Top Japanese Whisky Brands, Distilleries & Suppliers
Japanese whisky is produced strictly in Japan. Whisky production in Japan emerged around 1870. However, the first commercial production began in 1924 upon the opening of the country's first distillery, Yamazaki. Broadly speaking the style of Japanese whisky is more like that of Scotch whisky than any other major style of whisky.
There are several companies producing whisky in Japan, but the two best-known and most widely available are Suntory and Nikka. Both distilleries produce blended whiskies, single malt whiskies and blended malt whiskies. Their main blended whiskies are Suntory kakubin (square bottle), and Black Nikka Clear. Also, they offer a wide variety of special bottles and limited editions.
The first westerners to taste Japanese whisky were soldiers of the American Expeditionary Force Siberia who took shore leave in Hakodate in September 1918. A brand called Queen George, described by one American as a "Scotch whiskey made in Japan", was widely available. Exactly what it was is unknown, but it was quite potent and probably quite unlike Scotch whisky.
Japanese Whisky News, Reviews & Resources
- 11 Japanese Whisky Brands, Ranked - "These days, there's no shortage of hype around Japanese whisky, but identifying the best brands can be a little trickier than expected, especially if you're just getting started on your foray into whiskies from Japan. Here is my personal selection of those worth keeping an eye out for if you're looking to delve deeper into the world of Japanese whisky."
- A guide to Japanese whisky blends - The Telegraph.
- Hanyu Ichiro's Full Cards Series Single Malts - Bonhams.
- Inside the Beverly Hills Whiskey Shop That Stocks the World's Rarest Spirits - "Come for the rare Japanese single malts, stay for the covetable wine selection."
- JAPANESE WHISKY - Wikipedia.
- Japanese Whisky Declared ‘World’s Best Single Malt 2020’ At The World Whisky Awards - "Every year, the winners of the World Whisky Awards, organized by Whisky Magazine, are announced at a very nice gala dinner event. This year however, with the coronavirus pandemic looming large, the usual pomp and circumstance had to unfortunately be stripped back to a live social media feed on Facebook and Twitter announcing the best whiskies, its Icons of Whisky, and its newest Whisky Hall of Fame members."
- Japanese whisky fetches $600,000 in NY auction - "A bottle of Japanese whisky has fetched 600,000 dollars in a New York auction. The Yamazaki 55 single malt whisky by Suntory Spirits was sold by Sotheby's on Friday. The price was 100,000-200,000 dollars higher than expected."
- JAPANESE-WHISKY.com - "All about Japanese Whisky."
- List of Japanese whisky brands - Wikipedia.
- Meet The World’s Oldest Japanese Whisky: Yamazaki 55 - "Last year, in the early months of 2020, right before the coronavirus pandemic hit New York City with everything it’s got, Beam Suntory announced that it was going to release a phenomenal expression in the middle of the year: A Yamazaki 55 at 46% ABV, which is the oldest Japanese whisky to ever hit the market. Unfortunately, that 'advance reveal' was only intended for residents of Japan, and only 100 bottles were produced, complete with engraved calligraphy making use of sandblasting techniques, featuring genuine gold dust, and real lacquer - all of which were available only by way of lottery for the nifty sum of $27,000 (or three million yen). That initial rollout ensured that true Yamazaki enthusiasts from Japan had a fighting chance to get their hands on the precious liquid created in their Motherland. The distillery even stated that each winner would have their names engraved on their bottles to discourage secondary market sales."
- Rare Japanese Whisky Sells For Over $60,000 At Sotheby’s Auction - Forbes.
- Suntory Sakura Whisky? Japanese Whisky’s Newest Mochi-Flavored Trend - "Trends come and go in the whisky world, yet, the boom of Japanese whisky has continued for quite some time. Over the years certain categories and cask types have grown more popular, while others have been left behind. Presently, in Japan's whisky world, a new experimental wood finish is trending, the Sakura AKA cherry blossom wood finish."
- Taste Test: This Upstart Japanese Whisky Makes a Stellar US Debut - Robb Report.
- The End Of Fake Japanese Whisky: Industry Announces Sweeping New Regulations - "The Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association has announced a sweeping new set of industry-wide regulations aimed at curbing the spread of products labelled as ‘Japanese whisky’ that are sometimes nothing of the sort."
- UISUKI - since 1924. "The largest selection of Japanese Whisky." The first online shop dedicated exclusively to Japanese whisky and alcohols from Japan.
- What makes Japanese whisky so unique? - The Telegraph.
- World’s Rarest Japanese Whisky Maker To Reopen In 2021 - "Many have heard of the Hanyu Ichiro’s Playing Cards, a series of 58 different single malts bottled by Ichiro Akuto, owner of the Chichibu distillery and owner of the remaining stock from the shut-down Hanyu distillery. His family previously owned the distillery and sadly, it shut down due to economic issues. Now, it’s coming back."
- Yamazaki 50-year-old sets new auction record - "A new world record has been set for the most expensive single bottle of Japanese whisky sold at auction after a 50-year-old Yamazaki fetched HK$2,695,000 (US$343,318) in Hong Kong."
- Your Favorite Japanese Whiskies Are About To Get Much More Expensive - "Japanese whisky prices have been on the rise for quite some time. However, the truly shocking prices come from the secondary markets, in auctions and trading, where newly released Japanese whisky expressions often sell for ten times their retail price. Well now, Suntory, the most famous Japanese whisky maker, will be raising the suggested retail prices of their most famed brands in order to increase capacity and quality even further to meet customer expectations."
Top 15 High-End Japanese Whisky Brands
- Chichibu distillery - since 2008. "Making good whisky influenced by local environment and creating the possibility of Japanese whisky."
- FUJI-GOTEMBA 18 YEAR OLD SINGLE MALT "Unknown outside Japan, Fuji Sanroku which means 'at the foot of Mount Fuji', is a great 18 year old single malt producted in Fuji Gotemba distillery owned by Kirin Group. Very surprising for the richness and depth of its fruity and woody aromas, Fuji Sanroku 18 year old is a whisky to be savored rather as a digestive."
- HAKUSHU single malt - since 1973. "A perennial favourite and a must-try for anyone interested in discovering Japanese whisky."
- HANYU SINGLE MALT WHISKY - "Discover the top Japanese Whisky from Hanyu Distillery in Japan. Shop single malt, blended and grain whisky of varying ages."
- HIBIKI BLENDED - "The Paragon of Japanese Whisky." 'Kanzen' or complete, Suntory Whisky Hibiki is a harmonious blend of innumerous malt and grain whiskies which are meticulously blended to create a full orchestra of flavors and aromas.
- KARUIZAWA SINGLE MALT - "The most cult of Japanese whiskies, closed since 2001. Famed for its intense, sherry cask matured drams, its popularity has been rapidly growing in recent years."
- Karuizawa 50 Year Old - 1965 Vintage - "A very special whisky from long-closed Japanese distillery Karuizawa, distilled way back in 1965. This impressive Karuizawa 50 Year Old release has been aged in a solitary sherry butt before being bottled in 2017 and resting until release in 2022. It's rich, dark and elegant, with complex layers of fruit and spice - in our opinion the best Karuizawa release of recent memory. It will be released in small tranches of bottles on a yearly basis and this first release of 50 bottles is available exclusively from The Whisky Exchange."
- Mars Shinshu - "Japan's Highest Distillery at 798 meters."
- MIYAGIKYO SINGLE MALT - "Replacing the previous NAS Miyagikyo single malt as well as the remaining age statement expressions, this single release will represent the distillery going forward as demand for Japanese whisky remains as strong as ever."
- NIKKA WHISKY - "official web site. A Japanese producer of whisky and spirits. Features product information, history, and distilleries."
- Nikka Whisky From The Barrel - "The award-winning Nikka Whisky From The Barrel blend is absolutely full of flavour. A huge depth of flavour in this stunning Japanese whisky. We can't recommend this enough."
- Ohishi Sherry Single Cask Whisky - "From the Kumamoto Prefecture on the island of Kyushu in Japan, the Ohishi Sherry Cask is a whisky distilled from rice and aged in first and second fill sherry casks."
- SUNTORY - since 1923. Makes both best-selling and award-winning Japanese whisky.
- Taketsuru whisky - "February 2010 marked an extraordinary achievement for Nikka, as their Taketsuru 21-year old scooped the title of 'World's Best Blended Malt Whisky' at the World Whiskies Awards for the third time in four years. Bravo, Nikka!"
- Tsunagu Mars Whisky - blended whisky is the first Mars Whisky limited edition specially bottled for the japanese department store Isetan.
- White Oak Akashi blended - "Soft and round, this is a great blend to begin with japanese whisky."
- White Oak Tokinoka blended - "Its delicate fruity aromas make the Tokinoka an ideal whisky to begin with japanese whiskies."
- YAMAZAKI WHISKY Distillery - since 1923. "Where Japanese whisky was born." Owned by Suntory. It was opened in 1923 and was Japan's first commercial whisky distillery. Seven thousand bottles of unblended malt whisky are on display in the Yamazaki Whisky Museum.
- YAMAZAKI Single Malt 50-Year-Old Whisky - single malt. The highest priced single malt whisky in Japan.
- YOICHI SINGLE MALT - since 1934. "Relaunched in 2016, this comes from Nikka's excellent Yoichi distillery. This is a blend of single malts from different years and consequently does not carry an age statement. This is a smoky whisky with a maritime character."