But first... what is Japanese whisky?
That’s... complicated; unlike bourbon or Scotch, which have regulations for classification, Japanese whisky has none, and includes a variety of different styles. But, in short, Japanese whisky is heavily influenced by Scotch, as the original distiller, Masataka Taketsuru, studied the craft in Scotland, and the malt for Japanese whiskies are often brought in from Scotland. It maintains similar traits, particularly the preference to blend varieties for singular tastes, though it’s often lighter, with subtler tones.
Most of the varieties you see in the US are made by distilleries run by Suntory and Nikka, though there are new challengers to the throne. Regardless of origin, it’s often sipped in highball form, with a bit of ice and sparkling water (unlike Scotch’s preferred pairing of a few drops of water, or Tennessee whiskey’s pairing with some fuckin’ Hank Jr.). This mellows it even more and allows a longer time to explore the nuances of the spirit. It’s so popular, in fact, that canned highballs are popular in Japan... and Japanese-style highballs are showing up on in-the-know cocktail menus across the US.
Got it? Good. Time to drink. For a look at the best Japanese whiskies on the market, we consulted a panel of experts, including Tasting Whiskey author Lew Bryson; Tommy Klus of Portland, OR’s storied Multnomah Whiskey Library; Bex Karnofski of Portland, OR’s La Moule; Johnnie “The Scot” Mundell of Beam-Suntory; and Brandyn Tepper of LA’s Cocktail Academy. These folks know a thing or two about whisky, so you’re in good hands. Kanpai!