News Trending Viral Worldwide

The Japanese Whiskies Bartenders Wish More People Knew About

When it comes to the world of booze, Japanese whisky is still a bit of a mystery to many whiskey drinkers. The lesser known of the whiskey elites, Japanese whisky is made in a style reminiscent of Scotch whisky. This is thanks to the similar climate and techniques, though, in general, Japanese whiskies are less peated and more delicate than Scotch whiskies.

“There are also 120 distilleries in Scotland as opposed to eight in Japan,” adds Wesley MacDonald, owner of Caña Bar and Kitchen in Curaçao. “Both make grain whiskies and malt whiskies, however in Japan one distillery makes a variety of styles of malt whiskies and in Scotland the style is connected to the distillery and location.”

Perhaps the main difference between Japanese whisky and Scotch whisky in 2020 is the fear of the unknown. If you’re the type of person who finds something they enjoy and sticks with it, it’s difficult to branch out and try something new. This is the case with many whiskey (or whisky) drinkers. They already enjoy their favorite bourbons, ryes, or Scotches. Why would they buy a bottle of potentially expensive Japanese whisky and risk ending up unhappy with the purchase?

Lucky for these folks, we have experts on call who are more than eager to help us figure out which Japanese whiskies to try. We asked some of our favorite bartenders tell us the Japanese whiskies they wish more people knew about. Check out their picks below.

Hakushu 18

Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami

Hakushu 18 from Suntory is one of my ultimate pours of Japanese single malt. The lovely earthy flavors coming from the terroir surrounding the distillery are so distinct while you sip it. I prefer it neat or with a large whisky cube.

Hibiki Harmony

Matt Shields, bartender at The Bay Restaurant in Santa Rosa Beach, Florida

Hibiki Harmony. Of course, it’s owned by Jim Beam (Beam Suntory), so I’m not sure if I can call it “lesser-known.” But I didn’t find that out until I tasted it and it stood out to me. I loved the light color and almost smoky after taste. I had to look it up and what do you know? It’s a Beam product (sort of). Go figure.


Blake Jones, bartender and director of beverage at The Kennedy in Pensacola, Florida

If I was picking a lesser known Japanese whisky, I’d say Kaiyo. They do some great stuff with barrel finishing and I’m a sucker for that. It’s a super smooth product that wouldn’t break the bank.

Ichiro’s Malt

Danielle Becker, bartender at the Aspen Meadows Resort in Aspen, Colorado

First off, let me start by saying that anything made by Ichiro Akuto is my favorite. He is a genius when it comes to creating something new in whisky (a hard thing to accomplish). He ages whisky in beer casks, works in limited release, and innovated the entire industry in Japan. He has an intuition regarding the spirit, he’s an artist!

I’m currently obsessed with Ichiro’s malt, malt & grain whisky. It is a blend of whiskey/whisky from Scotland, Canada, Ireland US, and Japan. They all age in their respective countries then Ichiro blends them together to age in Japan. It’s so crazy and tasty.

Hakushu 12

Freddy Concepcion Ucan Tuz, bartender at JW Marriott in Cancun, Mexico

Hakushu 12-Year-old whisky. The surroundings and how the whisky is crafted in the mountains — just two and a half hours away from Tokyo — make it stand out. Melted snow is used in the process of distilling the whisky and the casks are made of Japanese wood, which gives the whisky a smoky and sweet flavor.

It’s great to drink straight, as it’s very well crafted. Sadly, it’s not as well-known as other famous and high producing distilleries.

Suntory Toki

Wesley MacDonald, owner of Caña Bar and Kitchen in Curaçao

Due to less aged stock among others, Japanese whisky tends to be more expensive, especially single malt, making it more difficult to name a favorite, as trying the best will cost you the most. Start with more economical blended whiskies and move up to single malts. Single grain whiskies are well made and tasty, though very light and more suited for highballs.

One of the best whiskies for a highball is Toki. This very smooth, blended whisky is perfect to drink on its own as well.


Juyoung Kang, lead bartender at The Dorsey in Las Vegas

Nikka, they make a great line of whiskies with different styles and techniques, but everyone still goes hunting for Yamazaki 12 Year or Hibiki. Almost everything Suntory makes seems to be an instant success and as a result of that success, sometimes hard to find, but Nikka is a great alternative.

Suntory has been in the Japanese whisky game as long as Suntory but Nikka just really knows how to make whisky.

Writer’s Picks:


Ohishi is made in the style of Scotch whisky, but its made with malted and un-malted rice instead of the usual barley. The result is a much sweeter whisky, with hints of cinnamon and cloves. They up the ante by aging some of the varieties in sherry and brandy casks.


This is the kind of Japanese whisky serious Scotch drinkers should seek out. It’s reasonably priced at around $50 per bottle and full of flavors of vanilla, coconut milk, and tropical fruits with a subtly spicy finish.