Fused with mythical waters from the mountains and aged in barrels of indigenous wood – Japanese whisky is a class apart. Promising smooth, smoky sips that work just as well in cocktails as they do in a lowball with ice – they’re a connoisseur-approved choice for any home bar. We list out a few that are on our malt radar.
The land of the rising sun only features in the latter pages of whisky history books. In fact, although the country began crafting ambers in the late 1800s, commercial production only kicked off sometime in the early 1900s. This makes drams from Japan the new kids on the block – their origin being credited to a liquor importer named Shinjiro Torii who opened the country’s first distillery in Yamazaki, Kyoto. On his team was Masataka Taketsuru – who went to Scotland to study organic chemistry and returned with the secrets of Scotch production.
Even today, Japanese whisky follows the Scots tradition of double distilling malted and peated barley before ageing it in wooden barrels. The difference? The wood used often includes mizunara, a tree only found in Japan. Add to this, water from the mountains of Tokyo that’s believed to have mystical properties and the Japanese values harmony and balance. The payoff is dry, smoky, peaty malts and blends that go down like a dream. This quality, in fact, gave the rare Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 an edge enough to win the title of World’s Best Whiskey in 2015. Soon, every connoisseur had switched out their go-to bottle of smooth single malt with an eastern expression. If you’d like to hop on that train, we’ve listed out a few premium bottles worth the splurge.
Check out our complete guide on whiskies in India
Exquisite bottles of Japanese whisky for your dram collection
The Yamazaki Distillers Reserve Single Malt
From the home of Suntory – the first distillery in the country – this signature single malt is complex and harmonious. Aged in a blend of six casks including Bordeaux, American oak, Yamazaki sherry, and mizunara – every sip is rich and reminiscent of raspberry, white peach, and coconut. The malt pours gold and on the nose are hints of strawberry and cherry, while the finish is luxurious and clean with notes of sweet vanilla and cinnamon. Perfect for gifting – this elegant bottle promises to add quality to your whisky repertoire. Have it neat or on the rocks.
Price: Rs 18,000 approx.
Hibiki Japanese Harmony
A delicious blend of at least 10 malt and grain whiskies from Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Chita as well as five different cask types – this 24-faceted bottle of Japanese whisky represents the country’s different seasons. It pours amber and every sip is reminiscent of orange peel, white chocolate, butter, caramelised dates, and wood. The finish is subtle, tender, and long with hints of brown sugar, white grape, and black pepper. On the nose, meanwhile, are notes of rose, lychee, honey, rosemary, and sandalwood. Delicate and approachable – this whisky makes for the most breezy, harmonious sipping experience. Have it on the rocks, in a Japanese Highball, or fused with light fruit juices and liqueurs.
Price: Rs 18,300 approx.
Mars Komagatake 2021 Edition
From the charming, quaint distillery located in the mountain village of Miyada (Japanese Alps) – Hombo Mars – comes this smooth dram that pays homage to the country’s sakura (cherry blossom) flowers. The white and pink bottle is as pretty as a picture and the single malt is lightly peated, matured in a range of casks that earlier held Japanese wine. Naturally, there’s notes of sherry on the palate as well as dried herbs, apricots, vanilla, flowers, and melted milk chocolate. On the nose are hints of grapes and berries and the finish is medium and smoke-driven. If you enjoy depth of flavour in your drams, this one’s a must try.
Price: Rs 18,200 approx.
Loosely translated to ‘breath of god,’ Kamiki comes from the land of temples in Japan. Underlined by harmony, the whisky is made with indigenous Japanese cedar (Yoshino Sugi)- used for centuries to make temples. The most rare malt whiskies as well as pure spring water goes into its production. The payoff? A whisky that comes with notes of heather honey, sweet caramel, Japanese plum, toffee, sandalwood, and green tea. The amber is blended at its peak flavour, rather than a predetermined ratio – making each batch unique. On the nose are notes of citrus blossom, apricot, vanilla, pine, and baked apple. The flavours are strong, making for a punchy on-the-rocks ritual.
Price: Rs 9,000 approx.
Togouchi Blended Japanese Whisky
The town of Togouchi matures its whisky in a tunnel rather than a warehouse. The payoff is a well-balanced whisky with a soft sweetness. Togouchi Blended Japanese Whiskey is a no–age-statement expression that pours a light golden and offers hints of sweet honey, nuts, and cornflakes on the nose. Each sip is reminiscent of honey, vanilla, and chocolate. The finish, meanwhile, is peaty. As balanced as Japanese whisky goes – this one’s best had with a splash of water. It also works well in classic whiskey cocktails.
Price: Rs 8,000 approx.
Akashi White Oak Single Malt
Although popular within Japan, Akashi has only recently found its way into the conversations of connoisseurs across the globe. Their flagship export single malt has no age statement and is matured in barrels made with oloroso, shochu, bourbon, American oak, pedro ximenez, cream, and other barrels. These give it an aroma of buttered hot cross buns, chocolate peanuts, lemongrass, and spice. Every sip, meanwhile, is reminiscent of sweet cereal, nutmeg, black pepper, and walnut loaf. The finish is medium with touches of oats and dried apricot. The malt and grain number works well when sipped on the rocks and is a more affordable single malt than others on this list.
Price: Rs 8,000 approx.
Iwai Tradition Blended Japanese Whisky
Rounding out this list is elegant malt from the picturesque Nagano region. A blend of malted barley and corn, it’s aged primarily in bourbon, sherry, port, and new oak casks. On the nose are hints of clove, wildflower honey, milk chocolate, and cinnamon. Every sip, meanwhile, is reminiscent of orange peel, vanilla, burnt brown sugar, toffee, prunes, and red raisin. The finish is restrained and smooth. As accessible as Japanese whiskies go, this one’s best had neat or with a touch of water.
Price: Rs 8,000 approx.
Although gaining steam in the whisky world, Japanese drams continue to be quite rare a find. Your best bet is to pop by a large wine store in your city – many of whom have now lined up bottles on the top shelves – right alongside the most exclusive single malts. Cheers!
All images: Courtesy Shutterstock and Brands