With a smooth nature and typical notes of toffee, honeysuckle, orange, smoke, and acetone, Japanese whiskies have received high acclaim in recent years. While there may be echoes of Scotland in some distilleries, Japan’s distinct production techniques and access to quality regional ingredients and casks have allowed their whiskies to develop a unique identity.
Boasting a wide range of flavours, textures, and finishes, Japanese whiskies are sure to delight casual whisky drinkers and connoisseurs across the world. Read more about Japanese whiskies below, or browse our extensive range of Japanese whiskies.
- The Origins of Whisky Distillation in Japan
- What Makes Japanese Whisky Different?
- The Most Popular Japnese Whiskies
- Why is Japanese Whisky So Expensive?
- The Best Japanese Whiskies for Under £100
Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjirō Torii dominated the early years of Japanese whisky. Taketsuru spent a significant amount of time in Scotland, learning about whisky and getting hands-on experience in the country’s most prominent whisky-making regions, returning to Japan with a wealth of knowledge.
He joined forces with Torii in 1921 with the vision of building a distillery on the northern island of Hokkaido. Torii, however, rejected this idea and instead the Yamazaki distillery was constructed near Kyoto in 1923. Taketsuru worked as the distillery’s manager until 1934, leaving to realise his dream of building a distillery on Hokkaido.
Over 80 years later, Torii and Taketsuru’s distilleries, now known as Suntory and Nikka respectively, continue to dominate the Japanese whisky industry.
While Japanese whisky distilleries tried to create their whisky as close to traditional Scotch as possible, they still allowed their own traditions and nuances unique to Japan to influence their final products. They wanted to move faster and with a smaller number of sites than their Scottish counterparts, and reduced trade between distilleries, decreasing blending options.
What resulted was a unique model of distillation, with plants using an eclectic range of still shapes and sizes, distinct Japanese oak casks, as well as specially selected peated and unpeated barley and yeast strains, to produce truly unique styles of whisky.
While the renowned distilleries are regularly praised for the smooth, fruity, or smokey complexity, there are several other smaller craft distillers committed to bringing new experiments to the nation’s whisky market. Some popular Japanese whiskies include:
The main reason for the high prices is supply and demand. Whisky was previously widely enjoyed throughout Japan; however, its popularity fell in the 1980s, and many distilleries were forced to close. The Japanese whisky industry then experienced a revival in 2003, which led to an increase in demand for Japanese whisky, not only locally, but worldwide.
Distilleries are, however, unable to meet this demand, as production was reigned in after the closure of distilleries across the country. The problem became more severe as demand increased, and eventually, distilleries announced they could not keep producing age-statement products. As a result, many age-statement Japanese whiskies, such as Hibiki 17-Year-Old and Yamazaki 18-Year-Old, have become rarer and more valuable.
Trying to find Japanese whisky at bargain prices can be tricky; however, there are several high-quality whiskies available for under £100. Some of these whiskies available at The House of Whisky include:
- Nikka From the Barrel is a fantastic introduction to Japanese whisky. Packaged in a stylish bottle, this whisky is aged in bourbon barrels to create a bold, spicy character.
- The Nikka Yoichi Single Malt is a pale single malt with a subtle, yet steadily building peatiness resulting from the coal-fired stills used during the distillation process.
- A unique addition to Nikka’s portfolio, Nikka Coffey Grain is produced using imported Coffey stills in a method similar to the American bourbon distillation process.
- Hibiki Japanese Harmony is a unique, well-balanced blend of malt and grain whiskies from Yamazaki, Chita, and Hakushu distilleries. It is a light, approachable whiskey with notes of orange peel, honey, and white chocolate.
- The Hakushu Distillers Reserve combines single malt whiskies of a wide variety of ages across a range of casks to create a sophisticated, smokey, fruity flavour.