Top-tier Japanese Whisky Brands You Need to Know

Indulge in the Best, Top-Tier Japanese Whiskies You Must Experience

Over the past decade, Japanese whisky has emerged as one of the most sought-after spirit styles globally. It might be hard to believe that slightly over ten years ago, it was practically unknown, collecting dust on liquor store shelves. What changed? Well, it wasn’t the liquid itself. The country has been demonstrating its superior craftsmanship within the category since 1923 when Shinjiro Torii established the Yamazaki Distillery outside of Kyoto.

Despite this history, it wasn’t until 2015 that whisky connoisseurs began to take note of Japanese whisky, thanks to an iconic bottling from the Yamazaki distillery which was recognized as the world’s best whisky in the annual Whisky Bible. The rare liquor outshone fierce competition from Scotland and Ireland, igniting international headlines and shifting the fortunes of the entire industry.

Since then, Japanese whisky has become a highly desirable style of spirit. With meticulous attention to detail and innovative techniques, Japanese distillers have been able to produce an impressive range of whiskies, from well-regarded blends to rare and unique single malts.

As demand for Japanese whisky continues to grow, it’s worth noting that while some of the rarest bottles can be extremely expensive, there are still many superb options available at a range of price points. Whether you’re a seasoned whisky drinker or just starting, there’s never been a better time to explore the incredible world of top-tier Japanese whiskies.

It’s true that while Japanese whisky is undoubtedly exceptional, it has become increasingly expensive and hard to find in recent years. The surge in demand has outstripped supply, leading to skyrocketing prices and scarce allocations. As a result, owning a bottle of the most sought-after Japanese whiskies is a privilege that often requires a small fortune.

However, for those who are willing and able to invest in a bottle, the payoff is an unparalleled sensory experience. Japanese distilleries are known for their meticulous attention to detail throughout every aspect of the production process. Their single malts and blends are crafted with the utmost sophistication, boasting complexity and depth of flavor that can easily hold their own against even the most prestigious scotches.

Sipping on a glass of rare, aged Hibiki or Yoichi can transport you to a world of flavor that’s truly unmatched. These whiskies can boast subtle floral notes, rich hints of dark chocolate or caramel, and rich aromatic smoke. They can dance on your palate, lingering with a finish that somehow seems to last indefinitely.

While the cost of acquiring these bottles can be substantial, the experience they offer is one that is hard to surpass. They are the perfect way to celebrate a special occasion, to share with esteemed company, or simply to sip and savor on a quiet evening by the fire.

Chichibu Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Limited Edition Blended Japanese Whisky

It’s worth noting that not all Japanese whiskies come with exorbitant price tags. One shining example is the Chichibu The Floor Malted, which is actually reasonably priced despite its age and complex flavor profile. This blended whisky contains no liquid younger than 10 years old, and while some of the whiskies used in the blend are sourced from regions outside of Japan such as Scotland, Ireland, and Kentucky, blender Ichiro Akuto is committed to creating exceptional taste above all else.

Akuto proudly hand-selects the malts produced in-house and expertly combines them with sourced liquids to enhance the final result as meaningfully as possible. The result is a 96-proof “world whisky” that’s bursting with notes of toffee and apple pie crumble. While some may see the inclusion of non-Japanese whiskies in a Japanese blend as a “catch,” the Chichibu The Floor Malted proves that the pursuit of exceptional flavor knows no borders.

Nikka Whisky Yoichi Single Malt 10-Year-Old

Nikka Whisky has struggled to keep up with demand for its spirits in recent years. In response, the company made the difficult decision to discontinue most of its age statement expressions after 2015. However, one of these age statement offerings has just been reintroduced in 2023, much to the delight of whisky aficionados. Despite a hefty price tag of nearly double the initial retail price, this nuanced whisky is well worth the investment.

This blend offers a floral-forward nose, followed by notes of orchard fruits on the palate. The experience culminates in a finish that highlights the complex, minty flavors that are characteristic of Nikka Whisky. The fact that this intensity and depth of flavor can be achieved with a whisky that is barely over 10 years old speaks volumes about the skill and craftsmanship of the malts-makers at this legendary Hokkaido-based distillery.

While the price point may be high, the re-release of this age statement whisky is likely to spark a renewed appreciation for the art of Japanese whisky-making. The Nikka Whisky Company has long been celebrated for its meticulous attention to detail and steadfast commitment to quality, and hope remains that as the industry continues to mature, more flavorful and affordable Japanese whiskies will be available to connoisseurs around the world.

The Yamazaki 18 Year Old Single Malt Japanese Whisky

It’s true that the price of Yamazaki 18 has increased dramatically in recent years, making it an aspirational purchase for many. However, despite its high price tag, this iconic single malt remains a worthy investment for whisky aficionados seeking the quintessential representation of Japanese whisky.

With every sip of Yamazaki 18, there is much to savor and consider. The initial sweetness of honeysuckle and vanilla eventually gives way to a complex array of spice notes, including incense wood, cedar, and clove. All of these flavors are masterfully guided by Shinji Fukuyo, the fifth-generation chief blender at Yamazaki, who carefully blends aged malt collected from Japanese, European, and American oak casks to create a truly one-of-a-kind whisky.

The result is an 86-proof spirit that is greater than the sum of its parts, showcasing the artistry and craftsmanship of Japanese whisky-making. While the price may be high, the experience of tasting Yamazaki 18 is a special one that is well worth the investment for those seeking to taste the pinnacle of Japanese whisky.

The Last Drop 20 Years Old Japanese Blended Malt Whisky

The Last Drop is an independent bottler based in the UK that specializes in sourcing impossibly rare spirits from around the world. With over 30 releases, this is only the second time the brand has turned its attention to Japanese whisky – and what a remarkable offering it is. The assertive, 120-proof blended malt is bursting with stone fruit and marzipan flavors upon first inspection, and as it opens in the glass, tropical notes begin to emerge.

Despite being labeled as a 20-year-old, this exquisite blend includes liquids from up to four decades old, all of which were aged in a cask constructed from Japanese Mizunara oak, adding a unique dimension to the flavor profile. The resulting taste is a testament to the artistry and craftsmanship of Japanese whisky-making.

With only 180 bottles available for distribution worldwide, acquiring one of these coveted bottles is a serious flex and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for whisky enthusiasts. The Last Drop’s Japanese whisky release is an exceptional representation of the rarest and most unique spirits in the world, and a testament to the tireless efforts of those who seek them out to share with the world’s most discerning connoisseurs.

Suntory Hibiki 30 Year Old Japanese Blended Whisky

Shinjiro Torii, the founder of the Yamazaki Distillery and the House of Suntory, had a grand vision of creating the world’s best blended whisky. He opened the Yamazaki Distillery and simultaneously launched its parent company, House of Suntory, to realize his dream. Though he passed away before the achievement of his goal, his ambitious vision came to fruition with the creation of Hibiki 30, a brilliant whisky that reflects Torii’s philosophy on blended whisky.

A blended whisky comprises liquid from multiple distilleries. Yamazaki liquid blends with that of its sister property, Hakushu in the Japanese Alps, to produce Hibiki’s complex flavor profile. Though Hakushu distillery wasn’t established until 10 years after Torii’s passing in 1973, its liquid played a significant role in perfecting the Hibiki blend.

Hibiki 30, the most prestigious whisky in the line, only became available in the U.S. last year, but it’s already sending shockwaves throughout the whiskey industry. Its fragrance amalgamates citrusy orange marmalade, fig jam and tangerine flavors with a mocha and dark chocolate finish in the back palate.

Hibiki 30 epitomizes Torii’s belief in the merits of blended whisky over single malt. However, owning a bottle may come at a cost; it is quite pricey and could set you back five figures. Despite this, it’s a revelation of exceptional blending skills and Suntory’s unwavering commitment to excellence in spirits production.