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Japanese whiskey

I could not find any other posts about this and I have no experience with this spirit. I do like scotch (blends and single malts) but prefer American whiskey/bourbon like Knob Creek, Maker's, Van Winkle etc...

That said, what do Japanese whiskeys bring to the table? Are there any noteworthy brands that you have tried (Suntory, Nikka, Yamzaki, Hakushu, Karuizawa etc...)? Are these spirits trying to resemble scotch, American whiskey or both? Would it be worth going out of my way to find any particular bottling?

Thanks in advance.

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  1. I am really interested in this as well. "For a good time, make it a Suntory time" :)

    1. Japanese whiskies are mostly made in the Scottish style but to me taste like something between Scotch and Bourbon. They have been making whisky for a very long time there and it deserves to be recognized as it's own distinct category. Unfortunately there is very little variety available in the US right now, but more and more are being sold in Europe so it's only a matter of time before the American public catches on.

      Nikka and Suntory are the two big producers and they both have several distilleries and a huge number of whiskies, both blends and malts, available. My favorite is Nikka Yoichi which is usually quite smoky, very rich and heavy, and almost as sweet as a bourbon. These are often sold as single cask whiskies and can vary a lot. Another I like a lot is Suntory Hibiki 17 year which isn't smoky, but very round and elegant. Suntory only sells their Yamazaki in this country which I find to be a rather uninteresting malt. Nikka also does some blends with Scotch which a very good.

      You don't have to go all the way to Japan to get these, the Maison du Whisky in Paris has a nice selection and The Whisky Exchange in London usually has some too.

      1 Reply
      1. re: warrenr

        Thanks Warren, much appreciated.

        The Suntory Hibiki 17 sounds like it is to my taste. I will see if I can't scare up a bottle on the ole Interweb.


      2. As noted above, Japanese whiskies are in the scotch style, and in my opinion, taste fairly similar to scotch.

        Hakashu and Yamazaki are both made by Suntory. Hakashu is a lighter style (comparable to Glenfiddich) and Yamazaki has a bit more smoke (more comparable to a Highland Park). I also like Nikka Yoichi.

        The only Japanese bottlings I've seen for sale in the US are Suntory's Yamazaki 10 and 18 year old. I am a big fan of the Yamazaki 10 yo and it tends to be fairly reasonably priced.

        1. ...and, fyi, the Japanese spell it "whisky", like the Scots.

          5 Replies
          1. re: sku

            Japanese whisky or whiskey.
            A true oxymoron if ever the was one.

            1. re: Griller

              Quite the contrary, Japan is making some fine whiskies these days, and lots of it, though precious little is available overseas. They certainly deserve to be treated as one of the major whisky producers, along with Scotland, Ireland, the US and Canada.

              1. re: Griller

                "Japanese whisky or whiskey. A true oxymoron if ever there was one".
                I am not sure whether you are trying to say that it is ridiculous to think that the Japanese could make proper whisky or that somehow whisky is limited in origins to Scotland, Ireland and the US, but there are many expert judges of whisky who feel that Japanese whisky is first rate. Yoichi 10 years old, for instance, won the Whisky Magazine best of the best award five years ago and the Yamazaki 12 won gold at the International Spirits Challenge in 2003. Highly influential in this was Keizo Saji, head of Suntory, who decided in the middle of the 1970s-80s whisky boom in Japan that consumers would eventually tire of the average quality blends then in vogue and start asking for something better. I am trying to write a blog about this subject (see profile if you are interested) and Takeshi Mogi gives loads of more general information about Japanese whisky on his website: http://www.ii.e-mansion.com/%7Etakesh...

              2. re: sku

                Understood, and I appreciate the correction. I hate misspellings, especially my own.

                I was fairly unsuccessful in trying to find a site where I could order Japanese Whisky. Any suggestions would be helpful.

                1. re: CDouglas


                  this is the store in london i mentioned, owned by a gent named sukhinder singh, he is very professional and extremely knowledgeable. best of all, he ships to the US. shipping isn't cheap, the more you order, the more worthwhile it is.


                  this is another great store in edinburgh, they have a slightly smaller selection, but some very good stuff. and they also ship here.

              3. A great thread, thanks for starting this. I know nothing about Japanese whisky but I trust Japan to bring a finesse and perfection to anything attempted there. Would Japanese whiskys make a good Manhattan (if so which one)?

                1. This is great--I had just heard about Japanese Whiskys (Whiskies?) but haven't seen any in our heinous state-run liquor stores . . . don't even get me started on their TOTAL lack of choice! I'm excited to find some Japanese options, as well as to hit the two websites that sell/ship to the US--those of us in these backwards states (Washington) need to have options!


                  1 Reply
                  1. re: japanesewhisky

                    Here are the results from a malt whisky ' world championship' that took place in sweden during 6 months in 2005. ' år' means years and 10th place was a tie...but the big surprise was that there was 3 japanese whiskys on the list!

                    1. Ardbeg 10 år 46%
                    2. Lagavulin 16 år 43%
                    3. Caol Ila 12 år 43%
                    4. Yoichi 10 år 45%
                    5. Glenfarclas 12 år 43%
                    6. Mortlach 16 år 43%
                    7. Longmorn 15 år 45%
                    8. Yamazaki 12 år 43%
                    9. Sendai 12 år 45%
                    10. Springbank 15 år 46%
                    10. Blair Athol 12 år 43%
                    12. Balvenie Doublew. 12 år 40%

                  2. The Suntory Yamazaki 12 and 18 year are very nice

                      1. re: graham8369

                        Note that this thread was 4 yrs old, no need to look overseas to find Japanese whiskies anymore, plenty of American retailers carry them now.

                        1. re: ncyankee101

                          They may be more widespread but it's still only Suntory that exports to the US and only three whiskies (Yamazaki 12, Yamazaki 18 and Hibiki). They sent us the Yamazaki 1984 as well but I think it's sold out. There's word that Nikka Yoichi is trying to get approved for US export so we may see some of their whiskies sometime in the future. Let's hope so.

                      2. FWIW, I tried a few drams of Yamakazi 12 a couple months back, and to me, it tasted an awful lot like Johnnie Walker Black Label - some smoke, light peat, etc. It wasn't bad, but not particularly noteworthy either. For the money, I'd prefer to get a nicer bourbon, or spend a bit more for a good scotch, i.e. Talisker, Oban, Lagavulin, etc.

                        1. If I was restricted to only drinking one whisky for the rest of my life, it would be Nikka Whiskey From the Barrel. In some people's minds it has two strikes against it. 1) it is Japanese. 2) it is a blend.
                          but...it is absolutely wonderful stuff. No shortcomings whatsoever except that it can be hard to find in some areas.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Tinfoilhat

                            A new book with lots of information about Japanese whisky as well as beer, sake, sochu etc is
                            Drinking Japan by Chris Bunting, Tuttle, 2011. Not expensive and filled with interesting items.