With the turn of the 21st century, an unlikely new champion rose in the world of whisky making, and although they may not be as synonymous with whisky as the Scottish, the Irish and the Americans are, the Japanese are using their precision and tireless pursuit of perfection to craft some of the most impressive whiskies that have forced the world to stop and take notice.
Laying the foundations of the Japanese whisky industry is an enormous achievement that can be credited to two men in particular, Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru, the two most important figures for Japanese whisky. Together in 1934, Torii and Taketsuru combined their resources, knowledge and desire to build the first ever Japanese whisky distillery, the Yamazaki.
They soon parted ways, with Taketsuru went on to create his own new brand in Nikka Whisky, whereas Torii’s Kotobukiya Company was renamed, Suntory. Together, these two are still the two institutions that dominate the Japanese whisky industry today.
It wasn’t smooth sailing for whisky in Japan, and took a tremendous amount of effort to achieve a balance through the recreation of conditions, duplication of methods and the perseverance for innovation. This is what allowed the Japanese to introduce the world to such a magnificent and untapped reservoir of a new school of whisky that may have changed things forever!
Check out some of the best whisky bottlings from Japan, and elevate your whisky experiences to a whole new level.
1. Yamazaki 12 Year Old Single Malt
This Suntory whisky is distilled at the very first, and the oldest Japanese distillery, and has also been named after it. The Yamazaki Distillery produces some of the finest Japanese whisky expressions for Suntory, and even has the contribution of Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of Nikka Whisky, Japan’s second biggest whisky company.
Released widely in 2014, the Yamazaki 12 is the standard single malt from the Suntory whisky company. With an age-statement of 12 years, and the presence of malt matured in rare Japanese Mizunara Oak casks, this is an excellent Japanese single malt whisky that has drawn all the right kind of attention from the whisky fanatic convention.
2. Nikka From The Barrel
From The Barrel is one of Nikka’s most celebrated bottlings, easily recognized by its whimsical and rustic bottle that resembles a ‘block’ of whisky. As eye-catching as the bottle may be, it is the whisky inside that has wowed the people all over the world with its character and quality.
A blend of single malt and grain whiskies from the Yoichi Distillery, the first distillery built by Nikka Whisky founder, Masataka Taketsuru. The source whiskies are matured in ex-Bourbon barrels, ex-Sherry barrels and the blended spirit is once again matured for some time. This blended Japanese whisky is rich in aromas, smooth and fruity with some hints of spice, vanilla and caramel with a nice long finish. A must try for anyone looking to expand the horizons of their whisky tasting expedition.
3. Yoichi Single Malt
A no-age-statement single malt from Nikka Whisky’s historic Yoichi Distillery, this expression was released in 2016. It is a blend of different single malts distilled at Yoichi, and was release to replace Nikka’s previous Yoichi no-age-statement release. Intended to make the depleting aged supply of Yoichi single malts last longer, this new release has also done very well since its launch.
The Yoichi Single Malt displays a fruity and peaty flavour profile, with enticing aromas of citrus, and spices with some floral hints, and a long, smooth finish with more peaty and fruity undertones.
4. Hakushu Single Malt 12 Year Old
This 12 Year Old from Suntory whisky, the Hakushu is one of Japan’s most notable single malt whiskies. From the Hakushu Distllery, nestled within Mt. Kaikomagatake, this single malt was created based on the directions of Keizo Saji, the son of legendary Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory.
Refreshing, and crisp are among the few words that are often used to describe this incredible single malt. This Suntory whisky boasts a tantalizing balance of fruity and smoky flavours that have earned it a number of awards at whisky tasting competitions worldwide.
5. Hibiki 17 Year Old
The Hibiki 17 Year Old is one of the most remarkable blended whiskies produced by Suntory, and was initially released in 1989, having held its appeal over numerous decades. It is a blend of malt and grain whiskies sourced from all three distilleries belonging to Suntory, the Yamazaki, the Hakushu and the Chita.
The name Hibiki translates to ‘Harmony’, a name that is very well suited for this wonderful landmark in the Japanese whisky industry, that represents the country’s tireless pursuit of perfection and meticulous precision.
6. Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky
Distilled at the Miyagyiko Distillery, the second distillery built by Nikka founder Masataka Taketsuru, this is a whisky unlike any other Japanese whisky in the market. From a mash bill that is predominantly comprised of Corn, and only some amount of Malted Barley, the Nikka Coffey Grain is one of their most iconic releases.
The two Coffey stills at the Miyagyaki Distillery were imported by Taketsuru way back in 1963, and have helped Nikka Whisky produce some very brilliant whiskies. Using a mash bill that is more on the lines of Bourbon whiskey, and using the Coffey Still to distil this grain whisky, Nikka have done a terrific job at creating something extraordinary.
7. Togouchi Premium Grain Whisky
This is a unique no-age-statement from the Chugoku Jozo Distillery near Hiroshima. What is unique about the Togouchi Premium Grain whisky is that it is matured in a tunnel, instead of a warehouse like most distilleries.
Created by marrying Scottish malt with Canadian grain whiskies aged in Japan, the tunnel-maturation adds an interesting twist to the Togouchi Premium. Although the source whiskies come in from Scotland and Canada, it is the expertise of the people at Chugoku Jozo, a company that has historically been brewing sake and shochu since 1918.