Japanese whiskies have been inspired by Scotch but are vastly different. Although Scotland remains the home to premium whisky, the recent years have seen a surge in whisky production in the far East. Two players who lead the game are Nikka and Suntory. Masataka Taketsuru, a Japanese man who apprenticed in Scotch whisky distilleries is the man behind Nikka. Shinjiro Torri, another Scotch-lover founded Suntory. Although both distilleries are inspired by the Scots, they constantly innovate and strive to perfect their liquors.
Here is a list of our favourite Japanese whiskies:
Suntory Hibiki Harmony: This whisky is aged in casks made from different kinds of wood. With a sip, a broad depth of flavour gradually unfolds. First the malt notes, followed by charred oak, floral and finally refreshing citrus. Once you have experimented with this whisky, you will drink it neat till the bottle is empty!
Black Nikka Clear: Owned by the Ashai breweries, it is one of the best known brands. It was the first Japanese whisky where non-pleat malt was used, from which it derives the smooth palate and soft aroma.
Oishi Sherry Cask Whisky: An offering from the Oishi distillery, it is vastly different from the two whiskies mentioned above. Complex and dark, it matures in sherry barrels. Along with a buttery nuttiness of the sherry it comes along with strong flavours of nutmeg, fruits, vanilla and buttered cookies. It creates a magic on the palate and leaves you asking for more!
Suntory Hakushu: A 12-year-old single malt, it is produced in Suntory’s Hakushu distillery located in the Southern Alps. Crisp and complex, it comes with a lightness which is often deceptive. Gradually, the green apple tartness unravels a menthol smoke finish. It refreshing and revitalizing for the palate. Imagine sitting in a mountain cabin, beside the fireplace, and taking sips of this whisky from your favourite glass.
Nikka From the Barrel: From the house of Nikka, Nikka From the Barrel is another whisky which needs mention. What separates this offering from the rest is its affordability. Do not be misled into the thought that by shelling relatively less, you would be compromising on quality. On the contrary, the complex notes range from a freshly cut meadow to that of pepper. On the palate, notes of orange dominate among a dash of cinnamon. It offers a unique experience and is indeed value for money.
Suntory Toki Blended Whisky: An entry level whisky from the house of Suntory, it tastes best when it is sipped on its own. It comes with flavors of custard, stone-fruit and cereal.
Suntory Kakubin Whisky: A perfect example of light Japanese whisky, this comes in tortoise shell bottles. One popular way to drink this whisky is “ Kaku Highball” where sparkling water is added to the spirit. It can easily turn those unfamiliar with this whisky into serious devotees. Such is the magic of the spirit.
Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 Year Old: The age on the label does not refer to the age of the blend but indicates the age of the youngest whisky in the blend. Taketsuru Pure Malt 12 Year Old is a blend of single malt whiskies from Miyagiko and Yoichi distilleries. This blend is named after the company’s founder Masataka Taketsuru.
Yamazaki Single Malt 50 Year: It is the rarest and oldest Japanese whisky of all times. It is aged in Mizunara oak which lends the beautiful amber color. It comes with deep intense spicy notes and is a good addition to your bar.
Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013: Jim Murray describes this whisky as a “near incredible genius” in his Whisky Bible 2015. With bold exquisite notes coupled with teasing spice, this deep bronze hued liquor is a winner.
The Japanese have cemented their position in the world of whisky and are competing with some of the best global brands. The complex whiskies in the list taste best when mixed with a drop of water. It unlocks the flavors and ensures a more rounded finish.
So, next time you plan to unwind with your friends, do not hesitate to serve a dram of astonishing Japanese whisky. It may not be from the land of kilts and golf, but is a different experience altogether.