If the shortage of Japanese whisky in the world proves one thing, it’s that the spirit is more popular than ever. Japanese whisky (without the “e”), started in the early 1900s. It’s since gained respect in the whisky drinking community, and Japanese whiskies regularly top, or sit near the top, of yearly rankings.
Style-wise, Japanese whisky models flavors from the same place it models the spelling of whisky: Scotland. It’s also, like Scotch, generally on the higher end of the price spectrum. There are some affordable ones out there, however. In general, Japanese whisky is well worth the price. Here are seven of the best you can find.
Toki is a blend from three major distilleries: Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Chita. It’s affordable at around $45, so you won’t feel guilty about mixing it into cocktails and highballs. It’s got a little bit of a honeyed sweetness, as well as vanilla and coconut. Toki is an affordable way to ease into Japanese whisky.
Hakushu 12 Year
If you want to taste something that really shows off the Scotch influence on Japanese whisky, reach for the Hakushu. It’s a single malt, meaning it’s from one distillery, peated, and pot-distilled. It’s smokey from the peat, yet still lighter in taste thanks to fruit and honey notes.
Suntory Chita Grain Whisky
Chita is harder to come by than some of the more popular Japanese whiskies in the U.S. If you find it, though, it’s a value you’ll want to return to. It’s a light golden mango color, with hints of mango on the palate as well. There’s a slight honey sweetness that makes it perfect for cocktails or as a lighter-end whisky to drink on the rocks.
Nikka Yoichi 12 Year
Another offering for people who love a good Scotch. Yoichi is a peaty single malt that’s reminiscent of something you would get out of northern Scotland. At around $250, it’s not something you’ll want to throw around. Its subtle sweetness, oak cask flavor, and notable smoke make it perfect for sipping neat on special occasions.
Hibiki Harmony Blended
Hibiki means resonance in Japanese, and the Harmony, which doesn’t have an age statement, will have you feeling resonant with Japanese whisky. It’s a blend that emphasizes an orange-citrus-sherry flavor while maintaining a bit of smokiness. Then it touches five different barrels that lend a bit of oak flavor. Balance is key to Japanese whisky, and Harmony is all about balance.
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky
The peaty smokiness of Taketsuru Pure Malt is balanced by a bit of coffee and chocolate. It’s named after the founder of the company, Taketsuru, and anything that a founder is willing to put his or her name on is respectable. Also, with a price generally falling around $60, it’s an affordable way to step into Japanese whisky.
Yamazaki 12 year
At $159, the Yamazaki 12 year is a whisky you’ll want to be sure of before you buy it. It’s not going to empty your wallet entirely (probably), but it’s not chunk change. Malty fruit and citrus notes at first taste with a bit of sweetness while it’s still in your mouth make it the perfect Japanese whisky to sit back and sip neat after a long day of work.