Japanese whisky is one of the most popular types of whisky in the world. It's known for its unique flavour and quality, and many consider it to be some of the best whisky in the world. It’s particularly popular in the Australian market, where Aussies are passionate about Japanese whisky. And that popular, Australian and worldwide, has been steadily growing over the past decade and a half.
Whether you are a first-time drinker or a whisky connoisseur, you should try out some of the best Japanese whisky brands.
What is Special about Japanese Whisky?
The Japanese have developed a taste for whisky, but what separates their version of the classic spirit from others? Here are a few fun facts about Japanese whisky:
Informed by, and based on, Scotch whisky
The ingredients and process of making Japanese whisky are modelled on how Scotch whisky is made. Indeed the father of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru, travelled to Scotland to learn how to make Scotch before returning to Japan to start his first distillery.
A distinctly Japanese spin
While the key distillation process for Japanese whisky is the same as say, Scotch, their attention to focus and quality can produce exceptionally fine examples. The purity of Japanese spring water helps with clarity of flavour. And while a variety of cask types are used to age Japanese whisky, Mizunara (Japanese oak) is held in particularly high regard.
Spelling Without an "E"
You’ll have noticed I’m using the spelling without an “E” for Japanese whisky. Like Scotch, they use this spelling - as opposed to America and Ireland’s use of ‘whiskey’.
A Rising Star
Japanese whisky started to gain popularity outside of Japan around 15 years ago, after it started picking up awards and citations in Western publications about whisky. Before that coverage, it was a relatively unknown regional style of whisky. But it has gained remarkable popularity in the western world since then. Australia is a key market, with Australians being particularly big fans of Japanese whisky.
The Best Japanese Whisky Brands
Now that you know a little bit about Japanese whisky, it's time to try some of the best brands. Here are five of the best Japanese whisky brands that you should try:
1. Suntory Yamazaki
You can't talk about Japanese whisky without talking about Suntory Yamazaki. This brand is one of the world's most popular Japanese whisky brands. The Yamazaki distillery was the first Japanese whisky distillery, and it's been around since 1923.
If you're looking for a Japanese whisky that's light and fruity, Yamazaki is a good choice. The 12 Year Old whisky is an excellent place to start.
2. Nikka Taketsuru
Nikka Taketsuru is another famous Japanese whisky brand. It was founded by Masataka Taketsuru, who is often called the "father of Japanese whisky."
Taketsuru learned how to make whisky in Scotland and brought that knowledge back to Japan. As a result, this brand is known for its rich and full-bodied whiskies. The Nikka Taketsuru 12 Year Old is a good place to start, but if you're looking for something even richer, try the Nikka Taketsuru 21 Year Old.
Hibiki is a Japanese whisky brand that's part of the Suntory family. It was first released in 1989, and it's a blend of several different Suntory whiskies.
Hibiki is a bit lighter than some of the other Japanese whiskies on this list. It's smooth and easy to drink, with a hint of sweetness. You may try the Hibiki 12 Year Old, or if you want something a bit rarer, the Hibiki 17 Year Old.
Yoichi is a Japanese whisky brand that's part of the Nikka family. It was founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, the "father of Japanese whisky."
Yoichi produces rich and full-bodied whisky. The Yoichi 10 Year Old is a good place to start, but if you're looking for something even more affluent, try the Yoichi 15 Year Old. You may find it has notes of peat and smoke.
Hakushu is a Japanese whisky brand that's part of the Suntory family. It was founded in 1973, and it's located in the mountains of Japan. The taste of Hakushu whisky is quite different from other Japanese whiskies. It's light and grassy, with a hint of sweetness.
You may want to start with the Hakushu 12 Year Old, but if you're looking for something a bit different, try the Hakushu 18 Year Old. It has a more intense flavour.
So there you have five of the best Japanese whisky brands you should try. Japanese whisky is a unique and delicious spirit, and it's worth trying if you haven't already.
Have you tried any of these brands? What's your favourite Japanese whisky? Check out our friends The Whisky Club and let us know in the comments below!