Nikka from the Barrel
There are so many things to love about Nikka from the Barrel. It’s a blended whisky, which means it’s made in part from malted barley and in part from other grains. It’s aged in a combination of new and used casks, which gives it a broader range of flavors, including vanilla, cinnamon, pepper, caramelized sugar, and almonds. Unlike some other Japanese whiskies out there—which have to be sold as “blended malts” or “blended grains” because they don’t meet the requirements to be labeled as a single malt or single grain whiskies—Nikka proudly carries its blended label with pride and has no problem with letting everybody know that this is a blend. Besides the flavor profile itself, Nikka from the Barrel is also notable for being an incredible value: you can find bottles at around USD 50 each (though prices may vary). This makes it an excellent starter pour for beginners looking to get into Japanese whisky who don’t want to break the bank trying out new bottles yet don’t want to compromise on quality either. If you’re interested in trying awesome Japanese whisky but not sure where to start, then Nikka is one of your best bets.
Mars Komagatake Moment
Mars Komagatake is a single malt whisky from the Mars Shinshu distillery in the Nagano prefecture of Japan. It was founded over 100 years ago and is currently overseen by the sixth-generation owner, Ichiro Akuto.
Mars Shinshu is the highest distillery in Japan, at over 1,000m above sea level. It has two pot stills and uses malted barley imported from Scotland. The Moment expression was aged for 12 years—in sherry casks and bourbon barrels before being bottled without any coloring or chill filtering.
- On the nose: smoky citrus, peaches with cream, and vanilla ice cream.
- On the palate: charred oak spice with ripe mangoes, cinnamon buns, and buttery pastry.
Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Limited Edition Aged 12 Years (Blended Whisky)
Blended whisky is a rare find among Japanese whiskies, which makes this one from Ichiro’s Malt & Grain especially unique. This bottle features flavors of raisins, figs, caramel, and vanilla coming together for a smooth-as-silk sip that won’t break the bank. There is simply no better blend of all things sweet to be found for less than $80.
Suntory Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky 18 Years Old
- Serve at room temperature.
- Nose: dried apricot, brandied raisin, orange marmalade, spice.
- Palate: plum pudding, sandalwood, hazelnut, and honeycomb.
- Finish: long and slightly dry with cinnamon and cardamom.
This is an elegant whiskey that’s enjoyable to sip on. It will also complement fruit-based desserts like apple pie or crumbles.
Chichibu the Peated 2010-2011
The very first peated whiskey from the youngest distillery in Japan, Chichibu The Peated offers a bolder flavor profile than its contemporaries. With an unusually high 50 percent alcohol content, you can enjoy this whisky neat (that is, without water or ice), with a few drops of water, or even on the rocks to tame it down.
Chichibu began production in 2004 and is headed by Ichiro Akuto, whose family previously owned the now-defunct Hanyu Distillery. During his time there he handcrafted many award-winning whiskies that are now highly sought after by collectors. His expertise is obvious in this bottling: a blend of 60 percent heavily peated malt spirit and 40 percent lightly peated malt spirit from 2010 and 2011 vintages respectively. The result is an intensely flavored whisky that’s rich but not overpowering. It’s been rated 92 points by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible as well as 90 points by Whisky Advocate magazine—the latter noted its vanilla sweetness and woody spice paired with honey, citrus peel, malty cereal grains, and savory seaweed notes to create an enticingly complex experience.
Karuizawa Cask Strength 1984 Vintage 30th Anniversary Edition
Each Karuizawa vintage matters. It was made for a specific purpose: to mark the 30th anniversary of the early ’80s closures of Kihon (Karuizawa’s predecessor) and Hakushu (Karuizawa’s predecessor). Each bottle was personally signed by Masataka Taketsuru, the distillery’s founder and father of Japanese whisky. He passed away on January 24, 2011.
Taketsuru founded Kihon in 1921 while still a student at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology. It was closed shortly after the Great Fire of Meiji-Sanjō in 1923, and by 1927 it had been moved to its current location, one that’s been rebuilt three times since then with no changes to its original design. In 1984, “celebrating the completion of their 30th year in operation,” Kihon produced a single cask that was aged for 30 years in Karuizawa casks (one each from 12 casks) before being added to 12 more casks from later vintages from other Japanese whisky distilleries that were aged in Karuizawa casks for an additional 15 years, resulting in a cask strength whisky of 84 proof (or 40% ABV).
There are only 118 bottles available today at the time of this writing: 50 for international markets; 42 for Japan; 5 for Canada; 1 each for France and Germany; 1 each for Australia and Singapore; 1 each for New Zealand and Hong Kong; 2 sets per 29 liters – 1 set remains available at auction.
Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 Years Old Aged in Sherry Cask
The Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 Years Old Aged in Sherry Cask is a limited edition release that is aged exclusively in Oloroso and Pedro Ximenez sherry casks, which results in a smooth, sweet, and balanced dram. It was released in 2020 and therefore only available for one year, It is made by Nikka.
Suntory Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky 25 Years Old
The Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky 25 Years Old is, as you might imagine, the oldest label on this list. It’s a blend of four different whiskeys aged for a combined total of 25 years in Spanish oak sherry butts and American white oak casks.
This 43% ABV single malt is made using 100% malted barley and water from mountain melt-water sources. The result is a complex nose that includes notes of dried fruit, cinnamon, vanilla, and cloves.
Karuizawa Silent Noh Whisky 1984 28 Years Old Cask #872 (single cask)
As is the case with many of the Japanese whiskies that appear on this list, Karuizawa ceased production in 2011. It was reopened by a group of investors in 2016 and has since released very few new whiskies. This single cask, however, was distilled in 1984 and bottled in 2012—four years before whiskey giant Beam Suntory bought out its parent company, Mercian Corporation. As a brand, Karuizawa has always been lauded for its rarity, but if you’re looking to try some of their famous peated whisky from before it was discontinued, this is your best bet. A cask strength bottling at 104 proof (52 percent ABV), its price tag makes for an undeniable splurge gift. It’s worth mentioning that this is far from being one of Japan’s cheapest releases but that only adds to the value.
Akashi Meisei Black Blended Whisky (Blended Whisky)
Akashi Meisei Black Blended Whisky is a blend of malt and grain whiskies, aged in ex-bourbon casks. This one is priced at only $40 per bottle, making it a good value whisky that won’t break the bank. For example, tasting notes for this one include apple pie and marmalade with honeyed cereal on the nose. On the palate, it has soft spices and stone fruits along with delicate notes of oak, vanilla, and salted caramel. Easy drinking and very affordable—just like its distiller!
If you like this blended whisky from Japan, you may also enjoy Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky from Hokkaido or Chichibu The Peated 2017 Edition Japanese Single Malt Whisky from Saitama Prefecture.
Yamazakura Blended Whisky (Blended Whisky)
Yamazakura is a blended whiskey that contains malt and grain whiskies from Sasanokawa Shuzo, a whiskey distillery based in Fukushima. It is known for its pleasant mix of honey, plum, and chocolate notes. Because it’s relatively cheap but still well-crafted, Yamazakura offers excellent value.
There are Some Great Whiskeys From Japan
The top whiskeys from Japan are all great. But what makes a whiskey great? In general, the best Japanese whiskeys are ones that have been properly aged; matured in the right barrel; and bottled at the right proof, which means you’ll get an even balance of alcohol and water.
Suntory and Nikka have set the standard for what makes a good blended whiskey and single malt whiskey by using malted barley from Scotland or Canada as part of their recipes. These ingredients then go through fermentation before being distilled twice – first in pot stills (a type of distillation equipment used to create spirits) and then again in column stills (another piece of distilling equipment). They are aged for at least three years in oak barrels, usually ex-bourbon casks from the United States. The final product is usually around 40% ABV (alcohol by volume) but can be as low as 35% ABV or as high as 60%. Then it’s ready to drink!
When tasting your favorite Japanese whiskey, try adding a few drops of water or ice cubes before taking a sip so that you can taste how it changes with dilution.