The 6 Best Japanese Whiskeys in 2021

The beauty of Japanese whiskey is that it is like art. You appreciate every single detail of it, and it leaves a special mark on you at the end. Japanese whiskey is an acquired taste that for anyone who understands whiskey’s meticulous components is loved and cherished.

Japanese whiskeys are known for having distinct characteristics that you cannot find in other whiskeys like Scotch. Their specialty is a touch of extraordinary, unique flavors and scents that you can only find in Japan.

The intense flavoring ranges from spice to citrus to sweet. The process of distilling is distinct from other whiskeys. The best Japanese whiskeys globally are the most aged ones and are almost always off the shelves because of their international appeal.

Whiskey for any occasion or a fancy nightcap is always appreciated. Here is my selection of the six best Japanese whiskeys that you must try and have in your cabinets.

#1. Yamazaki 12-Year-Old

Yamazaki has been present since 1923, and since then, they have been making the best blended Japanese single malt whiskey. It is the ideal whiskey for commemorating a special occasion, such as a birthday, and makes an excellent gift for an anniversary, a promotion, or any other occasion. This single malt whiskey is the best Japanese whiskey, and it would be like a trophy in your collection.

Scent: It has a strong maple syrup and honeysuckle smell, glossy hints of dark chocolate, and spice.

Taste: A soft hint of spice among caramel, cinnamon, and sweet orange that resembles the palate of rich chocolate, but is smooth like maple syrup.

Finish: It leaves a subtle brew of fruitiness that is not overpowering, almost like a well-aged sweet sherry, with a smooth touch of pineapple, dried grapefruit, and dried fruits.

What I love about it:

  • Perfect blend of scents and flavors
  • Unique and tasty
  • Makes for a fantastic gift

 Some things I don’t like:

  • A bit expensive

#2. Hibiki 17-Year-Old

Hibiki, which means harmony in Japanese, is reflected well in this whiskey. It is a well-blended malt and grain Japanese whiskey that has won many awards for being perfect, aromatic, elegant, and rich. It is a must-have whiskey in your collection.

Scent: It has a very soft, warm smell of toasty wood and hints of smoke. It also has the scent of citrus, cocoa, and fruity hazelnuts.

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Taste: A velvety toffee sweet that is mixed with fresh plums and has a hint of cherry. The taste also has a light lemon bitterness that balances with the caramel.

Finish: It has a silky finish with the perfect balance of bitterness, smooth oaky malt, and sweetness.

What I love about it:

  • Excellent aged whiskey
  • Extremely clean and clear
  • Great finish

Some things I don’t like:

  • Slightly expensive

#3. Hakushu 12-Year-Old 

The Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve is one of the producers of the best Japanese whiskeys as their single malt whiskeys are very smooth and have a soothing finish  loved by many. It is also one of the most affordable single malt whiskeys to have.

Scent: The perfect slide of ripe peaches, with crunchy roasted hazelnuts and a touch of smoky honey gives you a very soothing aroma.

Taste: A rich oaky malt finish and summer fruits with a punchy lemon zest to entice your palate.

Finish: Smokey Christmas cinnamon with a dash of sweetness that gives a smooth finish without a lasting taste.

What I love about it:

  • An ideal balance of spice and sweetness
  • Best single malt
  • Worth the price

Some things I don’t like:

  • It has a very strong, smoky flavor that is a bit overbearing for me

Japanese Whiskeys in 2021

#4. Nikka Coffey Grain

Nikka Coffey Grain is corn-based rather than barley-based. It is an affordable brand of Japanese whiskey. It is ideal for adding to your collection for everyday use, but there are better options if you are preparing for a party.

Scent: A comforting light, fluffy vanilla scent with a hint of chamomile and herbals.

Taste: It is a thick syrup with just the right amount of fresh vanilla and a blend of garden-fresh fruits and sweet corn.

Finish: It uses a rich oak, which has a very thick texture of marmalade that keeps it fresh.

What I love about it:

  • The best affordable Japanese whiskey
  • Smooth

Some things I don’t like:

  • It does not last long
  • Has a bitter aftertaste

#5. Suntory Toki

Suntory Toki whiskey is the best Japanese single malt whiskey blend available. It is a great go-to whiskey for any party or other occasion, and is one of the most affordable and best whiskeys to own.

Scent: It has a pleasant aroma of fresh basil and citrusy green apples, with a hint of honey.

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Taste: A perfect blend of peppermint with fresh thyme and citrus, balanced with the help of grapefruit and green grapes.

Finish: Subtly sweet with a hint of vanilla oak and slightly spicy with ginger and white pepper.

What I love about it:

  • It is very reasonably priced
  • The floral smell is very soothing
  • It has a flawless finish

Some things I don’t like:

  • It is a weak whiskey with a low alcohol content

#6. Iwai 45 Whiskey

This whiskey captures the essence of Japan. It is one of the best Japanese whiskeys that is also affordable. It has hints of baked spice and a very subtle fruity taste, which makes it perfect for cocktails.

Scent: It has a very sweet smell of vanilla and butterscotch with tons of apples and strawberries.

Taste: It has a milk chocolate and toffee flavor profile, making it a great pairing for desserts. The blend is very smooth and leaves no bitter aftertaste.

Finish: The finish lasts a long time with a little sweetness. It has a much more subtle flavor than cinnamon.

What I love about it:

  • Affordable whiskey
  • A very smooth blend

Some things I don’t like:

  • A very strong smell
  • It is not the best combination of flavoring

What to Look For in a Great Japanese whiskey

Aroma

The way a whiskey smells is a good indicator of its quality; each whiskey has its distinct aroma unique to its blend. When smelling a glass of whiskey leaves behind a soothing smell trail, you will know that it is the right buy. The smell tells you a lot about its finish and the richness it holds.

Age

The older whiskey is, the better it becomes. The wooden barrels used to age whiskey keeps the flavor alive and imparts smoothness. As a result, the flavors become more balanced and have a rich color, leaving an aftertaste of absolute bliss.

Older whiskey is also more expensive because it comes from a vintage collection. The best way to know if it is aged well is how smoothly it pours into a glass and swirls. That way, you will know that it is smooth and well blended.

Asian businessman drinking Japanese Whiskeys

Taste

The taste of whiskey distinguishes it. One should taste the whiskey with a mixture of air in your mouth when mixed with water. If the taste is balanced and consistent, then the drink in your hand is the right choice.

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Color

The color scheme of the whiskey will determine how well blended it is. The darker the color, the older the whiskey is. The blend of whiskey is very important as it indicates the smoothness and the taste.

Frequently Asked Questions

How is the brewing of Suntory whiskey different from other types?

Suntory whiskey is unique among Japanese whiskeys due to the purity of its water and the proportions used when compared to other whiskeys. Also, the whiskey ages over a year, and its blend plays a huge role in its subtle, refined, and signature flavors.

What is the best way to drink a glass of whiskey?

The classic way to drink whiskey is straight, on the rocks. Some people like a good mixture with Mizuwari (with cold water), while others like it with Oyuwari (warm water). The goal is to make the flavors in the whiskey pop.

What is the right way to pair food with Japanese whiskey?

Since all the best and most popular Japanese whiskey brands have their trademarks of flavors and blends, Japanese whiskeys can be paired with a wide range of cuisines and foods. Here are a few recommendations:

  • Hibiki Brand: It pairs with anything perfectly.
  • Chita Brand: It goes well with oily or fried food.
  • Yamazaki Brand: This is perfect for slightly sweeter dishes and soy sauce-based ones.
  • Toki Brand: Perfect for appetizers like yakitori.

What is the difference between “Blended,” “Single Malt,” and “Single Grain” Whiskeys?

“Blended” whiskey uses a perfect blend of malt or grain. “Single Malt” refers to whiskey produced by a single distillery, while “Single Grain” refers to grain-based whiskey produced by a single distillery.

Parting Words

The best Japanese whiskey is all about the perfect balance. Nothing soothes the throat like Yamazaki 12-year-old single malt whiskey or Hibiki 17-year-old whiskey mixed with cold or warm water. Even having Nikka Coffey Grain straight on the rocks is a good start.

In this article, we have compiled a list of the best Japanese whiskeys that are worth having on your shelf, and we hope it will help you prepare for your next special occasion.

Happy Drinking!