Top 10 Japanese Whiskey brands

Japan produces among the finest, smoothest, most precisely curated whiskey. When it comes to their whiskey blends the Japanese are incredibly competitive. The rivalry between whiskey-makers in Japan is such a prevalent one that there is no market for bulk whiskey trades. This often means that the craftsmen have to make many types of whiskey on their own. The end result is a wide array of incredibly bold whiskey that is sure to even please those with the most discerning tastes.

Why Japanese whiskey is expensive?

Lovers of the spirit buy it, try it, collect it, but most don’t know of the milestones that made it expensive. Much of the whiskey is, as expected, delicious. Quality ingredients and proper maturation don’t come cheap, nor does the process of importing Japanese whisky. The bottles and labels of Japanese whisky are gorgeous which makes Japanese whiskey expensive. Another reason is there is simply not enough supply to meet the ever-growing demand. While whisky boomed as an industry in the early days, when it first started to be made in Japan in the late 1930s, by the 1980s other alcoholic beverages such as beer and shochu, a spirit made from rice, had taken over as the most popular drinks.

Let’s take a look at the top 10 Japanese Whiskey brands:

1. Taketsuru 17-Year-Old Pure Malt ($268)

A blend of malted whiskies from Nikka’s Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries, this spirit was named after the distillery’s founder and the father of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru. Smooth as all get out, this whisky is as luxurious as a supple, leather Chesterfield sofa. Drink it slow and never mix it.

2. Yamazaki 12-Year Japanese Whisky ($128)

Everything this distillery creates is liquid gold, including this phenomenal whisky. After being lauded with so many awards (including best whisky in the world), Yamazaki’s products have been in short supply, so snatch this bottle up if ever you see it. You likely won’t drink anything better this year.

3. Suntory Hakushu 12-Year Single Malt ($97)

From Suntory’s famous Hakushu distillery in the Japanese Southern Alps, this 12-year single malt is complex and crisp. But its lightness is deceptive. Green apple tartness opens to flavors of sugar cookies, menthol, smoke, and a rounded, mouth-coating finish. Drink this while wearing a velvet smoking jacket at your mountain cabin.

4. Ohishi Sherry Cask Whisky ($72)

The second offering from the Ohishi distillery is a completely different animal than its lighter, more honeyed brother. Dark and complex, it’s aged in sherry barrels before being bottled unfiltered. Rich with sherry’s buttery nuttiness, it has strong flavors of stone fruits, nutmeg, vanilla and buttered biscuits.

5. Ohishi Brandy Cask Whisky ($72)

In a category all its own, this spirit is distilled from rice like a traditional shochu, instead of malted grain. Although this spirit is not considered a whisky in Japan, its time spent in brandy barrels qualifies the spirit as a whisky in America. On the palate the spirit retains some of the grape-based spirit’s essence, and is bright and floral, with flavors of jasmine tea, candied orange and a savory tinge of salt and fennel.

6. Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky ($71)

Get your hands on this one while you can. Distilled in a rare, vintage Coffey still, it has more in common with easy going Irish whiskey than multi-faceted scotch. On the palate, there are flavors of dried apricot, candied pineapple, malt and cornbread. It finishes honeyed and bright, with a smoothness that lingers.

7. Suntory Hibiki Harmony ($65)

This beautiful selection from Suntory is a blend of whiskies aged in five different types of wood including sherry casks, American white oak and Mizunara, a rare Japanese wood. The entry-level spirit in the Hibiki line, it’s light and playful on the palate, with a broad depth of flavor that slowly unfolds across your tongue, first with maltiness and a touch of charred oak, and then floral notes enter the mix with some bright citrus and orange oil. We could sip this neat until the bottle is dry. Fun fact: This is the whisky Bill Murray drinks in Lost in Translation.

8. Akashi White Oak ($50)

An introductory blend from one of the oldest distilleries in Japan, this whisky is light, minimal and precise. Similar to Speyside scotches, it’s fruity and honeyed. Drink it in a traditional Japanese Highball on a hot summer's day.

9. Suntory Toki Blended Whisky ($46)

A delicious, entry-level blend from Suntory, the Toki whisky is just as good sipped on its own as it is served in a refreshing Highball. With flavors of cereal, stone fruit and custard, this light whisky is wonderfully crisp and extremely easy to mix into cocktails.

10. Mars Shinshu Iwai Japanese Whisky ($40)

Inspired by American whiskies, this bottling is aged in ex-bourbon barrels. With a mash bill of malted barley and corn, it has flavors akin to its Kentucky cousins. On the palate there’s charred oak, vanilla bean, cinnamon spice and a lasting, creamy corn finish. Use this in stirred and strong cocktails like the Old Fashioned.