About Japanese Spirits

Japan has become a major player in the single malt category; as some examples are considered among the finest in the world.

Quality malt whiskey in Japan was first produced in the 1920s; today there are several distilleries that craft products based on single malt Scotch. There are numerous styles from very light to those with a heavy peaty quality. The best examples are aged from 12 to 18 years in wood barrels.

The other main spirit in Japan is shochu, a beverage made from any number of ingredients, such as barley, rice, buckwheat or even carrots. Having a clear appearance, a shochu displays a wide range of aromas such as fig, fruit cake, paprika and even marinated mushrooms. Shochu has an alcoholic percentage ranging form 25% to 45% and is served neat, on the rocks or sometimes mixed with fruit juice.
Top Picks for Japan
202363
Suntory
The Yamazaki 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky
Deep amber copper color. Rich aromas of sautéed almonds, suede, figs, honeyed cereal, and milk chocolate with a silky, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a long, spice, grains, and earth layered finish. Impressive with great sherried wood character.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
216499
Nikka
Coffey Grain Whiskey
Dusty gold color. Creamy, fruity aromas and flavors of coconut cream pie, dried tropical fruits, pink peppercorns, and pencil shavings with a silky, vibrant, fruity light-to-medium body and a complex, medium-long creme Anglaise, delicate spice, sarsaparilla, and white cigar ash finish. A creamy, inviting whisky that is sure to please.
95 points $69.99
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
210936
Nikka
"Miyagikyo" 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky
Gold color. Medicinal aromas of grilled lemon, banana and papaya, conditioned leather and lacquer, praline, and sassafras with an oily, lively, dry-yet-fruity medium-to-full body and a warming, complex, medium-long creme brulee, honeyed dried bananas, exotic spices, and sandalwood finish. A complex and intricate whisky with lots of tropical fruit, spice, and oak tones.
95 points $109.99
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
210935
Nikka
"Taketsuru" Pure Malt Whisky
Bright gold color. Lively, attractive aromas of leather, cedar, sautéed almonds, and raisins with a silky, crisp, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a tingling, long dried fruits, minerals, honeyed tea, and salted caramelized nuts finish. A superb and evolving whisky for thoughtful contemplative sipping.
94 points $69.99
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
202509
Nikka
Yoichi Single Malt 15 Year Old Japanese Whisky
Amber color. Rich roasted walnut, mocha, maple sugar and vanilla bean aromas with silky fruity medium-to-full body and a very nutty, peppery spice, chalk, smoky tobacco, and roasted grain driven finish. A hearty masculine dram that will go great with cigars.
94 points $129.99
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
218133
Kirishima Shuzo
Akane Kirishima
Brilliant clear color. Attractive, fruity aromas and flavors of kirschwasser, dried apricot, and spiced honeydew with a satiny, bright, dry-yet-fruity medium body and a seamless, layered, long powdered sugar, pistachio oil, lilac and orange blossom water, and pink pepper and radish finish. A delicious and remarkably fruity shochu that drinks a bit like a fine eau-de-vie.
93 points $11 Best Buy
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
216500
Nikka
Coffey Malt Whiskey
Bright golden amber color. Fruity, creamy aromas and flavors of banana cream pie with whipped cream, coconut macaroon, spicy fruit compote, and amber perfume with a satiny, vibrant, fruity medium-to-full body and a tingling, elegant, long creme brulee, nougat, spiced nuts, and sassafras finish. A sensationally vibrant and elegant whisky.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
218131
Kirishima Shuzo
Kuro Kirishima
Clear color. Roasted, complex, spicy aromas and flavors of vanilla caramel bonbon, dark toasted nut bread, toasted whole grain, and dill pickled tomato with a silky, soft, dry light body and a seamless, interesting, medium-long almond oil, chestnut honey on fennel, light caramel pudding, and peppery spices finish. An elegant and nuanced shochu with fine flavor and balance; try mixing like a rye whisky.
92 points $9 Best Buy
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
218079
Tori Kai
Shochu
Clear with a platinum blue cast. Exotic, tropical aromas and flavors of Asian pear, overripe pineapple, banana-papaya custard, and white chocolate mint with a satiny, bright, dryish light-to-medium body and a tingling, elegant, medium-long starfruit and radish, rice pudding, and hint of fennel finish. An exotically flavorful shochu with lots of Daiginjo sake-like qualities.
92 points $39.99
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
203050
Miyazaki Honten
Honkaku Mugi-Shochu "Kusu"
Clear color. Earthy aromas of kidd leather, flax, yeasty fruit pastry dough, and bison grass with a soft, dryish light-to-medium body and a soft, waxy rice paper and radish finish. Very clean and precisely etched flavors.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab