8 best Japanese whiskies

Inspired by the Scottish but distinctively innovative, head east for some of the world's finest dram

When asked about whisky and where to get it from, your average Joe will tell you that Scotland is the home of whisky, and that the nation has a monopoly on the mysterious, ancient art of distilling. 

However, in the last couple of years, we have seen a seismic shift in the production of whisky. There has been a surge in the Far East, with the Japanese now producing world-leading whiskies, with two powerhouses leading the charge: Nikka and Suntory. 

These two prominent distilleries are the foremost in Japanese whisky production, with the latter also owning various American expressions such as Jim Beam. Nikka was founded by Masataka Taketsuru, a Japanese man that apprenticed in Scottish whisky distilleries for two years before returning to Japan in 1920, releasing the first Nikka whisky in 1940. Suntory whisky was founded by Shinjiro Torii, another lover of Scotch whisky. The first Suntory release in 1929 flopped but just shy of a century on his vision of subtle, refined and complex Japanese whisky has been more than realised. Both distilleries are aided primarily by their youth, taking inspiration from the Scots and the Irish, but constantly innovating new concepts and perfecting their recipes. 

We prefer whisky with a drop

of water – and that is our suggestion for each of these whiskies, unless stated otherwise. In complex whiskies a drop of water can help unlock the flavours for a rounder, more satisfying finish. We’re also going to refer a lot to the nose, palate and then finish of a whisky. For any novices out there, the nose is the name given to the aromas a whisky gives off, and you will notice different scents depending on where you smell the glass. The palate is the taste you get from rolling the whisky around your tongue, while the finish is the lingering flavour you get after swallowing – the finish will develop and morph as the flavour decays.  

As a final aside, you’ll notice that we’ve referred to Japanese whisky as opposed to Japanese whiskey. An 'e' is added to the word when describing an Irish or American bottle, but the common consensus is that owing to the heavy Scotch influence on the Japanese whisky industry, it should be afforded the same terminology – so without that extra letter. A small but important distinction.



The Japanese have thoroughly cemented their place on the world whisky stage, rightfully earning this spot with the fantastic whiskies we mentioned and many more that we have not. The only trouble they have at the moment is supply, as many of the finest bottles are regularly out of stock and you have to keep a keen ear to the ground. We’d recommend the Yoichi Single Malt as the Best Buy – there are few whiskies on the market that can rival it in its price range and it does an excellent job of showcasing Japanese whisky. Seeing as it was produced in order to save Nikka’s threadbare stocks, you should always be able to find a bottle in stock, too.  

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