Japanese Whisky is becoming world-renowned, and whilst sake is most often associated as the national drink of Japan, whisky also plays an important role in the Japanese drinking scene. Japanese whisky sets itself apart with innovative whisky-making skills that visitors can experience first-hand at a local distillery. Though small in number, Japan’s whisky distilleries take their whisky seriously and create beautifully tasting beverages. Visitors can take part in distillery tours, whisky tasting sessions and explore the country’s wide range of whisky bars.
Japanese Whisky Origins
Whisky production in Japan dates all the way back to 1870 when Shinjiro Torii started to import Western alcoholic beverages to Japan. After years of developing his whisky knowledge, Torii opened the nation’s first whisky distillery in Yamazaki in 1923. Meanwhile, another Japanese whisky enthusiast, Masataka Taketsuru, had been honing his whisky-making skills in Scotland and was hired by Torii as the master distiller. In 1940, Taketsuru decided to open his own distillery and founded Nikka Whisky which quickly rose to fame. Since then, the Japanese whisky industry has propelled and the country has been awarded some of the most prestigious whisky awards in the world.
Taking its inspiration from Scottish whisky, Japanese whisky tends to be sweet and smooth with distinct floral, citrus, and peaty tones. Though the whisky-making process follows Scottish whisky in style, Japanese whisky has a flavor that is unlike anywhere else. Both Torii and Taketsuru wanted their whisky to appeal to the Japanese palette and used locally sourced ingredients such as umeshu liqueur, cocoa, and a variety of Japanese oaks.
Visiting Japanese Whisky Distilleries
In order to really see what makes Japanese whisky stand out, take a trip to a whisky distillery. The distilleries in Japan are friendly and open to foreign visitors and many also offer English-speaking tours. Along with tours and tastings experiences, distilleries are also a great place to purchase limited edition bottles that you may not find at home.
Yamazaki was the country’s very first distillery that is owned by Torii’s renowned whisky company Suntory. Today Yamazaki is still standing strong and is home to a magnificent library of over 7,000 bottles of whisky. Tours here offer the chance to taste this award-winning spirit and the distillery is only a short train ride away from the city of Kyoto.
Japan’s other favorite whisky brand is Nikka, founded by whisky connoisseur Taketsuru in 1940. Yoichi Distillery is nestled within a beautiful mountainous area just one and a half hours from the city of Sapporo. Although Yoichi does not offer tours in English, the tour is still worth taking part in order to experience tasting the malts.
Where to Drink Whisky in Japan?
Whisky bars in Japan usually boast highly knowledgeable staff and a wonderful array of whisky bottles. If you wish to sample Japanese whisky in world-class surroundings, these bars offer something a little extra special.
Just like its name, this is a brilliant whisky bar set in Tokyo’s thriving district of Shinjuku. Brilliant is an expensive whisky bar with a vast list of whiskies. Regulars can even keep a bottle of their choice behind the bar to drink from whenever they wish.
Zoetrope is a whisky bar with a difference. It is nestled within the back streets of Nishi-Shinjuku and has the largest whisky menu in the city. What makes this bar different is the cinema screen which regularly shows classic films in the evening. The films that are screened here are mostly black-and-white comedies, making it a wonderful place to soak up local culture.
Bar Cordon Noir
When looking for a whisky bar in Kyoto, Bar Cordon Noir is the number one place to go. Offering a quaint, intimate atmosphere, this sophisticated bar offers a nice selection of whisky in calm surroundings.
Suntory Whisky House
Combining good food and a range of whisky, Suntory Whisky House is a great place to visit in Osaka. Here you can pair tasty meals with a flavorsome whisky. The bar stocks both local and international whiskies providing a wonderful selection for visitors.