Whiskey Essentials: Japanese Whisky

Whiskey Essentials: Japanese Whisky

As we discussed in previous posts, whiskey comes from one of five places:

  • Scotch Whisky, made in Scotland.
  • Bourbon, America's whiskey
  • Irish Whiskey
  • Japanese Whisky
  • Canadian Whiskey

This week we will take a look at the lesser-known  Japanese whiskey.

You'll notice that Japanese whiskey is spelled without an "e" just like Scotch. That's because it was originally inspired by Scotch whisky and is most akin to Scotch. It all began with one man, Masataka Taketsuru, who went to Scotland to study chemistry in 1918 where he fell in love with Scotch whisky. He apprenticed for five years at several Scotch distilleries before returning to Japan to found two distilleries, Yamazaki and Yoichi, the first and second whisky distilleries in Japan.

In the intervening years, Japanese whisky has become highly prized and more and more popular, with Yamazaki’s 2013 Single Malt Sherry Cask named “the best whisky in the world” in 2013 by whiskey critic Jim Murray.

Photo by Jason Goh

Japanese whisky, like Scotch, relies heavily on malted barley, often peated and distilled twice in pot stills. As with Scotch, Japanese whisky is wood-aged, in either American oak, Sherry casks, or Japanese Mizunara oak each of which imparts its own unique characteristics.

Nikka and Suntory now own most of the distilleries in Japan. Since these companies own distilleries all over Japan with different microclimates, making a blend just involves moving whiskies from one of the company's distilleries to another.

Photo by FUTC

There isn't exactly a Japanese style of whisky, but they all tend to emphasize refinement and texture. Production techniques generally follow those of Scotch but it’s not bound to any traditions so there can be more innovation. You might notice scents of spice, nuts, malt, spice, fruits, herbs, smoke (from the peated barley), and honey.

While there is a limited selection, the quality is high as is the price. Japanese whisky routinely wins international awards and is highly prized by whisky connoisseurs.

Japanese Whisky Cocktails

If you don't have Japanese whiskey feel free to use Scotch for a similar flavor.

Japanese Maple Cocktail

  • 1.75 oz, 53 ml Japanese Whisky
  • 0.75 oz, 23 ml Lemon Juice
  • 0.5 oz, 15 ml Maple Syrup
  • 0.5 oz, 15 ml Egg White

Place all ingredients in a shaker and shake without ice for 30 seconds. Add ice and shake for another 30 seconds. Double strain (use a strainer over the glass as well as the strainer on the shaker) into a coupe glass.

Photo by Alexandra Tran

My absolute favorite Japanese whisky cocktail is the Toki Americano. If you're a fan of Amaro Nonino like I am, I think you'll like it too.

Toki Americano

  • 1.5 oz, 45 ml Japanese Whisky
  • 0.75 oz, 23 ml Cocchi Americano
  • 0.75 oz, 23 ml Amaro Nonino
  • dash Grapefruit Bitters
  • Garnish: Dried orange round

Place all ingredients into a mixing glass. Add ice and stir for 30 seconds or until well chilled. Strain into a chilled Martini glass. Float the dried orange round on top.



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