6 Superb Japanese Whiskies To Try Now
February 27, 2023 –––––– Whisky Advocate
These days, there’s more Japanese whisky on the shelves than ever before, and you don’t necessarily have to spend an arm and a leg to get it. Distillers are exploring unique barrel finishes and highlighting specific regions of Japan, meaning that there’s a true world of whisky to explore from this small island nation. The following releases reviewed in our Buying Guide encompass a range of styles, including peated single malts, blends, and rice whisky, and they come from a variety of producers—not just the Japanese names you may be familiar with already. If you're looking to delve deeper into Japan’s whiskies, consider one of these fine bottles.
Savor One Of These Japanese Drams
Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu The U.S. Edition 202192 points, 53.5% ABV, $325The nose is abundant and generous, with a delicate integrated fruitiness and a fine sprinkling of cask spices: peach, dried apricot, baked orange, polished wood, rose-scented Turkish delight, and a hint of vanilla. Rich baked fruit on the palate, with apple, peach, orange, barley sugar, sweet vanilla, pepper, and clove; the citrus building to smother the spice, sweetening all the while, leaving peach cobbler on the finish.
Mars The Y.A. 0191 points, 52% ABV, $185Mars whiskies made at Shinshu and Tsunuki distilleries are combined and then matured in the aging cellar on Yakushima Island. The nose has honeydew, white grape, green apple, sea salt, sugar-dusted Turkish delight, taffy, and some floral top notes. The palate delivers baked apple, fresh fig, gooseberry, and sweet citrus, with a spicy phase of pepper, ginger, and clove that really goes the distance, with spice and chocolate to finish.
Kujira Inari Ryukyu91 points, 46% ABV, $70Inari is the god of rice cultivation in Japanese mythology. Baked apple, pear, date, and white pepper on the nose, with a hint of aniseed, fresh fig, guava, rowan jelly, and violin rosin. This is a beautifully compact and expressive rice whisky from Masahiro Shuzo, one of Okinawa’s oldest distilleries, with flavors of apple, orange marmalade, butterscotch, barley sugar, white pepper, and a mouth-coating finish of spices and cooked fruit.
The Akkeshi Peated Single Malt 2020 Kanro Season90 points, 55% ABV, $375Japan’s Sekki system divides the solar calendar into 24 seasons: The 17th season represents cold drops of dew. The nose is mellow with charcoal, vanilla, cigar wrapper, espresso, milk chocolate, hazelnut, and ground cumin. Thick-textured, with baked orange, instant smoke, red apple, clove, pepper, and gingerbread, it settles down to deliver roasted nuts, spice, dark chocolate, and berry fruits. Preferable with water, it becomes more of what the whisky promised to the nose.
Iwai Tradition Sherry Cask Finish89 points, 40% ABV, $80The waxy, resinous nose has deep, rich sherry notes from the PX cask, polished horse chestnut, leather, licorice, plum, cacao, clove, pepper, and dark toffee, with baked orange opening up with time. A stunningly smooth mouthfeel, overcoming a rather delicate beginning at first, with flavors of orange cake, date, and vanilla, adding toffee, Jaffa cakes, marmalade, walnut, and a twist of black pepper, then a finish of baked orange and wood spices.
Shibui Nokoribi Kara Pure Malt 88 points, 48% ABV, $85Warm earthy peat, lemon and lime, melon, ground ginger, pepper, pine needles, and floor polish aromas indicate the lightly peated malt in the blend. It’s sweet to taste and light on the palate, with soft fruits, hard candy, and a gentle pepperiness, showcasing flavors of sweet tangerine, gingersnap, and soft toffee, with a second wave of more intense pepperiness bringing orange peel and ginger on the finish.
Reviews by Jonny McCormick