The market for Japanese whisky has grown exponentially in recent years, as more and more whisky drinkers begin to discover the delightful single malts and blends that hail from Japan.
If you are new to Japanese whisky, or would like to expand your palette, this article will help you to decide which malts will be a treat for your taste buds, and (most of the time) won’t cost a pretty penny. So, without further ado, here are (in our opinion) the best Japanese whiskies to try in 2021.
Hakushu 12 Year Old
Now hear us out, we’re not saying this because it’s going away. We’re actually saying it because it’s coming back! Taken away in the summer of 2017, Hakushu 12 is Suntory’s peated style of whisky (Islay heads, calm down. It’s quite subtle). But beyond the gentle peat, this whisky was the epitome of tropical, juicy fruit. Pears, mango, kiwi, lychee – it had it all! Older bottlings are still in and around £200, but we can hope that when it is relaunched, it’s more in line with Yamazaki 12 at £130ish. We hope.
Karuizawa-Yamanashi Blended/Gloria Ocean
Something from our own website here, the definition of unusual and affordable considering what is contained within the bottle. Closed distilleries often take the crown with Scottish whisky. Karuizawa is the king of closed Japanese distilleries, and its whisky is contained within this blend, along with Yamanashi, a closed grain distillery. This is almost the equivalent of finding a Rosebank and Cambus blend from Scotland, almost unheard of, but probably happened at some point.
Golden Horse Bushu
Now with Japanese whisky laws having changed, a lot of formerly marketed ‘Japanese’ whiskies are no longer sold as such. This whisky has links to Hanyu, but the bulk of the product is considered to be imported from Scotland, despite the marketing from Tao Shuzo. It’s 43% and around the £50 mark, which in the grand scheme of Japanese blended whisky is quite good.
Enso Japanese Whisky
A very light entry from the pot still blend, Enso! Now much like other products, much of this stock is rumored to come from export stock (Scotland). However, the profile is something a little different, for those of you who enjoy Spanish brandies and possibly even Grappa – this is probably the style for you. Young and fresh with a lot of bright apple flavour throughout smell, palate and finish. Indeed, something a little more unusual.
Yoichi Single Malt
Now this is more familiar territory. Peat fans! We’re calling on you again, and it’s for the joys that is Yoichi. Located on Hokkaido and almost mimicking the Scottish Highlands for weather and beauty, Yoichi is a coal fired and hugely variable single malt that has tones of Talisker and Highland Park about it. A Japanese whisky that emulates the spirit of Scotland. A firm favourite, even after the removal of age statements – it still has a big presence.
Tenjaku Blended Whisky
This is almost a supermarket equivalent of a Japanese whisky…which isn’t something you can really say at all. It’s below £30 a bottle and is probably not all sourced from Japan, but even with this. It is something affordable and welcomes itself to neat drinking as well with mixed drinks.
Taketsuru Pure Malt/Blended Malt
Another big selling style in the world of Japanese whisky. Combining the salty/smokier style of Yoichi with the sherried and fruitier style of Miyagikyo – The Taketsuru Blended Malt, named after the founder of Nikka – Masataka Taketsuru, unites the whiskies of the company in one product that is attainable, and will not break the bank. A great intro to Japanese malts, especially if you’re not a fan of the intense sweetness that grains can bring to classic blended styles.
Hatozaki Blended Whisky
Now this is a real treasure. Not only does it come in at around £30 a bottle, but it is unanimously well received as a product. You get what you pay for at that price point, but to have bourbon, sherry and Mizunara cask influences held within it is quite a surprise. Even the use of the word ‘Mizunara’ (Japanese oak) normally adds many zeros onto the price of a whisky. Luckily not with this one. Easy drinking and very welcoming.
SMWS Miyagikyo 1988 16 Year Old 124.1
This is a good bit of fun! Another bottle from our website shows the sheer intensity of what Japanese whisky can be. Miyagikyo was the second distillery that was setup by Taketsuru in 1969 and, sadly, not one he got to spend a lot of time with. This bottling from The Scotch Malt Whisky Society at just under 60% ABV is a rare, if not astonishingly rare, example of single cask Japanese whisky, Miyagikyo alone aren’t renowned for single cask offerings. So, this is a little extreme compared to others on this list; nonetheless, something fun.
Yamazaki 12 Year Old
It wouldn’t really be a list without this whisky. It’s still out there, pricing has held steady for a good few years. It is £130+ for a 12YO whisky, which is a lot. But if you like this style of malt and its softer, fruitier, gently bitter contrast of flavours, then you might not mind the price tag. It is something that is very hard to beat in the world of whisky for flavour. You can still buy samples of this online, and, much like what we said about Blue Label in a previous article, every whisky drinker should try this as it is totally worth your time. Money is a different conversation altogether.
Tokinoka Blended Whisky
The White Oak Distillery, well known for its production of The Akashi range of Japanese Single Malts, now has a blend to its name. A very unpretentious and easy drinking style of whisky for the £30 mark which isn’t any of the bigger names that you see around. Easy in every sense of the word, palate wise and on the wallet. Don’t break your back to get something Japanese that you want to drink.
Mars Maltage Cosmo
Online reviews for this are by far some of the most varied you will ever see. So, given that, it certainly deserves a place on this list. A combination of undisclosed Scottish whisky and Japanese distillate produced by Shinshu, it offers a lovely variety of rich fruit and a soft vanilla/oak driven style. By all means, check out the reviews online and you’ll see the disparity of it all. If you are feeling adventurous then this whisky is sure to whet your appetite for something new.
These last three are the classics that we all know. These whiskies are well-loved and sell by the caseload for good reason. They’re easy to find, easy to drink, easy to mix, and great ways to draw people into the world of Japanese whisky. Nikka Days is a fruit bomb. Think of a fruit, we’ll give you a second. It’s in it. A literal treasure trove of summer and springtime in a bottle. Not one to be ignored.
We always love a whisky that calls itself ‘the’. Grain whisky is becoming better loved by whisky drinkers from all over the world, finally! The Japanese stuff is just as good as closed and functioning Scottish and Irish distilleries. The soft and sweet notes of vanilla, caramel and crème brulee that you get with bourbon, but without the spice that some find too much. Like the idea of a boozy dessert? The Chita is the way for you.
A style of whisky that contains Chita (The), blended with Hakushu single malt, and a little bit of Yamazaki. Hibiki is very Yamazaki dominant, Toki takes the lighter, fresher road. Reminiscent of Appletizer and ginger beer. Not only does it mix very well with them, its something that, as a neat serve, has some surprising savory notes of basil and soft pepper. Worth your time? Absolutely.
So, there we have it! The best Japanese whiskies on the market, from single malts to blend, there is a Japanese whisky on this list to suit all tastes.
If you are looking to buy or sell Japanese whisky, get in touch with us at [email protected] and we will be more than happy to help.