Affordable Japanese Whiskies

Japanese whisky production started in the 1920s but spent most of it’s time in relative obscurity until 2003 when the Yamazaki 12 Years took gold at the International Spirits Challenge. then in by 2015 Japan displaced Scotland for the first time in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. Since then Japanese whisky prices have been surging upwards and out of the price ranges of ordinary drinkers. Happily there are still a few bottles for us mere mortals:

Hibiki Harmony

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4 out of 5

105 reviews

Hibiki Harmony is a no age statement blended whisky introduced to replace the now far harder to find Hibiki 12. The good news is that it's remarkable close to the original, in blind tastings the Harmony has comes out on top on more than a few occasions and many drinkers unable to even tell the difference. Having tried both we can highly recommend adding the Harmony to your collection. Hibiki means echo in Japanese, the release being called Harmony is rather apt this consists of a blend of pure malt whiskies from the Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries with grain whisky from Chita all maturing in different types of casks, including the rare Mizurana (Japanese oak), to achieve the quintessence of Suntory Whiskey's art. Its iconic bottle is immediately recognizable with its 24 sies referring to both the 24 hours of a day and in the seasons of the secular Japanese lunar calendar.

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£62

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Nikka From the Barrel

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4.4 out of 5

184 reviews

When you want to learn about Japanese whiskey and you want to discover its subtleties, it's a safe bet that fans of whiskeys around us recommend the Nikka from The Barrel: "You'll see, it's easy to to drink despite its 51.4% vol and moreover it is an excellent quality / price ratio. " It must be said that its taste is very representative of the Japanese style but it is also the most sold Japanese whiskey in the world!

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£36.99

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Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky

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4.5 out of 5

28 reviews

The Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky is a traditional grain whisky with a twist, using the very earliest version of Aeneas Coffey's column still the spirit that comes out is lighter and sweeter than would emerge from a pot still but at a lower proof and with far more grain flavour than provided by a modern grain still. The result is somewhere between a Scottish Lowland single malt and a Bourbon, full of flavour, very easy to drink even at 45% ABV. The Coffey grain is also the heart of Nikka from the Barrel, the best selling Japanese whisky in the world

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£53.9

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Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky

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3.9 out of 5

61 reviews

Ok so this one is a bit of a head twister, it’s a grain whisky but made using malted barley! Nikka (Miyagikyo) distillery in Japan have created a grain whisky are using the same malted barley we would expect to enjoy as a single malt. How? Rather than put their brew into a pot still they’ve instead opted for a continuous, or column still. Expect a lot more flavour however, this column still isn’t one of the modern jobs used to make vodka but rather a loving recreation of the earliest continuous still as invented (or stolen from Stein if you’re Scottish) by the Irish exciseman Aeneas Coffey

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£44.98

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Yamazakura 963 8 Year Old

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0 out of 5

0 reviews

This one is an 8 year old blended malt whisky, released as part of the 963 series of expressions created by Sasanokawa Shuzo, resoponsible for the Yamazakura expression. This entire range is well worth exploring if only because these aren't commonly seen outside of Japan. This one is made completely using malt whisky, and interestingly has been bottled at a rather punch 59% ABV. Whether it’s worth collecting a bottle may be debatable, but it’s definitely one worth drinking.

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£77.5

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The Kurayoshi Pure Malt Blended Malt Whisky

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4.5 out of 5

3 reviews

The Kurayoshi Pure Malt Blended Malt Whisky doesn't really belong in this list but sneaks it's way in due to a bizarre lack of legislation in Japan. As there is no legally protected definition of Japanese whisky this is actually a Scotch single malt whisky, matured for three years and then finished in sherry casks and bottled in Japan. There's no denying that this whisky is something of an abomination but surprisingly it works, it has a Balvenie-esque nose, a round chocolate-y palate with lots of orange and almond. We include this one in part because it's a legeslative anomally that will likely be resolved in the next few years

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£72.95

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Suntory Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve

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4.2 out of 5

134 reviews

The Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve was introduced as the lower priced alternative to the much awarded Yamazaki 12, while it lacks the depth of it's older brother this is still an exceptional whisky, mellow light and fruity it falls somewhere between a Lowland style single malt and a fruity Speysider. The light hints of coconut come from the use of the far more pourous Japanese oak (mizunara). This oak is far harder to work with and prone to leakage so barrels are crafted from 200 year old trees! Shinji Fukuyo, Suntory Master Blender describes this as his attempt to create maturity without using particularly old stock. We certainly think he's succeeded and the reviews seem to agree

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£58

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Suntory Hakushu Distiller’s Reserve

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4.6 out of 5

71 reviews

Suntory Hakushu Distiller's Reserve is the peated counterpart to the Yamazaki Distiller's Reserve, it's without a direct parallel in Scotland as the whisky has a distinctly Lowland style, yet this is a mix of both lightly and heavily peated single malts. The result is an affordable no-age-statement expression, that captures the smoky, herbaceous characteristics of the distillery for a complex and deeply enjoyable whisky. Unfortunately this is a weak imitation of the power and balance of the phenomental Hakushu 12 but as that bottle retails at between £170-£240 this is a great alternative

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£59.95

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Mars Maltage Cosmo

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5 out of 5

3 reviews

A stunning rebirth of what was feared a lost distillery. Cosmo is a bit of a cheat as it's a mix of whisky from the recently revived (2011) Shinshu distillery and select Scottish single malts, despite this blended approach we actually really liked this one and we're excited to see what Shinshu is able to do when they have enough mature stock to create a 100% Japanese offering. Until then think of this as Japans answer to Speyside, silky soft tobacco, orange juice, cornflakes and walnut oil, hints of pineapple and pastry. A frighteningly easy sipper too. What it lacks in complexity, it makes up for in balance and richness.

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£56.95

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Mars Komagatake Shinanotanpopo – Nature of Shinshu

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5 out of 5

1 reviews

Mars Shinshu may not be the largest whisky distillery in Japan, but it punches well above it's weight with its elegance and grace. Ex-bourbon, white oak and sherry casks make their influence known in this fantastic blend made by combining well-aged whisky with much younger whisky, all from the Japanese distillery, Mars Shinshu. Expect red fruits, fragrant flowers and soft spices cohering harmoniously. For the geeks in the room "Shinanotanpopo" means "dandelion flower"

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£125

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Japans astronomical whisky prices are the result of two factors, firstly due to their relative obscurity until the turn of the century the few active distilleries were laying down very little stock to mature, their domestic demand was fairly limited and their international sales were non-existant.

Then the accolades started pouring in, from the international spirits challenge to Jim Murray’s whisky bible and even whisky magazine driving up exports. This in turn earned the attention of Japan, domestic demand surged. A TV drama Massan was launched detailing the remarkable story of Masataka Taketsuru’s quest to found Japans whisky heritage, and his Scottish wife Jessie Roberta “Rita” Cowan who met while working at Longmorn distillery. The show created something of a madman effect on domestic sales.