With the mainstream appeal of brands like Suntory and Nikka, it should come as no surprise that Japanese whisky has recently cemented itself as a sought-after spirit stateside and beyond. At bars and cocktail lounges across the country, Japanese whisky — still relatively rare on today’s market — finds a home in two-ingredient highballs as well as more complex creations, its versatility making it a good option for beginners and aficionados alike.
With stunning bottles, often wildly high price tags, and delightful liquid to match, Japanese whisky also makes a highly collectible gift for the drinks lover on your list. From entry-level expressions to budget-breaking baller bottles, these are the best Japanese whiskies to give this holiday season.
- Best value Japanese whisky: Akashi Blended Whisky
- Best splurge Japanese whisky: Mars The Y.A. #01
- Best Japanese whisky for beginners: The Matsui Single Malt Sakura Cask Whisky
- Best Japanese whisky for whisky geeks: Honkaku Spirits Takamine 8 Year Old Koji Whiskey
- Best Japanese whisky for cocktail lovers: Mars Shinshu Iwai 45
- Best Japanese whisky for the boss: Hibiki Suntory Whisky Japanese Harmony
- Best limited-edition Japanese whisky: The Yamazaki Single Malt Tsukuriwake Selection Puncheon 2022
Best Value Japanese Whisky
“Cheap” and “Japanese whisky” aren’t often found in the same sentence, so when we find a great bottle for under $50, we consider it a great value. This $40 whisky comes out of the Eigashima distillery in the eponymous Akashi City. Its wonderfully complex notes of malt and bright, juicy apricot jump from the glass and continue onto the palate, along with a hint of subtle peat.
Average price: $40
Best Splurge Japanese Whisky
Stuck at home this holiday season but can’t kick that wanderlust? The first expression in Mars’ “Y.A.” series, this ex-bourbon cask-aged bottling will transport you across the globe from the comfort of your couch. Crafted to showcase the unique influence of aging pure malt on Japan’s Yakushima Island, this concentrated, expressive whisky brims with seawater and tropical fruit alongside notes of cedar, anise, and smoked meat. And at 52 percent ABV, it’s given even more life when combined with a few drops of water. A bottle worth splurging for, The Y.A. is truly memorable (and is at least cheaper than a trans-Pacific flight!).
Average price: $250
Best Japanese Whisky for Beginners
Light and fruit-forward, The Matsui offers an approachable alternative to some of its richer, more malt-forward counterparts. This non-age statement single malt undergoes two maturation processes: the first in ex-bourbon casks, and the second in bourbon barrels with sakura wood heads. The result is a bright, floral, and youthful whisky that packs a punch — a perfect entry point into the wide world of Japanese whisky.
Average price: $94
Best Japanese Whisky for Geeks
This whiskey is an homage to Jokichi Takamine, a 19th-century professor who coined a distillation method that uses traditional Japanese sake brewing techniques. Aged for eight years, this spirit was malted with koji — the moldy grains used to make sake — before being fermented and distilled. The result is a rum-like spirit expressing aromas of molasses and notes of stone fruit and white pepper on the palate. For the connoisseur who’s tried everything, this is sure to give them a taste of something new.
Average price: $99
Best Japanese Whisky for Cocktail Lovers
Because they tend to be more expensive, most Japanese whiskies are reserved for neat pours. This bottling goes against the grain, however, as it was crafted specifically for mixology and has a price tag to match. Dried cranberry and fresh raspberry aromas intertwine on the nose, while the palate offers bright orchard fruit and a lively finish. Ideal for summer highballs, this is a must-have for any home bar.
Average price: $36
Best Japanese Whisky for the Boss
Ball out for the boss with this non-age statement blend. Once labeled a 12-year-old release, the bottling is a blend of malt and grain distillates from Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Chita distilleries. Offering notes of tropical fruits and flowers on the nose, and sweet malty goodness on the palate, this is a lively, well-concentrated bottling for any giftee who appreciates the category.
Average price: $94
Best Limited-Edition Japanese Whisky
An ultimate unicorn, this bottle is not easy to get your hands on. If you are lucky enough to come across it in the wild — and have half a grand to spare — snag one for an unforgettable gift. One of the most unique spirits on the market, The Yamazaki’s Puncheon expression stood out among this year’s other Yamazaki releases — Spanish Oak, Peated Malt, and Mizunara Cask — thanks to its lightly sweet profile. On the palate, notes of tropical fruit and molasses are met with complex tannins and earthy undertones. This dram is highly expressive, with new tasting notes to discover in each sip.
Average price: $450
Please note that prices listed here are MSRPs provided by producers and/or importers and distributors. Actual retail prices may be significantly higher in some cases.