in.

 

Attend our upcoming whiskey event and get a discount on regular ticket prices! Use code DWF! Click below!

Winter Whiskey

 

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References:

https://www.connosr.com/top-rated-japanese-whisky-list

https://www.esquire.com/food-drink/drinks/a27466729/best-japanese-whiskey-bottles/

https://flaviar.com/world-whisky/japanese-whisky

https://dekanta.com/the-10-best-selling-japanese-whiskies-of-2019/

https://vinepair.com/buy-this-booze/15-best-japanese-whiskey-brands-bottles/

 


Grechelle Magbanua

Professional Content Writer

Social Scene

BeSocialScene.com

Topics: whiskey content