The 10 Best Japanese Whisky Brands of 2024

by Best-Japanese Team
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Japanese Whisky Bar

With the popularity of Japanese whisky set to gain even more traction after winning top awards in 2024, the demand for Japanese whisky brands is expected to soar this year. Known for its exceptional craftsmanship, innovative techniques, and attention to detail, Japanese whisky has gained recognition and appreciation throughout the world. The artistry behind Japanese whisky can be traced back to the early 20th century when the first distillery, Yamazaki, was established by Shinjiro Torii (founder of Suntory) near Kyoto. Since then, Japanese whisky has grown to become a symbol of elegance, refinement, and tradition.

What sets Japanese whisky apart is its dedication to quality and precision without getting too heavy. From the selection of the finest ingredients to the meticulous production process, every step is taken with utmost care, and Japanese whisky is known for its smoothness, complexity, and balance. It often incorporates traditional Japanese flavours and techniques, such as the use of Mizunara oak casks, which impart a distinct aroma and flavour. Whether you’re a seasoned whisky connoisseur, a curious beginner, or looking for the perfect gift, we’ll be covering a range of the best Japanese whisky guaranteed to offer a unique and refined tasting experience.

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Top 10 Japanese Whisky Brands to Try

When it comes to Japanese whiskey, there are several renowned brands that whisky enthusiasts should definitely explore. Here are 10 must-try Japanese whisky brands available in the UK that include the well-respected Suntory whisky labels, and cover prices ranging from £48 to £199:

1. Yamazaki – The Pioneer of Japanese Whisky

Established in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii, Yamazaki was the first distillery in Japan to produce whisky. Yamazaki whiskies are known for their rich and complex flavors, with notes of dried fruit, spice, and oak. The use of Mizunara oak casks adds a unique touch to the whiskies, imparting a distinctive aroma and flavor profile. Yamazaki whiskies have gained worldwide recognition and won numerous awards for their exceptional quality and craftsmanship. Whether you’re a fan of single malt or blended whisky, Yamazaki offers a range of expressions, however it’s their signature 12 and 18-year old single malt whiskys that remain a firm favourite among whisky connoisseurs.

Yamazaki Single Malt Japanese Whisky 12 Year Old

Yamazaki Japanese Whisky

Photo Credit: Amazon

2. Hibiki – Harmony in Every Bottle

Hibiki is a brand of Japanese blended whisky produced by Suntory. Known for its smoothness and harmony, Hibiki whiskies are crafted using a combination of malt and grain whiskies. The art of blending is at the heart of Hibiki, with the master blenders harmonising different whiskies to create a balanced flavour profile. Each multifaceted bottle tells a story from the delicate floral notes to the subtle hints of spice. Japanese Harmony, is a no-age statement blend of Japanese malt whisky from Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, along with grain whisky from Chita. Despite its complexity, it’s light and approachable featuring fruity hints of orange peel and notes of white chocolate.

Hibiki Suntory Whisky Japanese Harmony

Hibiki Whisky

Photo Credit: Amazon

3. Nikka – From the Barrel to the Heart

Nikka is another prominent Japanese whisky brand that has gained recognition for its exceptional quality and craftsmanship. Founded by Masataka Taketsuru, who learned the art of whisky making in Scotland, Nikka whiskies are a blend of tradition and innovation. The Yoichi Distillery, located in Hokkaido, produces single malt whiskies that are known for their rich and smoky flavors. Nikka whiskies are crafted with a deep understanding and respect for the Scottish whisky tradition, while also incorporating Japanese techniques and flavors. From the smoothness and richness of Nikka Coffey Grain to the complexity of Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt, each expression offers a unique and unforgettable taste experience.

Nikka Coffey Grain Whiskey

Nikka Coffey Grain Japanese Whisky

Photo Credit: Amazon

4. Hakushu – The Forest Distillery

Hakushu is a distillery nestled in the lush green forests of Mount Kaikomagatake, known as the “Forest Distillery.” The pristine natural environment surrounding the distillery plays a crucial role in shaping the character of Hakushu whiskies. Hakushu whiskies are known for their vibrant flavours, with hints of green apple, citrus, and herbs. The use of both malt and grain whiskies in their expressions adds complexity and depth to the flavor profile. Hakushu is also known for its commitment to sustainability, implementing eco-friendly practices to minimise its environmental impact. A sip of the Hakushu Single Malt whisky is like taking a journey through the enchanting forests of Japan with its cool herbal notes and refreshing light smoke and peak taste.

Hakushu Single Malt Japanese Whisky

Hakushu Single Malt

Photo Credit: Amazon

5. Yoichi – Where Traditional Whisky-making Thrives

Yoichi is a distillery located in the scenic coastal town of Yoichi, Hokkaido. It is known for its traditional whisky-making methods, which have been passed down through generations. The whiskies are crafted using traditional pot stills and aged in a variety of cask types, including sherry and bourbon. Yoichi’s special aromatic yeast also contributes a unique quality to the whiskies, incorporating fruity and spicy undertones. This results in a whisky collection that harmoniously blends conventional and creative elements, offering a taste experience that is both familiar and unique. The Single Malt Yoichi is known for being a classic Japanese-style whisky, with a gentle peat smoke and pleasant maritime character.

Single Malt Yoichi

Yoichi Single Malt Whisky

Photo Credit: Amazon

6. Miyagikyo – The Soft Touch of Nature

Miyagikyo is another distillery under the Nikka umbrella, located in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. It is known for its soft and elegant whiskies, which showcase the gentle and refined side of Japanese whisky. The whiskies produced at Miyagikyo are characterised by their delicate floral and fruity notes, with a touch of sweetness. Miyagikyo whiskies are crafted using the distillery’s unique aromatic yeast, which adds a distinct character to the whiskies, along with a range of cask varieties like sherry and bourbon that enriches their flavour intricacy. The Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt is made from lightly peated barley at the distillery located in a narrow valley near Sendai City, with notes of freshly cut grass and hints of crisp apple.

Single Malt Miyagikyo

Single Malt Miyagikyo

Photo Credit: Amazon

7. Chichibu – The New Wave

Chichibu is a relatively new distillery in the Japanese whisky industry but has quickly gained a reputation for its exceptional whiskies. Founded by Ichiro Akuto, Chichibu whiskies are a reflection of his passion and dedication to the craft. The distillery produces a limited quantity of whisky each year, making Chichibu whiskies highly sought after by whisky enthusiasts and collectors around the world. Known for their complexity and depth of flavor, Chichibu whiskies often exhibit a balance of sweetness, spice, and oak. Chichibu’s The Peated 2022 is crafted from peated malt whisky matured in oak with aromas of white peach and dandelion, and part of a limited release of 11,000 bottles.

Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The Peated 2022

Chichibu The Peated 2022

Photo Credit: The Whisky Exchange

8. Mars Shinshu – Japan’s Highest Distillery

Mars Shinshu is located in Nagano Prefecture and holds the title of being Japan’s highest whisky distillery. Situated at an altitude of 798 meters, the distillery benefits from the cool climate and fresh mountain air, which contribute to the unique character of Mars Shinshu whiskies. The distillery produces a range of whiskies, including peated and non-peated expressions, each showcasing the distillery’s commitment to quality and craftsmanship. Mars Shinshu whiskies are known for their complexity and depth, with flavors ranging from fruity and floral to rich and smoky. The Mars Maltage Cosmo is a blended malt whisky featuring a sweet and elegant profile with sweet red fruits and soft vanilla notes.

Mars Shinshu Maltage Cosmo

Mars Maltage Cosmo

Photo Credit: Amazon

9. Akashi – Craftsmanship Redefined

Akashi is a distillery located in the small city of Akashi, Hyogo Prefecture. It is one of the few distilleries in Japan that produces both whisky and sake, showcasing the country’s rich beverage heritage. Akashi whiskies are crafted with a focus on craftsmanship and attention to detail. The distillery produces a range of whiskies, including single malt and single grain expressions. Akashi single grain whiskies are known for their smoothness and approachability, making them a great choice for those new to Japanese whisky. The Akashi Single Malt Whisky is produced using lightly peated malted barley and aged for 3 years in bourbon and sherry barrels, with notes of spice and vanilla.

Akashi Single Malt Whisky

Akashi Whisky

Photo Credit: Amazon

10. Kurayoshi – Pure Malt Magic

Kurayoshi is a distillery located in Tottori Prefecture, known for its exceptional pure malt whiskies crafted using a variety of cask types, including sherry, bourbon, and Mizunara oak. The distillery’s dedication to quality and craftsmanship is evident in each bottle, making Kurayoshi whiskies a must-try for any Japanese whisky enthusiast. Whether you prefer a rich and robust malt or a delicate and floral expression, Kurayoshi has a pure malt whisky to satisfy your palate. The Kurayoshi Pure Malt Whisky blends Scotch and Japanese whisky, and undergoes an aging process of 3 years in oak barrels, then finished in ex-sherry casks, and boasts aromas of ripe fruit, sultanas, and brown sugar on the nose.

Kurayoshi Pure Malt Whisky

Kurayoshi Sherry Cask

Photo Credit: Amazon

Why try Japanese Whisky?

Two people toasting with glasses in a cozy bar surrounded by Japanese whiskey bottles.

Japanese whisky has gained global recognition for its unique flavours and craftsmanship. From the pioneering Yamazaki to the innovative Chichibu, each brand offers a distinct taste of Japan’s whisky culture. Whether you are a connoisseur or a novice, exploring Japanese whisky opens doors to a world of unparalleled quality and variety. With food pairings that elevate your tasting experience and limited editions that captivate collectors, Japanese whisky provides an indulgence worth savouring. Cheers to discovering the artistry and complexity of Japanese whisky!

For those seeking more insights into Japanese beverages, we suggest delving into our comprehensive piece on Japanese sake. Meanwhile, if you’re on the hunt for top spots to dine on Japanese cuisine, do explore our collection of Japanese restaurant reviews in London.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is Japanese whisky so popular worldwide?

Japanese whisky has gained popularity worldwide due to its exceptional quality, craftsmanship, and unique flavour profiles. With a focus on tradition, innovation, and attention to detail, Japanese whisky has captured the hearts of whisky enthusiasts around the globe.

What makes Japanese whisky different from Scotch and Bourbon?

Japanese whisky draws inspiration from Scotch whisky, but it has its own distinct characteristics. Japanese whiskies often incorporate traditional Japanese flavours and techniques, and they can include both grain and single malt whiskies, offering a wider range of flavour profiles compared to Scotch and Bourbon.

How should one begin exploring Japanese whiskey?

To begin exploring Japanese whisky, it is recommended to start with the pioneering distillery of Yamazaki. From there, one can branch out to other renowned Japanese whisky brands like Hibiki, Nikka, and others, to experience the diverse range of flavours and expressions.

Can Japanese whisky be enjoyed on a budget?

Yes, there are Japanese whiskies available at various price points, making it accessible to all budgets. While some rare and limited editions can be quite expensive, there are also affordable options that provide a wonderful introduction to Japanese whisky.

Are there any limited edition Japanese whiskys worth trying?

Yes, there are many limited edition Japanese whiskies that are highly sought after by collectors and enthusiasts. These limited editions often showcase unique cask finishes, rare age statements, and experimental flavour profiles, making them a special addition to any whisky collection.

What food pairings work best with Japanese whisky?

Japanese whiskies pair well with a variety of foods. The delicate and nuanced flavors of Japanese whisky complement dishes like sushi, sashimi, grilled seafood, and even chocolate. Experimenting with different pairings can enhance both the whisky and the dining experience.

How to properly store Japanese whisky?

To properly store Japanese whisky, it is recommended to keep the bottles upright in a cool, dark place, away from direct sunlight and extreme temperatures. This will help preserve the flavour and quality of the whisky over time.

Is it worth visiting Japan for whisky tourism?

Absolutely! Japan offers a unique whisky tourism experience, with distilleries welcoming visitors for tours, tastings, and even exclusive releases. Exploring the birthplace of Japanese whisky can deepen your appreciation and understanding of this fascinating spirit.

What are the future trends in Japanese whisky?

The future of Japanese whisky is likely to see continued innovation, experimentation, and expansion. With increasing global demand, distilleries may explore new cask finishes, collaborations, and unique flavour profiles to keep pushing the boundaries of Japanese whisky.

How has the global appreciation of Japanese whisky affected its availability?

The global appreciation of Japanese whisky has led to a surge in demand, resulting in limited availability of certain expressions. Rare and older age statements have become highly sought after, making them more challenging to find. However, many distilleries are working to meet the growing demand by increasing production and exploring new expressions.

Are there any emerging Japanese whisky brands to watch out for?

Yes, there are several emerging Japanese whisky brands that are gaining recognition for their exceptional quality and innovative approaches. Keep an eye out for distilleries like Mars Shinshu, Chichibu, and others, as they continue to make their mark in the world of Japanese whisky.

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