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
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
212091
Kirishima Shuzo
Shiro Kirishima Honkaku Imo Shochu
Brilliant clear color. Bright, interesting, complex aromas of pickled cucumbers, garlic and radishes, sautéed almonds and exotic mushrooms, sherry flor, and sea water with a silky, vibrant, dryish light-to-medium body and a peppery, delightful, medium-length ramps, minted melon, pepper, and delicate spices finish. A complex and nuanced shochu with intriguing savoriness.
93 points $8 Best Buy
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab
212093
Kirishima Shuzo
Aka Kirishima Honkaku Imo Shochu
Pale clear color. Bright, inviting aromas of dried tropical fruits, cherry-mango relish, white chocolate mint, and pickled melon with a satiny, lively, dryish medium body and a warming, distinctive, medium-long honeyed cashew, rice milk, delicate peppery spices, and alpine herbs finish. A nicely crafted shochu with delicate minty spice and herb notes.
92 points $10 Best Buy
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
202364
Suntory
The Yamazaki 12 Year Old Single Malt Whisky
Golden amber color. Aromas of buttercream, dried fruit, plantain, and pound cake with a supple, fruity-yet-dry medium-to-full body and a tingling peppery spice, grain, fig and mineral driven finish. Very smooth and somewhat reminiscent of an Irish whisky.
Date Tasted: in our Chicago tasting lab