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Japanese Whiskey 101: How Japan Reinvented Scotland's Drink

Japanese Whiskey 101: How Japan Reinvented Scotland's Drink

The history of Japanese whiskey is complex, but the spirit is gaining speed

Is Japan beating Scotland at its own game with its diverse whiskeys, or simply reinventing the drink? Japanese whiskey is all anyone's talking about at the bar, and we can see why.

The New York Times reports that the growth of Japanese whiskies in America over the last year is exponential; 44 percent in the last year for the Suntory brand. It's only within the last 30 years that Japanese whiskies — and the last few years especially — have been taken seriously. "Up until two years ago, if one in 20 customers had tasted Japanese whiskey, we were lucky... Now, out of 20, a good five know that it exists and they’ve had it. That’s quite a lot for the land of bourbon." said Flavien Desoblin, owner of New York City's Brandy Library to the NYT.

The first Japanese whiskey distillery, the Suntory distillery, was built in 1923 near Kyoto, reports Complex City Guide. The founder is said to have wanted a whiskey that would appeal to the delicate palate of the Japanese, which may explain the unique balance of Japanese whiskies. Japanese whiskies also have unique tasting notes of vanilla, orange, honey, and plum, which Essential Homme says balances out the malt flavors. They're also aged in a variety of barrels, the NYT reports: wine barrels, mizunara, or Japanese oak barrels, and plum liqueur barrels, to name a few.

Another main difference between Scottish whiskies and Japanese whiskies is water: Japanese whiskies are meant to be served with water or ice, Essential Homme reports. The dense, complex flavors of a Japanese whiskey need to be broken down with a little water. Said San Francisco bartender Neyah White to the NYT, the Hibiki blended whiskey is best watered down to get the full mouthful. Looks like these whiskies are giving Scotland's best a run for their money.

Japanese Whisky

There’s a reason Japanese whisky is spelled, like Scotch, without the “e.” It was inspired by, and still takes after, Scotch whisky. A burgeoning, and rapidly excelling, market, Japanese whisky really began with one guy—Masataka Taketsuru, a Japanese national who went to Scotland to study organic chemistry in 1918, and instead fell in love with Scotch production.

Which, to be fair, is a different kind of chemistry, a science he brought home with him to found Yamazaki and Yoichi distilleries (Japan’s first and second whisky distilleries, respectively). Since then—and in a comparatively short time in the world of whiskey—Japanese whisky has evolved to a place of major esteem in 2014, whiskey critic Jim Murray named Yamazaki’s 2013 Single Malt Sherry Cask “the best whisky in the world.”

So how is it made? Like Scotch, Japanese whisky relies heavily on malted barley (often peated and even imported from Scotland) that’s mashed and distilled twice in pot stills, yielding more residual congeners (which it’s up to the distiller to incorporate, or cut, skillfully). Other (column-distilled) grain whiskies may be blended in, if it’s a single malt. And, like Scotch, Japanese whisky is wood-aged, sometimes in American oak, sometimes in Sherry casks, and sometimes in Japanese Mizunara oak, which imparts unique characteristics (think citrus, spice, incense).

Japan’s distilleries are (mostly) owned by two companies, Nikka and Suntory. Unlike Scottish distilleries, there is no sharing between distilleries in Japan, so innovation must come from within—which works out, since the companies own distilleries in different microclimates all over Japan, so making a blend just means getting whiskies from one of your distilleries to another. Because of such reliance on internal innovation, it’s not very easy to pin down a Japanese whisky style, though there is a general emphasis on refinement and texture. Production does follow after the fashion of Scotch (especially Lowland and Speyside, with some exceptions of course), but it’s not bound to any hard and fast traditions, meaning a bottle might have anything from vanilla, spice, malt, nuts, and fruit to smoke, herbs, citrus, honey, etc. Selection is limited, but quality, and prices, are generally high. Research pays off.

15 of the Best Bottles of Japanese Whisky You Can Actually Find at Every Price

Japanese whisky distilleries say that demand has far outpaced supply over the last few years, resulting in less aged whisky and higher prices. Complicating things further, some disreputable companies are reportedly sourcing whisky from other countries and labeling it Japanese whisky.

To that end, it’s helpful to get an overview of the Japanese whisky landscape. There are two main companies producing Japanese whisky. Suntory, owner of three distilleries, is the largest. Nikka is next in line, with two equally distinctive distilleries. There are also several other smaller operations making Japanese whisky — some are even distilling rice whisky, which many regard as essentially over-proof shochu.

In addition to their single malts, Nikka and Suntory produce very high-quality blends. In fact, blending is considered to be the most important step in the production of Japanese whisky. Some distilleries like Yamazaki use enough stills of different shapes and sizes to literally make dozens of different distillates, which are then aged in countless barrel types before being blended into the final product.

Ready to take on this complex, evolving category? Here are 15 bottles of Japanese whisky to try now, if you can find (and afford) them.

The below lists the “official” sales prices set by the brands, but you should be prepared to pay hundreds of dollars more than what you see here, especially for the classic age statement expressions from Suntory. In the case of Hibiki 21, for example, list price is $250, but bottles are sold for up to $1,000.

Under $50

The least-expensive offering from Suntory is this light blend of whisky from the company’s three distilleries. It’s mostly comprised of grain whisky from Chita and malt whisky from Hakushu, along with two malt whiskies from Yamazaki (one aged in American oak, the other in Spanish oak). This is bright and citrusy, if perhaps a bit thin, which means it’s the perfect Japanese whisky to use in a highball. List price: $35.

Iwai Tradition

This blended Japanese whisky comes from the Mars Shinsu distillery, which is located 2,600 feet above sea level. The blend is three-quarters malt whisky to one-quarter grain whisky, aged in bourbon, sherry, and wine casks. It’s serviceable as a sipping whisky, with notes of cherry and chocolate malt, but also works very well in cocktails. List price: $50.

Under $100

Hibiki Harmony

The entry-level no age statement (NAS) blend from Suntory’s prestigious Hibiki lineup was introduced as a replacement for Hibiki 12, which the company previously discontinued. This blend of malt and grain whisky from Suntory’s three distilleries is sweet and rich with notes of caramel and vanilla that coat the palate, and has a long, smooth finish. List price: $65.

From The Barrel

This Nikka blend comes in a smaller-than-average bottle (500 ml), but the flavor and quality punch well above its weight. After blending more than 100 different malt and grain whiskies aged in a variety of casks, distillers store the liquid in used barrels to marry their flavors. This is a blend that definitely sips as smoothly as any single malt. List price: $65.

Coffey Grain

The name of this Nikka spirit may confuse someone expecting a jolt of caffeine — the “Coffey” in question refers to Aeneas Coffey, who invented a more efficient column still in the early 19th century. This grain whiskey will appeal to bourbon lovers, with buttery notes of caramel and vanilla that pop with each sip. The main grain here is corn, and it is distilled in its namesake still. List price: $70.

Coffey Malt

Nikka’s Coffey Malt is made from 100 percent malted barley, but it is categorized as a grain whisky because it’s distilled using a Coffey instead of pot still. There’s a bit of spice here, along with some vibrant citrus and a whisper of smoke. List price: $75.


Another Japanese whisky that no longer has an age statement, this Nikka single malt comes from its namesake distillery, with a bold but not overpowering level of peat and pleasant dried fruit and spice notes. The brand’s tasting notes mention a bit of brine on the palate based on the warehouses’ seaside location, but our tasters didn’t pick that up. List price: $80.


This NAS single malt hails from Nikka’s other more modern facility, built in 1969 in the mountains. There is a bit of peated malt used in production and the usual mix of sherry, bourbon, and other types of casks are employed for maturation, resulting in a complex and tasty whisky. List price: $80.

Yamazaki 12

Once upon a time, this was the entry point for those who decided to explore the Japanese whisky category. But those days are mostly gone, as Suntory’s age statement whiskies have disappeared and skyrocketed in price. This excellent whisky is aged in a variety of casks, including Mizunara oak from Japan, and there are notes of tropical fruit and dry spice on the palate. List price: $85.

Hakushu 12

Hakushu is Yamazaki’s sister distillery in the Japanese Alps. A bit of smoke from the use of peated barley drifts through this whisky, along with crisp apple and pear notes. In 2018, there were reports that Suntory will be temporarily discontinuing Hakushu 12 in certain markets, but limited quantities are still available here in the U.S. Average price: $85.

Under $200

Akashi Single Malt

The White Oak distillery where Akashi is located dates to the early 20th century, but the facility was focused on shochu and sake, so whisky production did not begin in earnest until the 1980s. This single malt is a blend of whisky aged between four and seven years in a combination of sherry, bourbon, brandy, and ex-shochu barrels. List price: $110.

Hibiki 17

An incredibly elegant blend of grain and malt whisky aged for 17 years, this spirit has a syrupy mouthfeel and long, deep notes of brown sugar, chocolate, and cherry on the palate. Suntory has reportedly discontinued it in most markets, leaving Japanese whisky fans aghast (limited quantities are still available). List price: $150.

Under $300

Hakushu 18

Arguably the finest expression of this Suntory brand, the 18-year-old Hakushu combines the subtle smoke, crispness, and fruity notes of its 12-year-old and transforms them into a more rounded, mature whisky. List price: $250.

Yamazaki 18

Yamazaki’s 18-year-old expression also brings more mature flavors, but with an entirely different outcome. The color is dark amber, and the palate has notes of berries, raisins, and apricots. This is due to the large proportion of sherry casks used during the maturation process. List price: $250.

Hibiki 21

Hibiki 21 is a unicorn bottle, extremely hard to find and exorbitantly expensive when you do. But it’s also delicious, with rich sherry notes and a touch of smoke in the background. It’s nearly a quarter-century old but evades common pitfalls of overaging, like excessive oak or tannins. Instead, Hibiki 21 proves that an extra few years can have remarkable results when done carefully and selectively. List price: $250.

Japanese Whiskey Comes to America

Asked to list Japan’s best exports, most people wouldn’t name whiskey. But after 90 years of dedication to the craft, Japanese distillers are finally being recognized for their top-notch hooch – whiskeys that can be elegant, fruity, and floral yet powerfully spicy and smoky all at once. At last March’s World Whiskies Awards in London, famed distiller Suntory (see Bill Murray-in-Japan flick ‘Lost in Translation‘) took the title of best blended whiskey for its Hibiki 21 the year before, Japanese brands were named best blended malt and best single malt. Sales are spiking, too: In 2010, Suntory exported 5,000 cases to the U.S. this year, they’ll ship 12,000. Japan’s other main producer, Nikka, has brought two styles stateside to compete. Angus McShane of Los Angeles whiskey bar Seven Grand says his customers can’t get enough of the stuff – literally. “We did a cocktail with Yamazaki 12 that became so popular we had to take it off the menu because we couldn’t get enough product,” he says. “That was two years ago, and we still get people asking for it.” Because Japanese whiskeys are made in the Scotch tradition (malted barley, aged in oak), they were long seen as mere imitations of their U.K. counterparts. But there are differences. Suntory’s and Nikka’s distilleries dot the lush, mountainous islands of Honshu and Hokkaido, whose pure water, naturally filtered through granite, gives their whiskeys a soft, smooth quality. Some are also aged in Japanese oak, which imparts rich, fruity flavor. Perhaps most significant, Japanese distilleries do not share their malts and blends, unlike in Scotland, where producers buy whiskey from makers all over the country to create their booze. It’s part of the reason Japanese whiskeys are often in short supply, and why they’re so reliably good. “If they’re not able to produce a certain amount, they don’t say, ‘Let’s just get something from a different area,’ “says McShane. “They simply won’t sacrifice their product. Because of it, they’ve been able to really fine-tune their own whiskeys and turn out something remarkably consistent.”

Though Japanese whiskeys range widely in flavor and body, from the light to the more bold, they are all very well balanced, a characteristic McShane says makes them great for new whiskey drinkers. “They’re very approachable,” he says. “I give the Yamazaki 12 as a gift for that reason.” As for his personal favorite, McShane says it’s impossible to choose: “Every time I’ve been introduced to a new Japanese whiskey, I’ve been even more impressed. So I’d say my favorite is the one I have yet to try.”

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5 Essential Japanese Whiskies We Can’t Stop Drinking

Matt Taylor-Gross

In the five years since critic Jim Murray shocked the whisky-drinking population by proclaiming single malt from Yamazaki distillery as the best in the world, demand for Japanese whisky has spiked. But even without that honor, drinkers have been seeking out the smooth-sipping style for its diversity and level of innovation.

If you’re not familiar with Japanese whisky, here’s what you need to know: Compared to the strict requirements imposed to make Scotch whisky and America’s bourbon Japanese whisky has one basic rule: it’s whiskey that’s made in Japan. It’s also some of the best whisky around. The flavors often resemble Scotch, which makes sense considering that most Japan’s top whisky-makers began their careers by traveling to Scotland to learn production techniques. Yet, one sip and it’s easy to see that the distinctly silky texture is what sets Japanese whisky apart.

Just a few short years ago, most Japanese whiskies available in the U.S. carried an age statement, such as Hibiki 12-year-old. Yet, the roaring demand from the West and rapidly depleting supply in Japan—it takes 12 years to replenish a 12-year-old bottling, after all—forced Japan producers to hustle out non-age-statement blends, such as Suntory’s Toki or Hibiki’s Japanese Harmony bottlings.

“There’s a bit of a perfect storm in Japanese whisky right now,” explains Flavien Desoblin, proprietor of New York whiskey bar Copper & Oak, which has a robust list of Japanese whiskies, including many now hard-to-get bottles. Those coveted bottles, including from smaller cult producers like Chichibu, are “part of the buzz.” But it’s not just about wanting what you can’t have, he adds, it’s also about quality: “People know that the Japanese are serious drinks makers, and that matters.”

Part of the allure is that whatever your preferred style is, you’re likely to find something you enjoy coming from Japan. Pour a couple of whiskies side by side, and it’s easy to see how widely they can range, from brooding, intensely peated numbers that rival Islay’s smokiest Scotches to light-as-a-feather styles that showcase fruity, floral, or even confectionary vanilla-and-spice notes.

Even producers from elsewhere are trying to emulate Japan’s style. For example, in 2015, Scotland’s Bowmore released an limited-edition Scotch that had been aged for three years in casks made from Japan’s Mizunara oak, which is used to age some Japanese whiskies. In Washington state, Bainbridge Distillers is aging its craft whiskey in Mizunara barrels, while California’s St. George Distillery released a limited-edition American whiskey finished in used umeshu (Japanese plum wine) casks—named Baller Whiskey, to recommend its use for mixing into a Japanese-style whiskey highball.

Whether you’re planning to sip it neat or mix a few highballs for friends, here are five bottles to guide you on your journey to enjoy Japanese whisky.

Akashi White Oak ($50)

The small, family-run producer behind this whisky, Eigashima Shuzo, was founded in 1888, making it the oldest whisky distillery in Japan. While it’s not the most nuanced whisky you’ll find, it still has that texture like drinking silk and nicely balances oak, fruit and spice, at an affordable price point. The distillery also makes sake and shochu.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony ($65)

Suntory rolled out this blended, non-age-statement whisky right about the time that the Hibiki 12 Year Old became difficult to find it’s not a coincidence that if you taste the two side by side, the flavor is very similar, with light maple and custardy vanilla winding into mild smoke, dark chocolate and spice.

Miyagikyo Single Malt ($80)

Introduced in 2016 from Nikka, this whisky is made near Sendai City in the northern part of main island, Honshu, a remote, verdant area with mountains and rivers nearby. This bottling is noted for its sherry cask influence look for a core of fruit—apple, honey, hints of stone fruit—wrapped in a gentle swirl of peat smoke. Another recommended Nikka bottling: the nutty, super-smooth Nikka Coffey Grain.

Ichiro’s Malt and Grain ($100)

Everyone loves Ichiro Akuto, the personable owner of Chichibu Distillery. He comes from a whisky-making family—his father owned Hanyu Distillery, which closed around 2000 Ichiro opened Chichibu in 2008. He’s developed a reputation for experimentation: this is what he calls a “world whisky,” meaning in addition to Japanese whisky, it also blends in whiskies from the U.S., Canada, Scotland and Ireland. Is it still considered “Japanese whisky?” Probably not let’s call it “Japanese adjacent.” But it’s a smooth, elegant sipper, with sweet vanilla and coconut cream drifting into a gentle finish marked by baking spice and a puff of smoke.

The Yamazaki Single Malt 12 Years Old ($100)

While the Yamazaki 18-year-old is spectacular, a supply shortage has made it nearly impossible to get. But the 12-year version is also excellent, and available if you know where to look (pro tip: try bars rather than liquor stores, Desoblin advises they often get allocations first). For those who love peaty Scotches, give this a pour. Smoke leads the nose and palate on this bottling, plus luscious dark honey and tropical fruit peeking through.

A Bartender's Perspective

We asked Danny Connock, a manager at Easey's in Melbourne, for some whiskey recommendations. Danny's advice for bartenders – it's important to know what you sell but it's just as important to know what whiskeys you like to drink so you can give customers good recommendations beyond what's on the shelf in your venue.

Favorite Scotch: The Glenlivet 12 Year Old
Favorite Rye: WhistlePig, The Boss Hog
Favorite Bourbon: Maker's Mark 46
Recommendation For a Whiskey Novice: Talisker 10 Year Old
Best Whiskey-Based Cocktail: Sazerac
Best Whiskey-Based Cocktail For a Novice: Old Fashioned

Now that you’re armed with all this knowledge, you deserve to treat yourself to a drop of the water of life . Cheers!

If you would like to see how things get done at Willett Distillery in Kentucky, watch our latest mentor session with master distiller Drew Kulsveen. Drew's family has been making bourbon whiskey for 150 years!

The Father of Japanese Whisky

It's appropriate that Japan's first internationally award-winning single malt whisky came from the Nikka distillery. The history of the distillery has deep roots in Scotland's whisky heritage. Its founder, Masataka Taketsuru, travelled to Scotland in 1918 to learn the process of distilling malt whisky. Taketsuru studied Organic Chemistry at The University of Glasgow before undertaking apprenticeships at whisky distilleries around Scotland.

Taketsuru became the first Japanese person to study the art of whisky making, and learned first-hand from whisky makers. He also received training as a whisky blender and later became credited as a Master Blender.

Though he came searching for the secrets of whisky, Taketsuru also found love during his time in Scotland. In January of 1920 he married Jessie 'Rita' Roberta Cowan from Kirkintilloch, just outside Glasgow. He returned to Japan in late 1920 with his new wife and armed with the knowledge gained during his time in Scotland.

Back in Japan he was employed as a 'distillery executive' at drinks company Kotobukiya (later known as Suntory) and from this position played a key part in establishing the Yamazaki distillery in 1924. The Yamazaki distillery (also a winner of World's Best Single Malt Whisky, in 2011) was the country's first whisky distillery and Taketsuru's role in its creation rightly earned him the title of 'The father of Japanese whisky'.

Taketsuru's vision of whisky was moulded by his experiences in Scotland, believing that the right setting was essential to whisky distillation. As time went on, he began to understand that in order to produce whisky more in line with the Scottish traditions, he would have to strike out on his own.

This he did in 1934, founding the Nikka distillery and setting up shop in Yoichi, Hokkaido. The town was rather inconveniently located, but Taketsuru firmly believed that it was the ideal site for making whisky. It may have helped that Yoichi was similar in many ways of Glasgow, the town in Scotland where he had studied.

The Silent Period

Brian Ashcraft, the author of “Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Desirable Spirit,” traces the shortage back to the 1980s, when new liquor tax laws and an uptick in shochu consumption in Japan all but crippled the country’s thriving whisky business. At that time, he says, international sales were more or less nonexistent. “When Hibiki appeared in 2003, Japanese whisky wasn’t yet on the world radar,” says Ashcraft. “It was just some product Bill Murray’s character was doing ads for [in the movie “Lost in Translation”]. It wasn’t the global sensation that it is today.”

The mid-1980s kicked off what some in the industry refer to as the “silent period” of Japanese whisky, three-plus decades of year-over-year decline, punctuated by halts in production, plant closures and brand sell-offs. “Many employees were encouraged to take early retirement packages, and some were sent to other companies,” says Emiko Kaji, who manages international business development for Nikka.

A low point came in 2011, when the legendary Karuizawa distillery—once the second largest in Japan behind Suntory—shuttered after more than 50 years in operation. “The Karuizawa name was so strong that, even as the whisky business was hitting historic lows, shutting it down showed a tremendous lack of foresight and imagination,” says Ashcraft. (In a feel-good twist, some 300 casks were rescued from the distillery. Today, they are among the rarest and most expensive bottles of whisky sold at auction, commanding tens of thousands of dollars each.)

Even during the spirit’s darkest days, Japanese whisky had its champions. Suntory’s global brand ambassador, Mike Miyamoto, has worked for the company since 1978, formerly managing both its Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries. “At a certain point, the decision was made to reduce production,” he says. “I was afraid of the impact this would have on long-term supply and felt strongly that our whisky would be enjoyed by a larger global audience in the future.”

Miyamoto says the decision led to an emotionally difficult period in his career, when many distillery workers, colleagues and friends of his lost their jobs. But he says he did what he could and worked hard to focus the rest of his team on the future. “It’s hard to say where we would be had we made more whisky in the early 2000s,” he says. “I like to think we’ve learned from the past.”

The Difference Between American, Scottish, and Japanese Whiskey

Don’t feel bad if you occasionally get confused about different types of whiskey, because it can be very਌onfusing, says The Whisky Cabinet author Mark Bylok. That’s why you need to bookmark this cheat sheet, which illustrates the main differences between how whiskey is made in America, Canada, Ireland, Scotland, and Japan. And, crucially, how it’s spelled in each place.

“Whiskey is a general term used to describe a spirit that’s made from a distilled grain that’s been matured in oak,” Bylok writes. “Whether you’re drinking bourbon, rye, Canadian rye, Irish whiskey or scotch, you’re drinking whiskey.” Here’s a reminder of how it’s made.

Different countries tend to use different grainsꂺsed on what’s naturally available, which greatly affects the flavor profile. For instance, corn makes for a sweeter liquor, rye gives off spicy notes, and barley (which is used in Single Malt Scotch) results in a relatively light drink.

The type of barrel the liquor is aged in will also affect the taste—new oak gives offਊ strong, vanilla-tingedਏlavor whereas re-using a barrel results inਊ more muted�t. In the U.S. where oak is plentiful, new oak barrels are most common.

In Scotland, the cold climate resulted in the development of a very different distilling tradition, says Bylok. “With the harsh winds, trees don’t grow in abundance. So, with oak being a rare local resource, Scotland re-used whiskey barrels from the U.S. and sherry barrels from Spain.” That’s why Scottish whisky, or Scotch, is generally lighter and subtler than American hooch.

The scarcity of wood also meant that distillers used peat𠅊 type of decayed vegetation that’s abundant in Scotland𠅊s a fuel source when they were drying barley to make whisky. Peat is the source of that smokiness that’sਊ hallmark of Scotch.

Japanese Whisky: 5 Things You Need to Know

Whether it’s cars, computers, or culinary arts, the Japanese just seem to know how to refine everything down to the smallest detail. But who would have thought that fine whisky would be one of them? A longtime distilling tradition typically synonymous with the British Isles and America, the transplanted art of whisky distillation has blossomed in Japan and exploded onto the international market. Here are five things you need to know about the increasingly popular Japanese whisky.

1) It’s whisky, not whiskey.

Japanese whisky is modeled after the scotch tradition—double distilling malted and/or peated barley—before it’s aged in wood barrels. As opposed to the sweeter American bourbons and ryes, they tend to be drier, smokier, and peatier, and come as single malts or blends.

The Proper Spelling of “Whisky” (Or Is It “Whiskey”?)

2) They use Scotch ingredients.

Most of the major distilleries in Japan actually import most of their ingredients from Scotland, using malted and sometimes even peated barley from the Isles. The individuality in taste comes from the minute details in the Japanese distilling process—the water source (the “mythical” water that Yamazaki Distillery uses comes from mountains near Tokyo), the shape of the distilling stills, and the type of wood the aging barrels are made of. Some distillers use imported bourbon barrels, but others make theirs out of mizunara, a tree only found in Japan that adds its own distinct flavor.

3) Japanese distillers aim for refinement, not consistency.

When stacked up against each other, even the experts would be hard pressed to tell the difference between scotch and Japanese whisky in a quality blind taste test. Mostly, they diverge philosophically. Scotch is made to taste like it has always tasted for centuries—Scottish distillers focus on consistency and pack in a more smoky flavor. Japanese distillers, on the other hand, look to constantly refine and perfect, leaning toward more delicate-tasting whiskies. “Japanese whiskies show a lot of restraint, a lot of elegance, a lot of technical attention to detail” says Jim Meehan, manager of PDT and mixology expert.

4) It’s a rising star.

More and more Japanese whiskies are edging out the West’s dominance on the big stage. In 2012, the Yamazaki 25 Year won the world’s best single malt at the World Whisky Awards. The Taketsuru 17 Year also won for the world’s best blended malt. “It’s actually become a bit of a coup,” Meehan says. “The Japanese are winning.”

5) It’s (unfortunately) hard to get.

Although it’s becoming increasingly popular, supply in the United States is still limited. While there are quite a few distilleries in Japan, only whiskies made by Suntory and Nikka seem to be readily available in the United States. Suntory’s Hibiki 12 year and Hakashu 12 year, Nikka’s Taketsuru 12 year, and the Yamazaki 12 year are great places to start if you’re looking to get into the world of Japanese whisky, with most of the 12 years going for around $60-$70. The best place to find them is most likely online. Check out online liquor suppliers like Flaviar and Astor Wines and Spirits.

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