12 Craft Japanese Whiskies That Showcase Balance

What defines Japanese whisky other than being popular and expensive? For one, balance. Few Japanese whiskies dominate or overpower; rather, the spirit’s characteristic style strives for a harmony of flavors. While an official definition for Japanese whisky has only recently been agreed upon, the prevailing notion is that elegance and mastery are achieved through balance. These craft distillers are certainly contributing to the growing category with just that in mind.

Mars Shinshu

Komagatake Rindo Nature of Shinshu—88 points, $190
This fragrantly floral young whisky was aged in Japanese wine casks. Its texture is light and rather sweet, with a snap of pepper and soft fruits on the finish.

Mars Iwai—88 points, $35
Despite an almost gamey nose resembling brown apples and old strawberries, the taste is pleasantly candy sweet. A finish of creamy chocolate, fresh mint, and more fruit.

Mars Iwai Tradition—85 points, $55
From prunes to barbecue sauce, the aromas are potent. The thick texture pops with orange and mango, and drifts to black licorice, burnt oak, and Brazil nut.

Mars the Lucky Cat “Ash 99”—91 points, $100
A syrupy mouthfeel with a sweetness that builds into spice. Fruit on the finish as the spices back off. Distinctively aromatic.

White Oak

Akashi Blended—80 points, $45
A blend of malt and grain. Spice, dried oak leaves, and toast on the nose. Sticky mouthfeel with spice, fudge, and honey with underlying pepper, cinnamon, and mustard seed. Finishes a tinge sour with more spice.

Akashi Single Malt—83 points, $100
Floral and sweet on the nose, honey-fruity on the palate, with balance and complexity offered by pepper and chili notes. Melon, spices, pepper, and burnt oak on the finish.


Chichibu The First—81 points, $250
Lightly scented with hints of lemongrass, fennel pollen, sweet pear, and cookie dough. The mouthfeel offers nice balance and weight. Delicious!

Chichibu The Floor Malted 3 year old—81 points, $250
Chichibu’s house floral notes are joined by verjus, malt, and herbs on the nose. The palate is an intriguing mix of sweetness balanced by dry and sour notes.

Chichibu On the Way 2013—85 points, $250
Marshmallows, flowers, raspberry, and cream. The finish throws out yuzu, then tightens in the manner typical of a young whisky.

Chichibu The Peated 2013—84 points, $250
Fragrant sweet peat and delicate wood smoke mixing with citrus and roasted barley. The peat becomes hot ember-like on the palate with citrus present on the finish. Very good.

Chichibu The Port Pipe 2009—80 points, $325
Oaky and grassy, with the port influence lending distinct raspberry and cranberry fruitiness. Slightly hot, with tinges of raspberry and caramelized notes from
the cask.

Ichiro’s Malt & Grain—87 points, $115
This blend of Japanese and other whiskies has an elegant palate: florals, peaches, apples, vanilla, and cereal notes. Gentle spice fades into warm chocolate on the finish.

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