Japanese whisky is fantastic. Here's everything you need to know.
“Japanese whisky is some of the best in the world,” says Lee Tomlinson, whisky expert and manager of UK drinks merchants Milroy’s. “It’s subtle, powerful and elegant.”
Scotch aficionados needn’t panic. Japanese whisky is made in the Scottish tradition, with a base of malted barley mash dried (often over peat) and distilled in a pot still. “Truly unique Japanese whiskies are those matured in barrels made of mizunara oak from the country’s north; this wood has a porous, vanilla-ish character. Japan has some superb single malts,” says Tomlinson, “but don’t overlook the blended whiskies either.”
Here, Esquire selects the three Japanese whiskies your drinks cabinet needs, and (crucially) how to drink them.
Raisin, apricot, café au lait, chocolate
Black chocolate, strawberry jam, fudge, spice
Ripe fruit, long finish
Suntory’s legendary Yamazaki 18-Year-Old could very well be one of the finest whiskies in the world. A mature single malt, extremely complex, with a hint of smoke. “This is magnificent whisky,” says Tomlinson. “It has won countless awards, and you can see why.” Something for special occasions.
The Serve: Straight
“Given the expense and quality, you probably wouldn’t put it in a cocktail. It would be better — or should at least be tried — neat, or with a dash of water.”
Pineapple, plum, raspberry, honey, custard
Soft, mellow and smooth, sweet
Long and sweet, spicy-fruity, hint of sourness
Hibiki has several meanings, including “harmonious”: apt for this blend of 30 premium single malts (all at least 12 years old). Matured in oak, it is finished off in a plum brandy (umeshu) cask to give its distinct flavour.
The Serve: Whisky and Soda with a Twist
• 50ml Hibiki 12-Year-Old
• 17.5ml Japanese plum brandy
• Serve over ice in a Collins glass with soda water
Peat, light smoke and spice
More light peat with some rounded vanilla and tobacco coming from the oak casks
Balanced fruit and oak with light flower elements
The Yoichi (pronounced yo-ee-chee) distillery is located in Hokkaido, an island in the north of Japan that its founder considered closest in climate to Scotland. Yoichi 10-Year-Old is a robust, powerful single malt, with unexpected citrus and floral tones.
The Serve: Rob Roy
• 50ml Yoichi 10-Year-Old
• 25ml red vermouth
• Dash of bitters