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Best Japanese whisky: Ten to try

Decanter recommends a selection of top Japanese whiskies across a range of styles and prices

The Japanese whisky scene was created by the twin dynasties of Suntory and Nikka, inspired by Masataka Taketsuru’s fact-finding trip to Scottish distilleries over a century ago.

While distilleries such as Yamazaki and Yoichi were set up later to serve a domestic audience, the growing appeal of Japanese whiskies meant they were soon being sought on the international market, along with cult ‘lost’ distilleries Karuizawa and Hanyu, which have fetched staggering prices in auction.

These recommendations are a more accessible selection of the best whiskies, whether you’re a beginner or an aficionado in search of a special bottle.

Best Japanese whisky: for beginners

Nikka Days Blended Japanese Whisky

This is an introductory blended whisky produced in the Miyagikyo and Yoichi distilleries of Nikka. Bright and golden in colour, the lightly peated Nikka Days features a bouquet of cereal, roasted nuts, marmalade and spiced apple pie, with a round and creamy texture and vanilla spices on the palate. Alc 40%

Suntory Whisky Toki Whisky

A blended whisky sourced from Suntory’s Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries. The key ingredients are Hakashu single malt, which is aged in American oak, and Chita grain whisky. Lightly golden in colour, Toki has a spiced nose of creamy vanilla, white peach, apple and walnuts, honeyed and smooth on the palate, with spiced citrus fruit and a touch of acidity to balance. Alc 43%

Hatozaki Blended Whisky

The Hatozaki range is made by master distiller & blender, Kimio Yonezawa at  Kaikyo Distillery in the port town of Akashi in south-west Japan. It’s named after the lighthouse ‘Hatozaki’ in Akashi harbour which is shown on the label. This is a blended whisky made with a minimum malt content of 40% and aged in a broad selection of cask sizes and types. Honeyed vanilla jumps out from the glass, followed by malt, butterscotch and minty freshness. Rounded and buttery on the palate, with bitter grapefruit peels, vanilla and white pepper on the palate, followed by a spicy finish. Alc 40%

Best Japanese whisky: under £50

Togouchi Premium Blended Japanese Whisky

Made from a combination of Scottish malt and Canadian grain in the Chugoku distillery in the town of Togouchi, this blended whisky is aged in an abandoned railway tunnel. It features a slightly peated nose of salted caramel, coconut, citrus peel and sweet spices, light-weighted and saline on the palate, smooth and creamy, filled with ripe orchard fruits. Alc 40%

Nikka From The Barrel

A blended whisky from Nikka’s Miyagikyo and Yoichi distilleries that supposedly deliver full flavours and richness ‘from barrels’. After blending, the liquid goes into used barrels for another few months to smooth out the edges. Bright amber coloured, with woody dried tangerine peels, bruised apple, malt, creamed sweet corn on the nose, followed by a pungent flavour profile of caramel, candied citrus, roasted nuts and vanilla. Alc 51.4%

The Chita Single Grain Whisky

A signature product from the Chita distillery of Suntory, which is located on the misty, calm shores of Chita Peninsula. With corn as its core material, this single grain whisky is aged in wine and sherry casks, in addition to the American White Oak casks. Salted caramel, candied blood orange peel, with vanilla wood and butter as the undertone, saline attack with a smooth palate of butterscotch, grapefruit and ripe peach. Alc 43%

Hatozaki Pure Malt

Another whisky from the new Katozaki range by the Kaikyo Distillery, the ‘Pure Malt’ version is a blend of single malt whiskies aged in ex-bourbon, ex-Sherry and the native Mizunara oak for a minimum of five to six years. Wood-spiced malt, dried grapefruit peel and coconut on the nose, the palate is sweet-spiced with an umami tone, plus butterscotch, dried fruit and a hint of bitter herbs. Abv 46%

Best Japanese whisky: under £100/$100

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky

The Hibiki brand was first launched in 1989 to commemorate Suntory’s 90th anniversary. The ‘Japanese Harmony’ version of Hibiki is a blend of malt whiskies from the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries and aged in a blend of casks including American white oak, Sherry barrels and the native Mizunara oak. A perfumed nose of potpourri, candied citrus fruits, sweet vanilla and raisins, sweet and smooth, with honey, butterscotch, cigar box bitterness and white pepper on the palate, complex and long. Alc 43%

Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve Single Malt Whisky

This single malt whisky is from Japan’s oldest distillery, Yamazaki of Suntory. It has been aged in Bordeaux wine barrels, which give it distinct red fruit notes, in addition to ex-Sherry casks and the native Mizunara oak. A refreshing nose of strawberry, dried cranberry, toffee, cereal and a hint of incense, which comes from the Mizunara oak. Sweet and creamy on the palate, with spiced notes of vanilla oak, butter brioche and lime zest bitterness. Alc 43%

Taketsuru Pure Malt 

Taketsuru Pure Malt is named after Nikka’s founder, Masataka Taketsuru. It is a blend of aged single malt casks from Yoichi which is aged in ex-Sherry casks; and Miyagikyo which has been aged in American oak. A complex nose of rice cakes, salted caramel, soya sauce and malted barley, with tangerine, pear drops and white flowers as the backdrop. Buttered and creamy with toffee, bitter grapefruit peel, coconut, vanilla and a hint of peat, followed by a lingering, cereal finish. Alc 43%

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