The Origins of Japanese Whisky and Our Top Recommendations



Whisky is famously associated with its Irish and Scottish origins, dating back to the 15th century. But despite the dominant association with the Irish and British Isles, it’s no secret that Japanese whisky has now firmly established itself as a leader in fine whiskies. Closely modeled after the Scottish tradition, it is spelled likewise as “whisky”, without the ‘e’.

A few pivotal figures in the early 20th century helped establish the whisky tradition in Japan. In the 1920s, Shinjiro Torii, a wholesaler who set up the company that would become Suntory Food and Beverage Co., started importing Western liquors and eventually took on chemist/businessman Masataka Taketsuru to help set up Yamazaki Distillery in 1924. Taketsuru had studied the distilling process in Scotland and applied this knowledge to Yamazaki. In the 1930s, Taketsuru went on to establish his own distillery - Nikka. Today, the two biggest names in Japanese whisky are still Suntory and Nikka, with multiple distillery brands established under each.


In honor of WORLD Whisky Day 2019 (May 18) we’re giving away 3x delicious bottles of Nikka blended Japanese Whisky. Visit our Whisky Bar page for a chance to win!

While the market for Japanese whisky was mostly a domestic industry for many decades, in the early 2000s Japanese whisky products exploded into the global market, consistently recognized and awarded with many top honours for its quality and purity. It has since been a staple product in the Western markets with global demand steadily increasing since 2009, prompting an expansion of Japanse whisky production in recent years.

learn more: “What makes Japanese Whisky so Unique?" on The Telegraph (9 April 2016)

Here are some of our favourites, all available at The Whisky Bar:


45% ABV; also available in 15 year aged batches.

Nikka established the Yoichi Distillery in Hokkaido due to it’s natural settings similar to Scotland. The Single Malt is a full-bodied, smooth and very mature drink, with hints of fruits, nut and mild chocolate notes. “Yoichi Single Malt is described as bold and strong. Pleasant peaty notes and smokiness originating from the traditional direct coal-fired distillation as well as a briny hint delivered by the sea breeze during the aging process.”

[SOURCE - Nikka Whisky Official Website]


did you know?

“Whisk(e)y” comes from an Old Irish translation of the Latin “aqua vitae” - or, “water of life” - pronounced in Irish Gaelic as uisce beatha and in Scottish Gaelic as uisge beatha. Today, Irish and American uses of the name are spelled “whiskey” (with an ‘e’), while Scottish and other regions use “whisky” - with no ‘e’. Japanese whisky is therefore spelled with no ‘e’, reflecting its link to the scottish tradition.



43% ABV

Suntory established the Hakushu Distillery in 1973. This Single Malt is a gorgeous mid-weight bodied, sweet and low-smoke whisky, aged 12 years. It has a clean and light flavour, with hints of citrus, pear, and a mild herbal and root spice influence.

While discontinued as of 2018, The Whisky Bar still carries Hakushu 12 Year Single Malt.

[See More - Suntory Hakushu Official Website]



LAUNCHED IN OCTOBER 2018, THE WHISKY BAR LOCATED AT THE FRONT OF YAMAMORI NORTH CITY IS A UNIQUE AND INTIMATE SPACE inspired by authentic Japanese cocktail bars - with a sophisticated air and top-notch cocktail selection.


3. Yamazaki Distiller’s REserve (Suntory)

43% ABV

Suntory’s Yamazaki Distillery was the first whisky distillery established in Japan, back in 1924; today, Suntory Single Malt Yamazaki Whisky is the Number 1 single malt whisky in Japan. A smooth and highly drinkable product, Distiller’s Reserve has a bold berry nose in a Mizunara (Japanese oak) cask. A light raspberry, white peach, and touch of coconut palate, with a vanilla and spiced cinnamon finish.

[See More - Suntory Yamazaki Official Website]

4. Miyagikyo single malt (Nikka)

45% ABV

The Miyagikyo Distillery was established by Nikka in 1969. The distillation method, distinct from Yoichi, results in soft and floral characteristics in Miyagikyo Single Malt.

This is a full-flavoured, rich whisky with aromas of exotic fruit and liquorice, and light notes of wood and barley. It has a soft finish with a lingering citrus air, and pale notes of tobacco, spices, and lychee. A unique and enjoyably long-lasting experience.

[See More - Nikka Miyagikyo Official Website]

Watch: Japanese Whisky and the House of Suntory

Japanese Whisky and the House of Suntory - Origins and History of Japanese Whisky [Uploaded by The Blend Australia on 2015-10-30]