World Whiskey Day 2022: Best Japanese whiskeys to celebrate with



Not long ago, talk of whiskey would have brought to mind the peaty, smoky scents of scotch, the smooth, golden notes of Irish whiskey, or, at a push, the honeyed vanilla and oak of American bourbon.

These days, however, you’re as likely to hear whiskey lovers rhapsodise over the Japanese version of the drink – and for good reason. The historic distilleries of the east Asian nation are having a real moment, eclipsing sake on many drinks menus as the islands’ traditional tipple of choice.

The global Japanese whiskey market size is expected to reach $1.1 billion (£830m) by 2025, according to a report from Grand View Research, partly driven by rising interest in not only the UK but also the US, Germany, India and China.

In the depths of winter, we could all do with a golden glass of what George Bernard Shaw called “liquid sunshine”, and this dazzling array from the land of the rising sun is sure to bring some much-needed light and warmth to the dark. evenings.

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How we tested

Taste and drinking experience were the biggest factors. We took into account the scent, the strength of the initial alcohol hit, the sweetness and smokiness, the tingle of the first taste, any floral notes or other major flavours, and finally the aftertaste mouth-feel, and post-sip warmth.

Overall, we wanted it to be a pleasure to drink; indulgent enough to satisfy, and moreish enough that we kept going back for another sip.

Price also came into it. When it comes to alcohol, sometimes “the best” simply means the bottles that cost the most – indeed, there are some prized varieties that cost anywhere from £200 to more than £1,000. But for the purposes of this list, we chose bottles that offered a still-excellent product for a reasonable, more accessible price.

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Design wasn’t a major decider – simply because many Japanese whiskey bottles look fairly similar, with traditional script and muted colors – although points were awarded for noticeable flair or originality, or packaging that went the extra mile.

The best Japanese whiskeys for 2022 are:

  • best overall – Hatozaki Japanese blended whisky: £34.99, Virginwines.co.uk
  • Best for variety – Drinks by the Dram Japanese whiskey tasting set: £34.95, Amazon.co.uk
  • Best for Japanese whiskey novices – Nikka Miyagikyo single malt: £78.45, Thewhiskyexchange.com
  • Best for an after-dinner drink – Ichiro’s malt double distilleries: £200, Thewhiskyworld.com
  • Best for sophisticated palates – House of Suntory chita distiller’s reserve single grain Japanese whisky: £68, Harveynichols.com
  • Best for a real taste of Japan – Suntory the Hakushu single malt distiller’s reserve: £66.99, Masterofmalt.com
  • Best for a lighter flavor – Togouchi premium blended Japanese whisky: £39.99, Masterofmalt.com

Hatozaki Japanese blended whiskey

Best: Overall

Rating: 9/10

Named after the Hatozaki lighthouse (Japan’s oldest), this whiskey certainly shone like a beacon among our selection. The rounded, tapered bottle with traditional script on its label looks elegant before you even open the top, and the liquid inside smells like lemon cheesecake (no, really). From the Kaikyo distillery in Akashi City, Hyogo, this blend is sweet, light and fruity, recalling spring days and warm evenings. It’s moreish and biscuity, but spicy enough to make a real impact. Excellent value for money too.

Drinks by the Dram Japanese whiskey tasting set

Best: For variety

Rating: 8/10

Obviously, as a tasting set, this doesn’t technically qualify as a single whiskey. Yet, it’s an ingenious place to start if you’re looking for a sure-to-please gift for a whiskey lover, or want to learn more about Japanese blends in one easy swoop. The neat box contains five 30ml samples of award-winning varieties, including the classic Nikka days (light and lemony, with apple and shortbread notes), Nikka super rare old (rich and warm, with toffee and pear) and the Mars maltage “cosmo ” (fresh and tangy, with vanilla and citrus). The tasting notes are an excellent, helpful addition for anyone looking to finetune their senses and get a feel for a high-end array of solid Japanese varieties.

Nikka Miyagikyo single malt

Best: For Japanese whiskey novices

Rating: 8/10

From the Miyagikyo distillery in the Miyagi prefecture, Tōhoku, under the classic Nikka brand, this single malt is known as an “entry-level” whisky, that nonetheless packs a peppery punch. We found it to have a light scent with a hint of honey, cinnamon and apple, which gave way to a smoky, floral flavor with a surprisingly powerful and warming gingery aftertaste and a fresh, fruity finish. The deep amber bottle adds a subtle sophistication that nods to the single malt’s maturation in ex-sherry casks, but the liquid itself is delicate enough to please even the newest of whiskey drinkers, as well as a more seasoned pro.

Ichiro’s Malt double distilleries

Best: For an after-dinner drink

Rating: 9/10

This whiskey’s quirky name belies the deep history of its heritage. One half hails from the Chichibu distillery, which was built in 2007 by Japanese whiskey “rockstar” Ichiro Akuto. The other comes from the nearby, now-closed but legendary Hanyu distillery, founded by the Akuto family in the 1600s (yes, a colossal 400 years ago). With a noticeable smoky scent and initial sweetness, the blend results in a supremely drinkable whiskey that would work particularly well as a special evening treat, with a super-smooth mouthfeel and pleasing hints of caramel and hazelnut on the finish.

House of Suntory Chita Distiller’s reserve single grain Japanese whiskey

Best: For sophisticated palates

Rating: 8/10

A new release for this year, this single-grain whiskey is aged in wine and Spanish oak as well as American white oak casks, which explains this drink’s mild flavor and luxurious golden colour. A classic bottle design gives way to a surprisingly smoky scent, which reminded us of toffee apples eaten while huddled around a November bonfire. With a smooth mouthfeel and a warm aftertaste that lingers with a touch of bitter lemon zest, this single grain is noticeably less sweet than other varieties we tested, giving it sophisticated appeal for those who prefer a sharper, sleeker drink.

Suntory the Hakushu single malt distiller’s reserve

Best: For a real taste of Japan

Rating: 9/10

Bottled in impressive, imposing packaging with deep green hues designed to (we like to think) recall the forests surrounding the Hakashu distillery in the southern Japanese Alps, this whiskey from famous brand Suntory does not disappoint. Forest pine trees can almost be found in the flavour, which is fresh and minty, light on the palate and uplifting to taste. Smoke lingers like a bonfire trail in autumn, and we felt as though we’d taken a deep lungful of mountain air on a bracing hike (without the pesky detail of actually having to leave the living room). It’s also available at a very fair price for such a memorable single malt.

Togouchi premium blended Japanese whiskey

Best: For a lighter flavor

Rating: 8/10

Originally from the Chugoku Jozo distillery near Hiroshima, this blend takes its name from the town of Togouchi, where abandoned railway tunnels offer the perfect conditions for whiskey aging. So far so mysterious, and we fancy we can sense a little of that history in the impressive silver-and-gold-labelled bottle (well, almost), including a gloriously peaty scent and an inviting hint of dark chocolate. At 40% ABV, this whiskey is slightly lighter than some, but no less compelling for it, managing to combine a serious hit of peat with a floral sweetness in an intriguing package for a great price.

The verdict: Best Japanese whiskeys for 2021

It was challenging to pick just one favorite (such a tough job, eh?) but while we particularly enjoyed the freshness of the Hakashu single malt, we finally decided the Hatozaki just had the edge over the other expressions.

With simple packaging that lets the whiskey speak for itself, this blend will look distinguished on any bar cart, and its lemony, sugar-and-spice notes are sure to satisfy even the most jaded of Japanese whiskey drinkers, for an incredibly reasonable price.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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