When we hear the term whiskey, most minds jump to the UK, the US, or Canada. Enter Japanese whisky, a rapidly growing industry hot on the tails of even its most famous peers, including scotch and bourbon.
Like other whiskies, Japanese whisky comes in dozens of varieties, making it difficult to know where to start. Read below for our tips on how to enjoy Japanese whisky.
Japanese whisky was created in the early 1920s after one man’s pivotal trip to Scotland. Masataka Taketsuru, a Japanese national, traveled to Scotland in pursuit of organic chemistry studies. While there, he instead discovered a passion for scotch whisky that prompted him to create his own product. Thus, Japanese whisky was born.
Following the scotch tradition, Japanese whisky is made from malted barley and is often slightly peated, giving it a subtle smoky flavor similar to scotch. However, Japanese whiskies are known to be fruitier and mellower than their forebear scotch. While Japanese whisky is produced similarly to scotch, Japanese distillers have unique methods that give their whisky its distinct taste.
Although it’s often likened to scotch, Japanese whisky is somewhat of a different ball game in terms of ingredients and traditions.
Japanese whisky has an incredibly diverse store of flavors, so it’s hard to provide a single definition for its flavor profile.
Compared to American whiskeys like bourbon and rye, Japanese whisky tends to be drier, smokier, and more peated. Think of it as a nice middle ground between sweet and dry whiskies, perfect for sipping or adding to cocktails.
Many Japanese whiskies have fruit as their leading flavor. Bright flavors like citrus, peach, apricot, and melon are typical of Japanese whiskies, as are bolder, darker fruit flavors like berries and dried fruit.
While some Japanese whiskies make use of traditional flavors like caramel and vanilla, Japanese whisky is known to push the envelope. Some Japanese whiskies incorporate unconventional flavors like basil, green apple, mint, and kiwi.
As with their flavor profiles, Japanese whiskies are incredibly varied in their production methods. Like scotch, there’s no single type of Japanese whisky. Every Japanese whisky company has its own style and creates an assortment of spirits that will please a wide variety of palates.
Japanese whisky distilleries typically produce dozens of malts they can blend into different variations, creating whiskies with flavors ranging from rich, smoky, and robust to creamy and sweet.
One important thing to note is that Japanese whisky is not restricted to one type of grain. While Japanese whiskies rely heavily on malted barley, some can be made from other grains, like corn.
Like scotch, Japanese whisky is aged in wooden barrels, including American oak, Sherry casks, and Japanese Mizunara oak. Mizunara oak is found only in Japanese forests, offering a flavor quality unique to Japanese whiskies.
The distilling process is also uniquely Japanese. Japanese whisky distilleries are known to be very specific about where they source their water from, with some using only water from mountain regions of Tokyo.
How you indulge in Japanese whisky is ultimately up to you. But if you’re just getting started, we can point you in the right direction.
Drinking any whisky neat or on the rocks is the best way to experience its complete flavor profile. We recommend trying your Japanese whisky neat at least once, so you can experience the complexities and nuances of the whisky.
Neat whisky is best served in a lowball glass, also known as a rocks glass or tumbler, at room temperature. Whisky on the rocks is also a popular choice around the world. But remember that ice will dilute your whisky while you drink it, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing if that’s your preference. If you prefer a bit more smoothness, but full flavor, you can chill your glass and the whisky beforehand instead.
Naturally, Japanese whisky pairs incredibly well with Japanese food. However, it’s often paired with a variety of diverse foods, including camembert cheese, chocolate, seafood, and steak.
When pairing your Japanese whisky with a meal, consider the flavor profiles of both. A hearty, earthy dish like a stew or a steak will pair nicely with a smokier whisky, while a lighter, sweeter whisky is an excellent option for seafood dishes.
Like other whiskies, Japanese whisky is commonly served in a lowball glass. The glass’s wide base makes it ideal for mixing and muddling ingredients. It’s also conducive to cocktails like the old-fashioned, which is typically served over a large ice cube.
Highball glasses are an excellent choice for mixed drinks like whisky and soda. They offer more room for additional ingredients, as well as more space for ice to help keep your drink cold.
Japanese whisky has endless uses and is not limited to only these two glasses. Mixologists often serve Japanese whiskey cocktails in martini glasses or coupe glasses for an added flair.