Generic whisky shot
Photo: Olavs Silis/Dreamstime

6 best Japanese whiskies you can still buy

Yamazaki, Nikka and Ichiro’s may be hard to find, but there’s still great Japanese whisky out there at affordable prices

Kit Kriewaldt
Written by
Kit Kriewaldt
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Japanese whisky has cemented itself as one of the world's best alongside Scotch, scooping up some of the most prestigious international awards. Unfortunately, now might not seem like the best time to get into Japanese whisky.

Big brands are discontinuing major labels and distilleries are scrambling to meet demand with expensive new bottles or hard-to-find limited releases. But if you’re looking for a good drink rather than an investment, there’s still plenty of great – and affordable – Japanese whisky out there.

Aged single malt may be in short supply, but luckily Japan makes some of the best blended whisky in the world. Plus, more beer and sake brewers are getting into distillation, so quirky and experimental drams are only becoming more common.

Here are some of our current favourites, from powerhouses like Suntory and Nikka to new releases from up-and-coming producers. Best of all, they meet the official definition for Japanese whisky and they're all under ¥10,000.

RECOMMENDED: Check out Tokyo's best urban breweries, wineries and distilleries

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Mars Iwai Tradition
Photo: Adrian Andrews

Mars Iwai Tradition

This whisky from chilly Nagano prefecture is made in the highest distillery in Japan. The sharp temperature changes and humidity in the mountains mean Mars whisky matures at a different rate, giving it a sweeter, deeper flavour profile.

Most Mars bottles are hard to find these days, but this premium blend is readily available and makes an excellent mixer. The standard bottle is typically around ¥3,000, while the spicier wine cask finish version is about ¥5,000.

Fuji Sanroku Signature Blend
Photo: Kirin

Fuji Sanroku Signature Blend

A lot of whisky fans outside Japan don’t realise that Kirin – most famous for its Kirin Ichiban first-press beer – is also in the business of making whisky. This premium blend is distilled at the company’s Fuji Gotemba Distillery, at the southeastern foot of Mt Fuji. At a potent 50 percent ABV, it’s certainly a sipper, but it also makes a mean old fashioned. Bottles sell for about ¥5,000 in Japan.

Pro tip: although Kirin has discontinued Signature Blend’s cheaper sibling, Fuji Sanroku Tarujuku 50° (look for the white label), bottles are still available, typically costing less than Signature Blend but with a similar flavour, so keep your eyes peeled.

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Single Malt Akashi
Photo: White Oak Distillery

Single Malt Akashi

An underrated single malt that’s surprisingly easy to find, this one comes from White Oak distillery in Hyogo prefecture. The distillery has been flying under the radar, even in Japan, but bottles like this are sure to put White Oak on the map. This is a smooth, light whisky with vanilla and caramel notes that’s a great after-dinner dram. Plus, it’s a bargain at about ¥4,000 a bottle.

Kiuchi Whisky
Photo: Kit Kriewaldt

Kiuchi Whisky

Produced by the brewery behind popular craft beer Hitachino Nest, this is one drop you’ll have to try direct from the distillery. Currently, Kiuchi Whisky is only sold at the company’s Hitachino Brewing pubs in Tokyo and Mito, Ibaraki prefecture. You can’t buy a bottle, but you can try a glass starting at ¥750, or get a full tasting flight (¥1,280) at the new Hitachino Brewing Tokyo Distillery inside Seekbase at Akihabara. If you can’t make it to the venues, keep an eye out for canned Hitachino Highballs in shops and konbini.

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Nikka Yoichi Single Malt
Photo: fb.com/nikkalife

Nikka Yoichi Single Malt

Sure, Nikka discontinued all its Yoichi bottles with age statements back in 2015, but age is just a number after all. What really matters is the flavour, and the no age statement version of Yoichi has plenty of that. Nikka whisky is best known for its rich smokiness, but this one tones down the peat in favour of nuttier flavours. In Japan, bottles sell for around ¥6,000.

Hibiki Japanese Harmony
Photo: Suntory

Hibiki Japanese Harmony

Suntory’s single malts are disappearing fast, but world-beating blends like this one have been largely overlooked by collectors – good news for anyone who prefers to drink their whisky rather than cellar it. Often found on the shelves of Tokyo bars, Hibiki Japanese Harmony is the perfect answer to anyone who tells you blended whisky isn’t fancy. It’s rich and fruity with a smooth finish, and bottles usually retail for about ¥9,000.

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