Japanese Whisky

Japan did not have a commercial whisky distillery until 1923, when Shinjiro Torii opened Suntory outside of Kyoto. Suntory’s first distiller was Masataka Taketsuru, a Scotch whisky enthusiast and engineer who learned the art of whisky-making in Scotland. Japanese whisky is thus made in the Scotch style, with a focus on malted barley; expressions are bottled as both blends and single malts, with many distilleries today using traditional pot stills and importing peat and barley from Scotland. Despite its Scottish roots, Japanese whisky has increasingly distinguished itself in quality and style. Because the Japanese whisky industry is vertically integrated, blends are almost always created in-house from one producer’s stocks. The unique flavors of Japanese whisky are often attributed to long fermentation times and unique yeast strains, which are used to create a crystal clear wort prior to distillation. The turn of the century growth in the popularity of whisky, and in single malts in particular, has led to a global explosion in the demand for Japanese whisky.

Top Japanese Whisky Posts:

A Visit to Suntory’s Yamazaki Distillery
5 Whiskies from Japan’s Nikka Distillery
Kaiyo Japanese Mizunara Oak Whisky
Suntory Whisky Toki
Talking Toki with Suntory Master Blender Shinji Fukuyo

Review: Ohishi Brandy Cask and Sherry Single Cask Whisky

By Christopher Null | November 5, 2016 |

The southern Japanese island of Kyushu is home to the Kuma River, and it’s here that the Ohishi distillery, founded in 1872, turns rice into whiskey. Much like Kikori, Ohishi eschews the traditional barley for something that Japan knows well: rice, which is partially malted before fermentation. This ain’t Uncle Ben’s, mind you: Says GRC…

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Review: Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt and Nikka Yoichi Single Malt

By Christopher Null | November 2, 2016 |

Japanese single malt whisky fans, the end is here. Age statements are vanishing faster than polar ice, and in their stead are arriving a series of NAS releases to replace them. Nikka is the latest distillery to do the deed, replacing a variety of the age-stated whiskies from its Miyagikyo and Yoichi distilleries, which are long since…

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Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2016

By Christopher Null | October 16, 2016 |

WhiskyFest is always a great opportunity to get a look at new releases — and pre-sampling products I won’t be able to formally review for a few weeks or month is my favorite part of the show. WhiskyFest 2016 was shaping up to be a windfall for these kinds of releases, including Ardbeg Dark Cove,…

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Review: Suntory Whisky Toki

By Christopher Null | September 1, 2016 |

Japan’s Suntory is well known for its single malts, but it also blends whisky from time to time. With Toki (“time” in Japanese), it’s trying something a little different. Specifically, Toki is a blend of a number of Suntory’s other whiskies, including spirits from Hakushu Distillery, Yamazaki Distillery, and Chita Distillery. Some addition information from the distillery:…

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Review: Kikori Whiskey

By Christopher Null | August 17, 2016 |

Everyone knows that Japan loves rice so much that they even make their booze out of it. Sake, shochu… and now, whiskey. Rice whiskey? You read that right. Kikori is distilled from 100% rice grown in the Kumamoto region, which goes through a “two-mash fermentation process, before distilling the mash in a single batch and casking…

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Review: Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

By Christopher Null | May 14, 2016 |

Nikka’s Coffey Grain Whisky — named because of the Coffey still (a column still, not a pot still) that is used to produce it — has gained almost cult status since its 2013 arrival in the U.S. Now its big brother — a single malt made using the same still — is arriving on our…

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Review: The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2016

By Christopher Null | March 18, 2016 |

In 2014 Jim Murray pronounced The Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 the best whisky of the year, and the world promptly exploded. Everybody likes Japanese whisky — why wouldn’t you? — but giving this small bottling a “best in the world” award led to the expected chaos. All of Japanese whisky has been impacted by the…

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Review: Hibiki Japanese Harmony

By Christopher Null | September 18, 2015 |

A little of this and a little of that, Hibiki’s latest is a blended whisky, something we don’t see often represented from Japan on American shores. If you can’t find something to like in this dram, well, you shouldn’t be drinking whisky at all. Let’s back up a bit, though, with some Suntory time background:…

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Tasting Report: Whiskies of the World Expo San Francisco 2015

By Christopher Null | May 10, 2015 |

This year marked my sixth consecutive in attendance at Whiskies of the World, a fantastic event that’s typically held on the San Francisco Belle paddleboat, docked in San Francisco Bay. I asked organizer Douglas Stone why it seemed so empty this year, and he told me it was an optical illusion: He pushed the distilleries’…

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Tasting Report: WhiskyFest San Francisco 2014

By Christopher Null | November 5, 2014 |

Another WhiskyFest has come and gone, filling the masses with a smorgasbord of Scotch, Bourbon, Irish, and a little bit of everything else. There was nothing not to like in San Francisco this year, with the masses gobbling up the west coast introduction of Yellow Spot, a rare showing from Stranahan’s, and a surprise appearance…

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