Japan has long been the setting for a devoted love story with Scotland's national drink. The country can't get enough of it and have been producing their own unique version of whiskey for over 100 years.
Their efforts from domestic distilleries are consumed enthusiastically within Japan, and over recent years have become increasingly respected worldwide. Japanese whiskey is characterised as being a close and loyal recreation of original Scotch whiskey and certain limited bottles can sell for tens of thousands of dollars.
There are, however, incredible Japanese whiskeys at the lower end of the price scale. In this article we're really excited to show you the best affordable Japanese whiskey available to buy that don't compromise on quality. We believe the following selection of bottles represent excellent value without breaking the bank.
Hatozaki Blended Whiskey
Don't be deceived by its light colour. This whiskey is free of any artificial colours and has been aged up to 12 years in a variety of sherry, oak, and bourbon casks.
The Yonezawa family who are behind the Hatozaki brand have a rich whiskey making heritage but the Kaikyo distillery where this whiskey is bottled was only constructed in 2017. In the heart of Akashi City, this modern facility makes use of copper twin pot-stills constructed by the renowned Scottish maker, Forsyth's, in a charming nod to the drink's roots.
Hatozaki is named after a lighthouse - the oldest stone lighthouse in Japan to be precise, which has guided sailors in the dangerous waters of Hyogo Prefecture since 1620.
This blended whiskey has light cereal notes with the addition of cherry blossom and caramel distinguishable as well. We'd recommend this in a high ball glass, an ideal component of any number of whiskey cocktails. Though, Hatozaki can definitely be served as part of a straight pour. It's basically a robust all-rounder and it comes highly rated if you're after a good value Japanese whiskey to get you started.
Nikka Coffey Grain Whisky
New for 2021, we just hand to hand a position in our list to this fine Japanese whiskey from Nikka. Slightly pricier than other bottles in this article, but we think it deserves a place on pure value and it is still significantly cheaper than a lot of bottles priced in the thousands on the internet.
This coffee grain whiskey is produced from corn in Nikka's Coffey stills and this is usually the reserve of Nikka's more expensive bottles, so represents a great opportunity to get something a bit special at an attractive price point.
The tasting notes revolve around the citrus areas with a candied orange note dominating, which calms down into an understated marmalade pallette.
This is quite a sweet whiskey but if you're after maybe the smoothest tipple on this list, then look no further.
Nikka have also outdone themselves with the presentation for this bottle. If you're looking for an unusual gift for the whiskey lover in your life then you could do a lot worse than the Nikka Coffee Grain.
Staying in Akashi City, Meisei represents an opportunity to get a somewhat elusive affordable Japanese whiskey. It's rarely found in physical stores and most bottles make their way to France where it's become enormously admired for its rich and punchy flavour profile. Expect spice and notes of vanilla and oak.
Made at the famous Eigashima Distillery which holds the title as the oldest and smallest distillery in Japan, Akashi has been making sake and sochu for centuries, with whiskey being part of their output for about a hundred years.
Only 5 people at the site are responsible for the whiskey production, so you can be sure every bottle has been handled by the same small group of expert whiskey makers.
Whiskey from Akashi City is often sold at a high price point because of the area's climate. Hot summers mean that a large amount of the whiskey made is lost to evaporation - bout triple the amount of whiskey made in Scotland. However, Meisei does not have a luxury price tag and is an excellent option if looking for an affordable Japanese bottle.
Any list of Japanese whiskeys would not be complete without the appearance of a bottle from the powerhouse distillery of Suntory. 'Toki' is the Japanese word for 'time' and this bottle is a blend from all three of Suntory's distilleries, taking in a complete and rounded snapshot of Japanese whiskey culture.
A smokeless whiskey, Toki is easy drinking and is best experienced on its own on ice. Initial notes of grapefruit and peppermint give way to a finish of ginger and vanilla oak. On the nose you'll discover basil and a subtle honey aroma. We really like it!
Suntory was established in 1899 and is really a pioneer in bringing Western drinks to Japan. Initially they produced wine eventually in 1907 launching their game-changing 'port-wine', a Portuguese inspired tipple perfectly suited to the Japanese palate.
The 20s saw Suntory move into whiskey and in 1923 the Yamazaki Distillery was constructed with their first malt whiskey following a few years later.
'Toki' is one of many Suntory whiskeys but is a great candidate when looking for one of the best value Japanese whiskeys.
Nikka From the Barrel
Nikka is another well known Japanese whiskey brand and this offering comes straight out of the corner punching, with its richness and notes of orange and walnut fighting for your attention. Indeed a little water may be a good way to identify the individual flavours, if you want to go a bit deeper into its profile.
Nikka From the Barrel comes highly recommended with 105+ overwhelmingly positive reviews at The Whisky Exchange. We can see why. It's a triumph and should be savoured. Not the cheapest Japanese whiskey on this list but certainly represents excellent value and is still affordable - definitely try a bottle of this at some point.
Masataka Taketsuru founded Nikka and is widely regarded to be the father of Japanese whiskey. He actually studied at the University of Glasgow in 1918 and upon his return to Japan was the only man in the country capable of making genuine whiskey. He worked with Suntory for 10 years before embarking on his own project. Nikka was born in 1934.
In summary, Nikka From the Barrel is an excellent example of a Nikka whiskey and of the Japanese whiskey industry as a whole. This particular variety has many awards to its name, including in 2007 and 2010 at the World Whiskey Awards.
Golden Horse Bushu
Toashuzo has a rich heritage in Japanese whiskey making and is responsible for launching a revival of whiskey making in Hanyu City, painstakingly recovering and refurbishing oak barrels in the region up until 2008.
Golden Horse Bushu is a smart whiskey, refusing to mess with the tried and tested formula of using original Scottish malts. The result is a subtle drink with earthy and nutty notes.
If you're looking for a dependable Japanese whiskey that won't insult anyone's tastes then this is it. We like it because it's loyal to its roots and the blend hasn't got carried away trying to reinvent the wheel.
There is a massive world of Japanese whiskey out there that you can easily get lost in. However, if you are just getting started or just want to dip your toe in, you can't go far wrong with trying one of these high quality affordable options.
Want to expand your Japanese whiskey knowledge? There is an excellent book available: The Way of Whiskey - available at The Whisky ExchangeThe Book Depository. The history of every distillery and influential figure is in there and would make a great accompaniment with a bottle or two of fine Japanese whiskey.
Thanks for reading. Enjoy!
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