5 Diverse Japanese Whiskies to Try Now [LIST]

Ever in demand and always a topic of conversation, Japanese whisky has undergone some changes of late. As age-statement single malts skyrocketed in price, affordable blends from the likes of Nikka and Hibiki have come to the forefront. Whisky Advocate’s 2018 Whisky of the Year, Nikka From the Barrel, is part of this trend, neatly highlighting the reasons for Japanese whisky’s continued popularity. The blended whisky clocks in at a relatively powerful 51.4% ABV yet remains balanced and elegant.

The Fall 2020 Buying Guide reviews 11 Japanese whiskies, encompassing a range of styles from blends and single malts to rice whisky and a “world blend” that combines whiskies from America, Canada, Ireland, and Scotland, as well as Japan. It is true, now more than ever, that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to taste a great Japanese whisky, and while this list contains some bottles north of $200, it also has three under $80. For the curious drinker looking to dip their toe into Japanese whiskies, there are plenty of options and entry points. Here are but a few.

Explore the Many Styles of Japanese Whisky

Chichibu on the way bottle shotChichibu Ichiro’s Malt On The Way Single Malt (2019 Release)
91 points, 51.5%, $335

Drawn from bourbon casks, refill chibidaru quarter casks, and mizunara-head hogsheads, this has barley, dried apricot, finely ground pepper, and sugared apple on the nose. Wafting peat smoke aromas are accentuated by dilution. Incredibly fruity with plenty of body, the initial apple, pear, and spike of pepper are overtaken by golden syrup, vanilla, pastry, candied fruits, and fruity desserts. Stick with cask strength: Water releases gooseberry sharpness and quells the spices. (11,000 bottles, 288 for U.S.) —Jonny McCormick

Nikka Days Blended Whisky
89 points, 40%, $50

An accomplished blend packed with appealing flavors from Miyagikyo and Yoichi Distilleries. Honey, baked lemon, vanilla essence, brioche, golden syrup, and spring tree blossom aromas, with hints of butterscotch and caramel. Smooth, rich, and rounded, this has toffee, chocolate, red berry fruit, plum, vanilla pod, a touch of oak char, and clipped spices. A flash of peat smoke on the finish, with flavors of burnt sugar, baked fruits, and spices. — Jonny McCormick

Akashi sherry cask bottle shotAkashi 5 year old Sherry Cask Single Malt
89 points, 50%, $230

Juicy and punchy nose with highly promising sherry notes; blueberry, bramble, nutmeg, and fine pepper, with date, currant, stewed Bramley apples, and fruity Madagascan dark chocolate. The palate doesn’t quite reach the heights of the nose, but sweet fruit sugar, barley, and orange peel keep the peppery spice in check, before settling down to a final plateau of strawberry jam with hints of tobacco and plum.— Jonny McCormick

Kujira Ryukyu rice whiskey bottle shotKujira Ryukyu Rice Whisky
89 points, 40%, $80

Vanilla, coconut, confectioner’s sugar, tart pickled plums, and savory meaty aromas, thanks to the koji used to convert the rice’s starch to sugar. The palate is sweet and chalky-dry, with a silky, rounded texture and flavors of vanilla, bubble gum, coconut, and marzipan. It finishes sweet with a touch of umami: vanilla frosting tempered by oak and warm nuts. —Susannah Skiver Barton

Mars Iwai Tradition Wine Cask bottle shot Mars Iwai Tradition Yamanashi Wine Cask-Finished Blended Whisky
88 points, 40%, $68

This carmine dram has a soft, mellow nose of raisin, earthy red wine notes, wet slate, prune flesh, stewed rhubarb, caramelized brown sugar, and maple syrup. It’s fruity rather than sweet on the palate, but it seems held back at 40% ABV without a heavier mouthfeel, showing date, red plum, sultana, fudge, red velvet cake, brown sugar, and peppery spice, with a raspberry and spice finish. — Jonny McCormick

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