Japanese whisky is gaining an impressive international reputation with connoisseurs across the globe becoming increasingly captivated with whisky from the Land of the Rising Sun.
Japanese distilleries mostly follow Scottish conventions for making whisky – this is why their product takes the traditional Scottish spelling of “whisky” rather than “whiskey” (used for American and Irish whiskies). While the Scots claim to have invented the popular distilled spirit, the Japanese have perfected their own version, which is generally lighter and sweeter.
Their approach is certainly making waves in the whisky world, with Japanese whiskies achieving international renown and accolades during the last decade, including numerous awards for single malt, blended and grain whiskies in the World Whiskies Awards.
In fact, Japanese whisky has become so popular so quickly that supply can’t keep up with demand – Forbes recently wrote a playful piece about The Japanese Whisky Crisis, caused by a lack of aged whisky stock.
The Japanese take an exacting and ceremonial approach to enjoying fine whisky. Often mixed with soda water, a good bar will take meticulous care in presenting a highball – everything from the type of water to the shape of the ice, the garnish and the type of glass used is carefully considered. For this reason, a visit to a whisky bar promises a level of consideration and ceremony you’re unlikely to have experienced elsewhere.
Japan’s whisky production is shared across a small number of historic distilleries famous for both the quality of their spirits and their picturesque locations. Whisky fans exploring Japan are increasingly seeking to add distillery visits to their itineraries to see more of the country, learn about the Japanese process – and of course, sample award-winning whiskies.
Plan Japan can organise exclusive private tours of some of Japan’s most famous distilleries, including:
Established in 1923 by the godfather of Japanese whisky, Shinjiro Torii, Suntory’s Yamazaki Distillery is Japan’s oldest whisky distillery and a must-visit for whisky lovers. A short train trip from Kyoto, Yamazaki’s whiskies are produced using water drawn from nearby mountain streams. Internationally recognised for their quality – their 25-year-old single malt was awarded World’s Best Single Malt at the World Whisky Awards – you can explore their range at the tasting counter before visiting the stunning whisky library, with more than 7,000 bottles on display.
The Chichibu Distillery is located in the mountains around two hours from Tokyo. While relatively small, its flagship product, Ichiro’s Malt (named after founder Ichiro Akuto), has a growing base of international fans. With temperatures falling well below zero during winter and hot, humid summers, Chichibu produces fruity and well-balanced whiskies that are rich in flavour despite their youth.
Another Suntory distillery, Hakushu is nestled in the Japanese Alps and surrounded by a picturesque pine forest, around two and a half hours from Tokyo. Making full use of its stunning surrounds, melted snow from the nearby Alps is used in the distillation process, creating a sweet, smoky flavour profile. Sample rare whiskies and limited editions at the Hakushu bar, visit the bird sanctuary or enjoy a meal at the White Terrace restaurant.
Located at the base of Mount Fuji, this Kirin-owned distillery is the largest distillery in the world, producing 12 million litres of whisky each year. Founded in the 1970s by an international partnership including Scottish, Canadian and American whisky experts, the distillery exploits the local mineral-rich soil and underground mountain streams in its production process. Around two hours from Tokyo, Fuju Gotemba is close to many scenic golf clubs including the renowned Kawaguchiko Country Club.
Two hours southwest of Nagano, the Mars Shinshu Distillery sits at an altitude of 800 metres, making it the highest distillery in Japan. A small, charming facility in a forest that’s often blanketed with snow, it employs just a handful of workers who use melted snow from the nearby mountains to create balanced, smooth and elegant whiskies.
Plan Japan is a boutique travel consultancy specialising in authentic ‘money can’t buy’ Japanese experiences. Our unmatched network of Japanese locals allows us to create unforgettable experiences that will surpass your expectations – from exclusive private whisky tastings to seats at sold-out sumo tournaments and VIP golfing at Japan’s most exclusive invitation-only courses.
Contact us for more information about creating a bespoke itinerary for your next Japanese trip.