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12 Japanese Whisky Brands Worth Splurging On

Japanese whisky is known for its high standards. Here's a closer look at the top labels, all rich in history and flavor.

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Suntory Whisky Toki

ABV: 43%

Sourcing international spirits can be tricky, unless you’re looking for Suntory Whisky Toki. Suntory is the oldest whisky house in Japan, and this light whisky can easily be sipped solo to enjoy its refreshing notes of basil, peppermint and grapefruit, with a gentle smoky finish. See how Japanese whisky compares to other types of whiskey.

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Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky

ABV: 45%

This whisky is made in a Coffey still, an especially efficient type of still imported from Scotland, which helps retain the mild, silky notes of the corn from which it’s made. Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky has an ABV of 45% and toffee notes complemented with the delicate hint of berries. Continue to refine your liquor cabinet with our Irish whiskey brand suggestions.

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Iwai Traditionvia

Iwai Tradition

ABV: 40%

Made with a mix of bourbon, sherry and wine casks, this whisky has a balanced flavor with notes of cherry, vanilla and smoke. Though the whisky’s distillery has the highest elevation of any other in Japan, Iwai Tradition is relatively easy to find in premium US liquor stores. By the way, this is the difference between “whisky” and “whiskey”.

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Yamazaki 12 Years Old

ABV: 43%

The leading single malt Japanese whisky, this delicate Yamazaki 12-year is a cult-favorite worth tracking down. It blends spices like clove with citrus and stone fruit for a long finish punctuated by cinnamon and ginger. This bottle made our list of the world’s best whiskey, too.

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Akashi White Oak Single Malt

ABV: 46%

From a distillery making liquor since 1919, Akashi Japanese whisky is a classic, created facing the Seto Inland Sea. Some say the salt from the water can be faintly tasted along with the notes of toffee and cherries. Its average price tag of $130 or more makes it an extra-special gift for the whisky-lover in your life. If that’s too pricy, take a look at these gifts for the home bartender.

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Kaiyo Mizunara Oak Whiskyvia

Kaiyo Mizunara Oak Whisky

ABV: 43%

This Kaiyo Japanese whisky’s notes of dried fruit and vanilla come from the spirit’s use of Japanese mizunara oak casks, which are some of the most expensive in the world. Its smooth finish will last long after your last sip. Fill up your bar cart with this year’s most popular whiskey brands.

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Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 Years Old

ABV: 43%

The middle child between the signature Pure Malt and the 21-year whisky, the Taketsuru 17-year is mellow but not mild. It has an intense malt and a big finish. It’s been discontinued, though you can still find bottles available for purchase.

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Suntory Hibiki 21 Years Old

ABV: 43%

Japanese whisky is expensive because it’s good—and because it’s good, it can be hard to find. But if you can find a bottle, it’s worth the price and time. Ranked the best whisky in the world, the Hibiki 21-year is an elegant medley of fruit with a dash of smoke and spice for complexity. Learn how to drink Japanese whisky neat.

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Ohishi Whisky Brandy Caskvia

Ohishi Brandy Cask

ABV: 41.6%

Made with malted and unmalted rice, Ohishi whisky is aged for an undisclosed amount of time in former brandy casks. The resulting spirit is a light and fruity with a smooth, nutty finish. If you’re new to whisky, learn how to drink it straight the right way.

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Hakushu 12 Years Old

ABV: 43%

With this bottle, Japanese distillers are aiming to dethrone Scotland as the leading whisky maker. The distillery, nestled in the mountains, could easily fit in next to Edinburgh, but Hakushu 12-year evokes the crisp, woody notes of the Akaishi Mountains in Japan.

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Togouchi Whisky 8 Years

ABV: 40%

Togouchi whisky has international origins. The whisky is imported from Scotland, but the maturation and blending process is performed in Japan in an abandoned railway tunnel. Its clear citrus notes conjure the world above, with minerality blended with vanilla and chocolate.

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Suntory Kakubin

ABV: 40%

Kakubin has been a beloved whisky in Japan for over 80 years, known as much for its honeyed  flavor as its iconic square bottle. With notes of caramel, vanilla and spice, it’s easy to drink and can work in a variety of cocktails. Find a whisky cocktail to craft at home.

Kim Bussing
Kim Bussing is a writer and editor living in Los Angeles. She has written for publications including Reader’s Digest, Modern Farmer, Clean Plates and Vice, among others, and she is working on her first novel. She is always on the hunt for the perfect gluten-free cinnamon roll.