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Japanese Whisky Guide: 5 Best Whisky Brands in Japan

Updated: Jul 9, 2023

The popularity of Japanese whisky has sparked a surge in whisky tourism in Japan. In our Japanese whisky guide, we highlighted the best whisky brands in Japan that you should try.

Distilleries such as Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Yoichi have become popular destinations for whisky enthusiasts from around the world. Visitors can take distillery tours, learn about the whisky-making process, and sample a variety of whiskies, creating a unique experience for whisky lovers.

The meteoric rise of Japanese whisky in the early 2000s definitely influenced the global whisky landscape, thanks to the unique cultural elements surrounding its production and consumption.

Different Styles of Japanese Whisky

Do note that each Japanese whisky distillery may have its signature styles and approach with regard to cask types, aging methods, and flavor profiles used. As a result, there is a wide range of Japanese whiskies on the market, catering to different tastes and preferences. The most common styles of Japanese whiskies can be classified into the following:

1. Single malt whisky

Made from 100% malted barley, this whisky is typically aged in oak barrels. Single malt whiskies from Japan, like the Nikka Yoichi Single Malt, are known for their smooth, delicate flavor profiles, ranging from fruity, floral, and occasionally smoky notes.

2. Blended whisky

A combo of single malt and grain whiskies, blended whiskies are usually more affordable than single malt whiskies. It is a great option for those new to Japanese whisky. Suntory’s Hibiki Whisky range is a popular blended whisky.

3. Peated whisky

Made with malted barley that has been smoked over a peat fire, peated whiskies have a smoky, earthy flavor that can be quite intense. Though not as common as Scotch whisky, some Japanese distilleries produce it for its unusual flavor profile. The Yoichi 20 Year-Old is one of the best examples.

4. Mizunara whisky

This is aged in Mizunara oak casks. Mizunara oak is a type of Japanese oak that is known for imparting a unique flavor to whisky.

Most Popular Japanese Whisky Distilleries in Japan

Several distilleries in Japan have gained popularity for their exceptional whiskies. While individual preferences may vary, here are some of the most renowned and popular distilleries in the Japanese whisky scene:

1. Suntory Yamazaki Distillery

Founded in 1923 in Osaka, Suntory Yamazaki Distillery is the oldest whisky distillery in Japan. Suntory Yamazaki Distillery is known for its wide range of high-quality single malts and blends, showcasing various flavor profiles.

In 2015, the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 was named the "World Whisky of the Year" by Jim Murray's Whisky Bible. This prestigious accolade brought global attention to Japanese whisky and cemented its status as a formidable player in the whisky world.

MUST-TRY: Suntory’s Yamazaki 12 Year Old

2. Nikka Yoichi Distillery

Established in 1934 in Hokkaido by Masataka Taketsuru, known as the father of Japanese whisky, Nikka Yoichi Distillery is the second oldest whisky distillery in Japan. Known as the birthplace of Nikka Whisky, Nikka Yoichi Distillery is popular for its use of peated malt that’s rich, bold, and often exhibits a distinctive smoky profile.

MUST-TRY: Nikka Yoichi Single Malt & Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky

3. Hakushu Distillery

Hakushu Distillery is a Suntory distillery located in the Hakushu district of Yamanashi Prefecture. Situated in the picturesque Japanese Alps, Hakushu Distillery is known for its fresh and vibrant whiskies. The distillery takes advantage of the pristine spring water and forested surroundings to create single malts with notes of green apple, citrus, and subtle smokiness.

MUST-TRY: Hakushu 12-Year-Old Whisky

4. Chichibu Distillery

Chichibu Distillery is a small, independent distillery located in the Chichibu district of Saitama Prefecture. It is known for its use of traditional methods and its focus on single-malt whiskies. A relatively newer player in the Japanese whisky scene, Chichibu Distillery has gained a devoted following for its small-batch, artisanal whiskies.

MUST-TRY: Ichiro's Malt & Grain Blended Japanese Whisky 2023

5. Mars Shinshu Distillery

Mars Shinshu Distillery is a large, modern distillery located in the Shinshu district of Nagano Prefecture. Having a long history of whisky production, dating back to the 1940s, Mars Shinshu Distillery has known for its use of a variety of different grains and its focus on experimental whiskies. After a dormant period, the distillery was revived in 2011, and its whiskies have gained recognition for their unique and varied expressions.

MUST-TRY: Mars Shinshu Iwai 45% Whisky

6. Miyagikyo Distillery

Also under the Nikka umbrella, Miyagikyo Distillery is situated in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture. This distillery produces whiskies with a softer and more delicate character, often showcasing floral, fruity, and nutty flavors.

MUST-TRY: Miyagikyo Single Malt Whisky

These distilleries have contributed significantly to the development and reputation of Japanese whisky, showcasing different regional influences, production techniques, and flavor profiles. It's worth noting that there are several other distilleries in Japan that are also producing notable whiskies, adding to the diversity and richness of the Japanese whisky landscape.

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