9 Japanese Whiskies For Beginners To Explore


This article contains affiliate links that allows us to earn a small commission on purchases made though the links (at no extra cost to you). We appreciate your support!

Whisky tasting can take you across the entire globe, even to the Land of the Rising Sun. The best Japanese whiskies for beginners combine exotic Eastern spices and fruits with traditional malt and oak flavours from the West.

You can’t just nip into your local liquor store for a bottle. I first discovered Japanese whisky almost by accident after a visit to the fine wine & spirits department of Harrods in Knightsbridge, London. Bottles of Suntory and Hakushu Japanese whiskies really caught my eye.

Is Japanese Whisky Any Good?

Japanese whiskies are excellent as they blend high-quality ingredients, use traditional distillation methods and aged in old oak barrels to ensure flavour. They are enjoyed by whisky beginners and connoisseurs alike.

What Are The Most Popular Whisky Brands In Japan?

The most popular whisky brands in Japan are Suntory and Nikka. Both the distilleries offer many unique and world-class whiskies.

Best Japanese Whiskies

Packed with flavour, here are 9 of the best Japanese whiskies for beginners to captivate your tastebuds with a taste of the Far East.

1. Suntory Toki Whisky

Suntory Toki Whisk
Credit: Suntory

Overview

  • Distiller: Hakushu, Yamazaki & Chita
  • ABV: 43% (86 Proof)
  • Country: Japan
  • Colour: Clear Gold

Review

A beautifully blended whisky from the three Suntory distilleries brings its own element to this timeless whisky. The single malt is from Hakushu, the grains from Chita, and the spiciness from Yamazaki.

Suntory Toki relies on Hakushu as its primary malt and is aged in American white oak. In contrast, the Yamazaki is aged in Spanish oak and American white oak casks. The light golden colour reveals the young age of this smooth whisky.

On The Nose

Fresh basil, crisp green apple, hints of honey

On The Palate

There is a delightful note of crisp apples, citrus, and a spicy finish, with a slight hint of smokiness in the background. This intensely smooth, tasty whiskey offers a light minty bite and a grapey taste. I love the slight ginger kick on the finish.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

2. Togouchi Kiwami 3 Year

Togouchi Kiwami 3 Year
Credit: Togouchi

Overview

  • Distiller: Sakurao Brewery & Distillery
  • ABV: 40% (80 Proof)
  • Country: Japan
  • Colour: Light Gold

Review

Togouchi Kiwami is a flavourful Japanese blended whisky that has its origins on the shores of Scotland. The Sakurao Brewery and Distillery have taken this Scottish blended whisky and given it a Japanese makeover.

Togouchi Kiwami whiskies are unique as they are only diluted, blended, and aged in Japan. The Canadian and Scottish whiskies are imported in white oak casks.

They are then aged in a 361-meter long underground railway tunnel, ensuring a constant temperature of 14°C with high humidity. Now that’s what I call attention to detail!

On The Nose

The nose of Togouchi Kiwami 3 years is of fresh pine forests with a mix of grass and earthy nuts.

On The Palate

A sensational mix of hazelnut, chocolate, and dark honey. The finish is spicy with hints of pepper, nutmeg and oak.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

3. Nikka Coffey Grain

Nikka Coffey Grain
Credit: Nikka

Overview

  • Distiller: Nikka
  • ABV: 45% (90 Proof)
  • Country: Japan
  • Colour: Light Amber

Review

Masataka Taketsuru learned how to use a Coffey Still while staying in Scotland. After starting Nikka Whisky in 1963, he imported the first of two Coffey Stills to his Japanese distillery. He valued the flavour that they brought to his fine whisky.

Nikka Coffey Grain is a signature whisky made from corn and distilled in a Coffey Still. The whisky is then aged in mature, re-worked American oak casks, resulting in a sweet and mellow experience.

On The Nose

Sweet, creamy caramel and vanilla with nuts.

On The Palate

The light-bodied whisky leaves the grains’ subtle sweetness with an enjoyable light smoky taste. A long, smooth finish is similar to Metaxa brandy.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

4. Hakushu 12 Year Old

Hakushu 12 Year Old
Credit: Hakushu

Overview

  • Distiller: Hakushu
  • ABV: 43% (86 Proof)
  • Country: Japan
  • Colour: Light Gold

Review

In 1981 Suntory added another distillery called Hakushu Higashi. This unique distillery was set in the heart of the Japanese Alps and surrounded by lush pine forests. These pine forests mirror their essence in this fine whisky.

Hakushu 12-year-old is a single malted whisky that embodies the traditional peated flavours of Scottish whiskies into a Japanese-styled award-winning whisky. The fresh pine forest profile integrates seamlessly into this Japanese single malt.

On The Nose

Fresh basil, fragrant pine needles, hints of green apple

On The Palate

Initially sweet pear and mint, mid-palate becomes greener with a subtle smoky forest-fresh aftertaste that does not linger too long. Reminds me of an Irish whiskey.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

5. Akashi White Oak Single Malt

Akashi White Oak Single Malt
Credit: Akashi

Overview

  • Distiller: White Oak Distillery
  • ABV: 46% (92 Proof)
  • Country: Japan
  • Colour: Caramel

Review

White Oak Distillery was the first distillery in Japan to receive a license to distil spirits in Japan in 1919 and the first to distil whisky. In 1984 they opened their new distillery situated near the coastal city of Kobe.

The coastal climate is ideal for producing their all-malt and grain-based whisky blended with imported Scotch. This single malt is aged between 4 to 7 years in various oak barrels, resulting in a light, smooth, easygoing whisky for all to enjoy.

On The Nose

Sweet and fruity with notes of vanilla, sun-dried apricots, malt, and spice.

On The Palate

Slowly sipping this single malt reveals creamy toffee, malt, vanilla and a lovely touch of spice on the finish. It’s quite clean and reminds me of some of the aged tequila I recently reviewed.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

6. Hatozaki Blended

Hatozaki Blended
Credit: Hatozaki

Overview

  • Distiller: The Kaikyo Distillery
  • ABV: 40% (80 Proof)
  • Country: Japan
  • Colour: Pale Hay

Review

Hatozaki Blended is named after the oldest stone lighthouse in Japan. The Kaikyo distillery wanted to portray its historical monument as a symbol of strength and the history of Japan while incorporating their respect for the flavourful whiskies of Scotland.

A light and elegantly styled whisky, Hatozaki is unpeated and aged for 12 years in barrels with a minimum malt whisky content of 40%. This fine whisky is blended in a two-stage blending process, left unchill-filtered, resulting in a well-rounded, balanced taste.

On The Nose

Hatozaki Blended is a light fragrance of lemongrass and orange zest with a distinct sweet malty aroma.

On The Palate

The sweetness carries through in the taste with the honey and malt. A subtle charred woodiness complements the nutty aftertaste of this delightfully blended whisky.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

7. Mars Maltage Cosmo

Mars Maltage Cosmo
Credit: Mars

Overview

  • Distiller: Mars Shinshu
  • ABV: 43% (86 Proof)
  • Country: Japan
  • Colour: Amber

Review

Situated 2,625ft up on the Nagano Alps, the Mars Shinshu is the highest distillery in Japan. The melting snow and glaciers from the Alps provide the perfect water for the blended and single malt whiskies that Mars Shinshu has offered since 1949.

Mars Maltage Cosmo is a blend of malt whisky from the Shinshu distillery and undisclosed Scottish distilleries. It is blended in Japan and aged in Bourbon and American Oak casks to deliver a pleasant spicy finish.

On The Nose

This whisky offers a bouquet of sweet red fruits and vanilla on the nose.

On The Palate

Initially creamy on the palate, almost like a fruity dessert with hints of nutmeg, apricot, and banana with a touch of oak. The finish will have you licking your lips with the taste of ripe plums and dark chocolate.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

8. The Kurayoshi 18 Year Old

The Kurayoshi 18 Year Old
Credit: Kurayoshi

Overview

  • Distiller: Kurayoshi
  • ABV: 50% (100 Proof)
  • Country: Japan
  • Colour: Gold

Review

Nestled in the foothills of Mt. Daisen in Japan, the small distillery of Kurayoshi produces an exceptional whisky using the finest spring water from the mountain. Kurayoshi pride themselves on the philosophy “Whisky to be loved by everyone.”

The Kurayosji 18-year-old whisky is created by using malted whiskies from Scotland and blending them with expertly blended Japanese malt whiskies. This heavenly mixture is then watered down to the correct strength utilizing the region’s volcanic rock filtered spring water.

On The Nose

The aroma of malt and dried grass builds into a sweet Jasmine and honey goodness on the nose.

On The Palate

The taste of sweet lemon, malt, and spice is followed by a hint of mint and cardamom. The finish is slightly smoky with a subtle sweetness of vanilla.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

9. Kaiyo Mizunara Oak Cask Strength

Kaiyo Mizunara Oak Cask Strength
Credit: Kayio

Overview

  • Distiller: Kaiyo
  • ABV: 53% (106 Proof)
  • Country: Japan
  • Colour: Deep Gold

Review

Kaiyo means “ocean,” which is precisely where Kaiyo Mizunara Oak Cask Strength whisky is sent to mature for three months. The movement of the waves, air pressure, and temperature variation all play a part in creating this splendid whisky from Osaka.

Kaiyo Mizunara Oak Cask Strength is a blend of many whiskies from various sources in Ireland and Scotland. It is blended with a malted Japanese whisky and matured in Mizunara Oak barrels for three years. The final ageing step for this whisky is a three-month sea voyage to the ocean mature.

On The Nose

Orange and lemongrass essence with a delightful spicy oak.

On The Palate

Peppery and builds into a creamy coffee and clove taste. The finish is a spicy pepper with salted toffee. It’s rich, almost like a cognac.

Pricing & Info

You can check the latest pricing, product information, and order online.

Seperator

Andrew’s Top Pick

best Japanese whiskies for beginners

Suntory Toki Whisky

I picked Suntory Toki Whisky as the best Japanese whisky for beginners. It starts with crisp apple, citrus, and a spicy ginger finish, with a slight hint of smokiness in the background. Best served neat on the rocks.

Conclusion

My Trip to Harrods Unearthed Some Japanese Whiskies!

Japan is not just sake, the best Japanese whiskies for beginners offer unique flavours, whether sipping neat or enjoying as an old fashioned. Starting your whisky journey with the Japanese blends will open your palate to the beautiful aromas and tastes unique to these distilleries.

Don’t forget, the Japanese have also been busy creating some fantastic gins so check out my article on 10 Best Japanese Gins for when you fancy something lighter. Also, not sure how to properly taste whiskey? then take a look at How To Taste Whiskey (in 7 Simple Steps).

Further Reading

Below are some additional articles from The Drinks Geek blog. We write articles on several fascinating areas of drinks, including different brands, drink types, cocktail recipes and more.

Author Bio

Leave a Comment

error: Content is protected !!