Subscribe now

9 best Japanese whiskies

Inspired by the Scottish but distinctively innovative, head east for some of the world's finest dram

Treat whisky connoisseurs to one of these exquisite tipples ( iStock )

The cat has been out of the bag for long enough to order its own Japanese whisky at the bar. These east Asian distillers are no longer new kids on the block and have established themselves as firm favourites in dimly lit whisky joints across the world. With a number of instantly recognisable brands on top shelves up and down the country, a bottle of Japanese whisky would make a perfect gift this Christmas for any connoisseurs in the family.

We’ve lined up the best bottles that Japan has to offer, looking for the best that money can buy to suit all budgets, from bottles that are matured out at sea to rarities that hardly ever make it to British soil – we have something for everybody this year.

You can trust our independent reviews. We may earn commission from some of the retailers, but we never allow this to influence selections, which are formed from real-world testing and expert advice. This revenue helps us to fund journalism across The Independent. 

Suntory Toki, 43%: £29.95, Master of Malt

Toki translates to 'time' and we can see why, as the careful blend is a collaboration from Suntory's three distilleries; Hakushu, Yamazaki and Chita. The nose is gentle and sweet, led by fruit and honey with a whisper of pepper. The palate is true to the fruity aromas and introduces vanilla and citrus in perfect balance. The finish is punchy, peppery and adds a suggestion of oak.

Buy now

Togouchi 18 Year Old 43.8%: £96, The Green Welly Stop

This highly drinkable expression comes courtesy of Hiroshima-based distiller Chugoku Jozo. The nose is smooth and full of summer fruits, the palate is earthy and bursting with pepper. The finish is long, satisfying and continues with the palate’s earthy quality with notes of pine nut.

Buy now

Golden Horse Musahi, 43%: £64.95, The Whisky Exchange

The Golden Horse range rarely makes its way out of Japan which means you should grab a bottle whilst you can. This enigmatic bottle’s nose carries distinct coffee and banana notes, the palate is made up of gentle garden fruits with a suggestion of baking spices. The finish is long and brings barley to the fore. 

Buy now

Kaiyo Cask Strength, 53%: £110, Master of Malt

The team behind the Kaiyo Cask Strength pulled out all the stops for this tipple, sending the casks out to sea for a portion of their maturation in order to maximise flavour. The nose is full of oak and citrus, the palate introduces coffee and pepper with a suggestion of spice. The finish is warm and satisfying, carrying through with the pepper notes.

Buy now

The Nikka 12 Year Old, 43%: £82.99, Simply Wines Direct

The bottle for this expression from Japanese giants Nikka is designed to mimic the neckline of a kimono. The nose is sweet and reminiscent of fairground treats, toffee and butterscotch dominating. The palate is malty and forthright on notes of burnt oak, the finish introduces spiced citrus with a touch of dark chocolate.

Buy now

Single Malt Yoichi, 45%: £74.45, Master of Malt

Another inclusion from the House of Nikka – the Single Malt Yoichi is a firm favourite of ours, having featured in our previous roundup. This bottle embodies everything Nikka are known for, influenced by bold Scotch whiskies but undoubtedly and distinctly its own Japanese entity. The nose is big, full and balanced, it's made up of smoke and citrus.

The palate is complex and as well balanced as the nose, characterised by spice, peat, tropical fruit and warm spices. The finish is long and smooth, bringing through the fruit and introducing malty notes as well as a tasteful nod to mint and coriander.

Buy now

Hibiki Japanese Harmony, 43%: £58.99, Simply Wines Direct

This offering from Suntory whisky comes in a stunningly elegant bottle, making it an immediately impressive gift for any whisky lovers in the family. The nose is floral and full of orange, the palate is smooth and gentle, delivering on the citrus notes promised by the aromas. The finish is subtle and lasting with oak dominating.

Buy now

Hakushu Single Malt Distiller’s Reserve, 43%: £54.95, Amazon

Hakushu distillery is renowned for its smoky and citrusy characteristics as well as herbaceous notes, their single malt expression is a celebration of that. The nose is heavy on the herbs with subtle citrus fruit aromas playing second fiddle, the palate carries through these aromas and pushes peppermint to the foreground. The finish is long and decadent with a dash of smoke.

Buy now

The Chita, 43%: £39.99, The Bottle Club

This is the flagship expression from the Chita distillery, the whisky is matured in Sherry, bourbon and wine casks, offering a complex flavour profile. The nose is sweet and earthy and very citrus forward. The palate is decadent: buttery and sweet with floral hints. The finish is snappy and built of candied fruit peel. 

Buy now

The Verdict: Best Japanese Whiskies

With an range of riches to choose from we had a hard time picking out our best buy. With an incredibly well balanced and disciplined flavour profile and gorgeous bottling, we feel that you can’t do better for your money this Christmas than the Suntory Toki – coming in at just £29.95, this is a real bargain. If you fancy something with a touch more complexity and don’t mind shelling out over double the price then go grab our 2016 favourite – the giant Single Malt Yoichi.

IndyBest product reviews are unbiased, independent advice you can trust. On some occasions, we earn revenue if you click the links and buy the products, but we never allow this to bias our coverage. The reviews are compiled through a mix of expert opinion and real-world testing.

Black Friday 2019 is nearly here. Read our guide on how to get the best Black Friday deals

Article bookmarked

Find your bookmarks in your Independent Premium section, under my profile