Over the last few years, the popularity of the Japanese whisky category has soared, surpassing expectations by miles. In one moment, age statement Japanese whiskies were easily available. In the next? Poof. In the blink of an eye (okay, not really, but roll with it), eager whisky drinkers were snatching up whatever they could whenever they could. Currently, age-statement Japanese whiskies are fewer and farther between, but that is no reason to worry because there is a ton of other amazing non-age statement Japanese whisky out there. A ton.
A blend from the Hibiki range of whiskies made by Suntory, Harmony works to live up to its name by blending malt whiskies from the Hakushu and Yamazaki distilleries with grain whisky from the Chita distillery. In addition, five different types of casks are used to create this whisky.
Bourbon lovers can start here. Using a Coffey still, this whisky is akin to bourbon in that the base is mostly corn and the flavor profile has big vanilla and oak characteristics to it. The sweetness follows through with brown sugar and maple syrup notes into a pleasant sweet finish.
Created at the first Nikka distillery (Yoichi), Single Malt Yoichi is both fruity and smoky, a definite turn-on for those that enjoy Islay Scotch whiskies. From the nose through to the finish, you’ll find the interplay between peaty smokiness and bright fruits, giving you a consistent and pleasing flavor profile.
One of our favorites for making highballs, Suntory Toki is a subtle whisky that has both sweet and spicy flavors that are complemented by white pepper and oak notes on the end. Toki, which means “time” in Japanese, was developed as a homage to the blending of old and new — the old being Suntory’s whisky heritage and the new being the company’s push for innovation.
Made at the highest-elevation distillery in Japan, Mars Shinshu, Tokiwa Iwai is one of the Japanese whiskies not made by Nikka or Suntory that is quickly making a name for itself in the global market. Named for the “silent pioneer” of the Japanese whisky industry, Kiichiro Iwai, you’ll find a fruit-forward whisky with flavors such as pear and red fruits blending with vanilla from the oak.
Editor’s Note: This article is part of The Manual’s larger Journey to Japan travel guide. Over the course of a month, our writers had the pleasure of experiencing Japan in its many forms, from high-rise bars in Tokyo to traditional tea-ceremonies in Kyoto. We hope this series of articles will not only inform, but inspire you to take your own trip to the Land of the Rising Sun.