Trying new spirits can be stressful, especially if the flavors are completely unfamiliar to your palate. If you’re new to drinking Japanese whisky, which is very different from other whiskies you may have tried, the best way to introduce yourself to the spirit is by finding a whisky that tastes like something you already love to drink. From Japanese whiskies that remind us of bourbon to whiskies that taste like a white wine, here are the best Japanese whiskies to try, according to your favorite drink.
Rich with notes of chocolate, toffee, marzipan, vanilla and orange peel, this blended whisky will satisfy any bourbon drinker. Made with whiskies from each of Suntory’s different distilleries—including the Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita distilleries—Hibiki Harmony is one of the company’s brawniest spirits that is still affordable and easy to find. Especially appealing to whiskey drinkers that like their spirit neat, this Japanese bottling is one of the few that actually suffers from ice or dilution.
Produced by one of the oldest distilleries (and sake breweries) in Japan, this underappreciated whisky is a blend of malt and grain whiskies. Light, herbaceous and slightly savory, with a beautiful honey-drenched maltiness, Akashi White Oak is an incredibly versatile, drinkable whisky—and a must for fans of the Bondian staple. If you’re down to get a little weird, we dare you to serve it with a splash of water and a buttery Castelvetrano olive.
Comprised of mostly corn in the mash bill (it wouldn’t be Japanese without malt in the mix, though), this entry-level whisky from Iwai is aged entirely in ex-bourbon casks after distillation. On the palate, the spirit is peppery and vanilla heavy, with flavors of buttered popcorn, apricots, ginger and honey. If you enjoy a Manhattan’s piquant rye notes, smooth velvety viscosity, and dark rich flavor, this whisky is your new go-to. Best of all, there’s no mixing required to enjoy it.
Essentially a whisky liqueur, Akashi Ume Flavored Whisky is made with the brand’s White Oak whisky that is slightly sweetened and infused with ume, or yellow Japanese plums. A twist on Umeshu—a Japanese plum liqueur made with either sake or shochu at the base—this unique spirit is fruity, honeyed and savory all at once. Even though it is less bitter than Aperol, it’s just as bold of an ingredient. This flavored whisky is exceptional mixed with Champagne, sparkling wine or seltzer as a spritzy aperitif.
If You Drink Beer: Suntory Toki ($42)
Suntory Toki packs everything great about Japanese whisky into one bottle. Not only is it designed to be versatile in cocktails, but it’s also affordable, approachable and downright crushable. With flavors of grapefruit, breakfast cereal and custard, this Japanese blended whisky definitely makes for easy drinking. But, when made into a Japanese Highball, it’s just as effervescent and refreshing as any Pilsner on a 100-degree summer day.
Sauvignon Blanc fans, listen up: this Japanese whisky has all those bright tropical fruit and pineapple notes that you love. Made exclusively on the brand’s vintage 1960s Blairs Coffey Still, Nikka’s Coffey Malt was only released as a limited, single cask series until 2014. A beast of a whisky in the glass, this single malt is complex and layered with notes of pepper, cornbread and butterscotch pudding—and lots and lots of fruit.