The options are endless when you’re looking for the best bottle of Japanese Whisky.
You’ll find plenty of top-shelf options, one more expensive than the next. But what you won’t find a guide to really help you break down and understand which brand of Japanese Whisky you never knew you wanted.
This is that guide.
Japanese Whisky Might not be your first choice for an on-the-rocks sipper.
But on this list, you’ll find absolutely divine flavors and you will learn to enjoy Japanese Whisky like you never have before.
And of course, if you prefer a nice cocktail instead, our recommendations will work brilliantly with all your favorite mixes.
Below, you’ll find our list for the top brands in the world and a buyer’s guide to Japanese Whisky, as well as answers to how it’s made and what types are there.
Finally, we’ll round off this article with tips on how to drink and really enjoy Japanese Whisky, as well as the key tasting notes and vocabulary you’ll need to become a true aficionado.
Before we introduce the 7 best Japanese Whisky brands, here is a quick table that will tell you which is the best whisky to try:
|1||Suntory Yamazaki Mizunara 18 years||Best Overall|
|2||Nikka Coffey Grain whisky||Best High-End Option|
|3||Hibiki Japanese Harmony||Best Value|
|4||Mars whisky Iwai Tradition||Best For Brand Prestige|
|5||Suntory Whisky Toki||Most Easy To Drink|
Now, let us finally introduce you to the best Japanese Whiskies that you must definitely try once in your lifetime:
Suntory Whisky Toki
Suntory Whisky Toki is a popular Japanese whisky introduced to the world by Suntory Holdings Limited. This bottle of whisky extends your relationship with the Japanese culture, heritage, and authenticity.
Toki, also meaning ‘’Time’’ in the Japanese language, is a vivid conceptual blend that is exceptionally silky in texture and smooth in taste. It is made with Chita grain and Hakushu malt whiskies and is a perfect balance of a subtle, sweet, and spicy aftertaste. It is a versatile drink that is enjoyed raw, on the rocks, or with other ingredients. It comes with an ABV of 43% and is clear gold in color. Your nose will also enjoy the sweet aroma of green apple, honey, and basil, while it tastes like thyme, green grapes, grapefruit, and peppermint. On the other hand, the aftertaste will mesmerize you with white pepper, ginger, vanilla oak finish. Delightfully beautiful, isn’t it?
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Hibiki Japanese Harmony is a premium Japanese blended whisky that was introduced to the world by none other than Beam Suntory. Hibiki, which also means ‘’echo’’ or ‘’resonance’’ typically offered 17 years old, and 21 years old Japanese whiskies; however, in the year 2015, the brand introduced Hibiki Japanese Harmony with no age statement.
Hibiki Japanese Harmony whiskies are produced with Yamazaki and Hakushu distillery’s malt whiskies and Chita distillery’s grain whisky and are aged in Japanese Mizunara oak barrels. It has an ABV of 43% and is rich golden in color. As for its taste, you will be bound to appreciate the lively flavors of dried fruit, almonds, and nougat with a spicy aftertaste of black pepper, citrus peels, white grapes, and brown sugar on your first sip. And the aroma of rich honey, red berries, and green apple.
This bottle of whisky has also won several popular awards, including a Gold medal in International Spirits Challenge 2020 and a Double Gold Medal in San Francisco World Spirits Competition. Moreover, the same brand offers insanely perfect Japanese whiskies that are worth the cost!
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky is a popular Japanese whisky that is produced by one of the largest whisky makers in Japan, Nikka Whisky. This whisky was introduced in 2014, the first time ever after Masataka, the founder, introduced the brand and its prime Japanese whiskies.
Nikka Coffey Grain whisky is created in the brand’s Miyagikyo distillery with a mash bill made up of barley and corn. It has an ABV of 45% and is aged 8-12 years. It has a sweet, ripe fruit finish but tastes very tropical with vanilla pods, cinnamon syrup, and sweet sugar, almost like candy. As of its aroma, you can enjoy the fruity, sweet smell mixed with fresh herbs. Nikka Coffey Grain whisky indeed tastes so delightful when you take your first-ever sip.
Along with widespread popularity, this bottle of Japanese whisky has also won several awards, including a Gold Medal by the International Spirits Challenge in 2015, Gold Medal by the International Spirits Challenge in 2016, the Best Japanese Grain Whisky in 2013 at the World Whiskies Awards, a Gold Medal by the International Spirits Challenge in 2013, a Silver Medal by the International Spirits Challenge in 2014, and Liquid Gold Award from Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible in 2018.
Mars Whisky Iwai Tradition
Mars whisky Iwai Tradition whisky is one of the best-selling Japanese whiskies in the world that also is the second-most best-selling Japanese whiskies in the US market. It is one of the low-cost Japanese whisky that has gained quite popularity in the US.
Mars whisky Iwai Tradition whisky has no age statement, however, it comes with an ABV of 40% and is made with 75% malt whisky and 25% corn. It certainly has a rich flavor and color and is totally worth its price. This Japanese whisky is copper-like in color and comes with a ripe banana-like flavor along with malt candy and sauteed mushroom. The meaty, sweet barbeque, along with a tint of cinnamon, along with dry fruits, and a few milk chocolates and buttery malt biscuits, will delight your nose with bliss.
Ichiro’s Malt & Grain World Blend Whisky
Ichiro’s Malt & Grain World Blend whisky is known to be the perfect example of blended whisky. The founder, Ichiro Akuto, the master distiller and the heir of the Hanyu Family of distillers, produces Ichiro’s Malt & Grain World Blend whisky in Chichibu distiller. It is a malt whisky blended with whiskies that come from unmarked distilleries that belong from Canada, the USA, Ireland, and Scotland. The 700ml bottles come with 46% ABV, while on the other hand, most 750ml bottles come with 46.5% ABV. It is not colored and is a non chill-filtered bottle of whisky.
Ichiro’s Malt & Grain World Blend whisky tastes like cinnamon, caramel, and a little bit of nutmeg along with chocolate and hazelnut, black pepper, chili powder, and some gingerbread. However, your nose will experience fruity notes of pears, apples, bananas, and peaches, along with some vanilla, lemony, caramel notes. Additionally, its aftertaste comes with long-lasting banana, gingerbread, and lemon flavors.
It is a sweet yet flavorful bottle of Japanese whisky that is easy to drink and refreshes you in an instant!
The Hakushu Single Malt Japanese Whisky 18 Year
The Hakushu Single Malt Japanese whisky 18 Year was first launched back in 2006 by Hakushu distiller. This Japanese bottle of whisky is made with malted barley that is mashed with unique and pure water filtered through the Japanese Alps granite rocks. In fact, The Hakushu Single Malt Japanese whisky 18 Years is also distilled twice in the copper-pot stills by Haskushu. As the name already suggests, The Hakushu Single Malt Japanese whisky 18 Years is aged for 18 years in Japan’s forest.
The Hakushu Single Malt Japanese whisky 18 Years has a smooth, smoky finish and offers a honey-like sweet taste, along with some sweet and sour flavors. It is beautifully dark golden in color and gives off the aroma of mango, milk caramel, melons, and smoky. The aftertaste comes with a perfect finish of ripe fruit aroma. It comes in 750ml bottles with 43% ABV.
Apart from being a favorite choice of many, The Hakushu Single Malt Japanese whisky 18 Year has also won several awards, including the 2016 SWSC Best Gold Award, 2010 IWSC Gold Award “Best in Class,” 2007 IWSC Gold Award “Best in Class”, 2017 ISC Gold Award, 2016 ISC Gold Award, 2016 ISC Gold Award, 2016 SWSC Best Gold Award, and many more.
Suntory Yamazaki Mizunara 18 years
Suntory Yamazaki Mizunara 18 years is an 18 years old single malt Japanese whisky that was introduced in the year 2017 by Suntory Whisky. Suntory whisky, on the other hand, is the first as well as the oldest distillery in Japan that is famous for its malt whisky all around the world. In addition, the brand itself has gained supremacy in at least 35 major countries of the world.
Suntory Yamazaki Mizunara 18 years comes with an ABV of 48% and is available in 700ml and 750ml. It is an elegant Japanese whisky overall which will give off ginger, maple leaves, coconut, like the taste, while on the other hand, the complex aroma of coconut, lemon pine, butter, ginger, and malt. It is very smooth in texture and elegant to drink. It feels cool when you take your first few sips. After that, you can expect a smooth and long-lasting spicy aftertaste as to its finish.
Not only is this bottle a favorite choice of many, but it has also won the hearts of experts. Perhaps that is why Suntory Yamazaki Mizunara 18 years is one of the best-selling single malt Japanese whisky of all time.
The Beginners Buyer’s Guide to Japanese Whisky
Everybody has their firsts, while some already become an expert on their own, based on knowledge and experiences. But what about the times when it comes to the best Japanese whisky brands? Well, do not worry! We present you with a mini-guide that will tell you everything you must know about Japanese whisky.
So, before we begin, do you know that it is known as Japanese ‘whisky’ and not ‘whiskey’? This is because Japanese whiskies are created after the scotch. Plus, unlike other whiskies, Japanese whiskies are slightly different. The following are the things you didn’t know about Japanese whisky:
- As we mentioned earlier, Japanese whisky is just a recreated version of scotch, which means it technically uses similar ingredients as scotch. However, the difference is created only because of the distillation process along with the water that is sourced from mountains located near Tokyo.
- Getting your hands on premium Japanese whiskies is not that easy. Only a few companies, including Nikka and Suntory, offer a various range of authentic Japanese whisky that is available not only in the US market but also in several other countries.
- It is the best whisky in the world that offers the best-blended malt whisky. As a result, the Japanese distillery has begun to rule the whisky industry all around the world.
- There are undoubtedly numerous ways to enjoy a bottle of whisky, but there is nothing you should compromise when it comes to authentic Japanese whiskies. This is why we have listed some of the best ways to enjoy a perfect glass of Japanese whiskey:
If you wish to enjoy the original, non-tampered taste of an authentic bottle of whisky, you must indeed go for a neat sip. With every glass, you will be able to appreciate the tiny details of the Japanese whisky.
- Just add water
If you want to take some time and enjoy your perfect glass of Japanese whisky, just add some water.
- On the rocks
It is perhaps one of the best ways to enjoy a glass of your favorite whisky. All you need to do is add ice to your whisky.
- Half rock
Half rock is yet another fabulous way of enjoying authentic Japanese whisky. All you need to do is, add ice, one part water, and one part whisky.
How is it made?
Do you know how Japanese whisky is made? The following will tell you how:
- The essential ingredients like water, yeast, and grains are gathered. Barley is the main ingredient to begin the process.
- Once the malting of barley is done, the fermentation and the mashing procedure begins, which creates alcohol with an ABV of 8-10%.
- Then, the distillation takes place in a traditional pot. Interestingly, the taste of whiskey varies on the type of pot still you use during the process.
- Once done, the alcohol percentage is reduced from 64% to 40-45% ABV with the help of water.
- Then happens takes place the maturing process that occurs in the casks. In fact, the barrels, the climate, and the location play a vital role in giving the whisky a taste of its own.
- Once the maturing process ends, the whisky is then blended and bottled to perfection.
The Most Expensive Bottle of Japanese whisky in the world is the Yamazaki 50-Year-Old that costs approximately $200,000 during online auctions and is sold for $129,000. This expensive bottle is aged in one of the finest oak barrels made up of Japanese Mizunara oak. It has an intense taste and is incredible to sip. Interestingly, only 150 bottles of this masterpiece were released in the market around the world.
The following are the popular Japanese whisky terms you must know about:
- Pure malt: In japan, pure malt is a whisky made from 100% pure malted barley. In fact, single malt, blended malt, and the combination of these malts are also known to be Pure malt.
- Ji-whisky: This term refers to the whiskies produced by the local distilleries available locally. It also means ‘’small-batch whisky’’ or ‘’craft whisky’’.
- Mizuwari: Mizuwari is the most common way to enjoy a glass of Japanese whisky with water. In fact, Mizuwari literally means ‘mixed with water, where you pour one part of whisky and two parts of water.
- Mizunara cask: Mizunara casks are the barrels used for aging and maturation. These exceptional casks are made up of Mongolian oak, which is only available particularly in Siberia, Japan, China, and Mongolia. These casks give an extraordinary taste to authentic Japanese whisky by adding deep flavors of vanilla, coconut, blossoms, honey, floral, etc.
- Haiboru: Haiboru is another Japanese term that explains another great way to enjoy real, authentic Japanese whisky. Haiboru, aka highball, is a popular way to enjoy whisky with soda.
Methodology, how we select the best Japanese Whisky
There are certainly more than just a few Japanese brands of whisky, and moreover, thanks to the authenticity of the culture, the world experienced a great whisky like never before. There is no specific good or bad points when we get descriptive about the points that tell us more about the Japanese whiskies; even so, we have listed the most essential points that help us choose the best bottles of whisky for you:
They are widely loved
There are numerous brands or bottles of Japanese whiskies in the world or in Japan specifically. But sadly, we cannot get our hands on all the available brands since a lot of them are not produced for international markets. Therefore, the brands we list down for you are not only known all around the world but are also one of the best choices to begin with.
Drink it the way you like it
While some whiskies are meant to be consumed with water, others taste better when raw. But, the popular bottles of the best Japanese whiskies that we have mentioned for you will give you the ultimate tasting and smelling experience whether or not you add extra ingredients, including water, soda, or ice.
Let us be honest, the older the Japanese whisky, the better it tastes. However, that is not always possible based on availability and affordability. This best Japanese whisky guide offers the best whiskies that are aged for at least three years or more.