In recent years, the global enthusiasm for Japanese whisky has exploded. This is at least partly due to the fact that whisky expert Jim Murray named a Japanese whisky as the best in the world back in 2015 (Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013). But Murray was only confirming what others knew: Japan makes some really exceptional whisky that every fan of the brown stuff ought to learn to appreciate. In fact, these expressions have grown so popular that right now there’s an all-out panic over shortages.
As with various Scotch brands and some bourbons, the shortage talk is probably more smoke than fire. For now at least, you can still find delicious, well-made, reasonably priced Japanese whiskies at your local liquor store. Hold onto your highballs, folks, you’re in for a treat.
View this post on Instagram
On the road to Shinano, the mountain is heavy on me – the heat. Issa Then please refresh me with this highball! #whiskycollector #whisky #whiskylovers #whiskyporn # #whiskycocktails #instadrink #instawhisky #highball #japan #japanesewhisky #suntory #suntorytoki #toki #hotday #poetry #haiku
Released for the first time in 2016, Suntory Toki was designed for fans of sipping Japanese whisky as well as fans of mixing it. Made to pay homage to the history of whisky in Japan while also playing with the contemporary tastes of drinkers, Toki is blend of Hakushu American white oak cask malt whisky and Chita heavy-type grain whisky (as well as a few others).
The result is a nice balance of malt and grain.
Tasting Notes: Toki is an even-handed whisky. On top of Chita and Hakushu, the blend also contains two Yamazaki malts. The result of the blending of all these whiskies is a smooth, silky, spirit with vanilla sweetness and a subtly spicy, woody finish. It’s perfectly suited for slow sipping on mixing into your favorite summer highball.
Buys this bottle for $34.99.
Akashi White Oak
There’s been a little controversy about this offering. The version made for Japan is made with malt whisky and molasses spirit. This would technically make the spirit a liqueur instead of a whisky. The version we get here in the US isn’t made with molasses spirit. Instead, it’s made with malt as well as grain whiskies. Like Toki, this offering was designed for cocktails but can be enjoyed neat as well.
Tasting Notes: Even though this version doesn’t contain any molasses, this is a still an easy-sipping aspect to the whisky. It also has hints of dried fruits, Christmas spices, and caramel. The finish is dry and subtly spicy. Use this whisky as an alternative to Scotch in a Penicillin cocktail.
Buys this bottle for $48.99.
Nikka Coffey Grain
One of the most popular Japanese whiskies of the last few years, Nikka Coffey Malt doesn’t actually contain any coffee. This whisky will give you a buzz, but sadly not from caffeine. The Coffey in this whisky is named for first patented continuous still made by Aeneas Coffey. The grain used in this grain whisky is made from corn before being distilled in the aforementioned still.
Tasting Notes: Using this pot still and having a corn base give this whiskey a sweet, nicely-balanced, complex flavor that will appeal to both Scotch and bourbon drinkers. From the first sip, you’ll be met with flavors like dried citrus, cinnamon, vanilla, and pepper.
Buys this bottle for $76.99.
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
First released in 1989, Hibiki has remained a go-to for whisky fans all over the world ever since. Japan’s most awarded blended whisky, somehow it’s still not impossible to find. In 2015, the brand launched Hibiki Japanese Harmony. Named for the 24 seasons of the traditional Japanese lunar calendar, Japanese Harmony is a blend of whiskies from Hakushu, Yamazaki, and Chita.
Tasting Notes: The result of the combination of these three malts truly is a harmony of flavors. It’s complex, rich, and full of herbal, tropical fruit, dried citrus, chocolate, and vanilla flavors. This is not a mixing whisky. It’s best enjoyed neat or with a single drop (or two) of water to open it up.
Buys this bottle for $99.
You might not be able to afford a bottle of Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 (since it will set you back thousands of dollars), but you can probably grab a bottle of Yamazaki 12 instead. This award-winning single malt whisky is arguably the most beloved in all of Japan. Available since 1984, this 100 percent malted barley, 12 year-aged whisky will definitely be a beloved highlight in your collection.
Tasting Notes: People say whisky is smooth so often that it’s become cliché, but Yamazaki 12 is exceptionally smooth without losing complexity. It’s full of ripe tropical fruit flavors as well as dark chocolate, cinnamon, subtle pepper, and rich caramel. Mixing with this whisky is a severe mistake as it deserves to be enjoyed neat on a cool summer evening amongst dear friends.
Buys this bottle for $169.