Japanese Whiskey: The Definitive Guide (2021) (2023)

Japanese whiskey has a Wild West feel, with gold to be found, bandits on the run and near-total lawlessness. All exaggerations aside, it can be a confusing place for consumers. This resource aims to help.

Overall, our guide to Japanese whiskey has a few key objectives. Our main goal is to provide education to help you become a better informed buyer. It's easy to be scammed these days and we believe knowledge is power. You'll get an overview of the market, its history, the most popular products, and the brands to avoid.

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We also offer resources to help you get the best price on your favorite Japanese whisky. This information is also useful for anyone selling whiskey from Japan. Those in the distribution, retail and restaurant industries are included. Earn more money by improving your sales skills or expanding your drink program.

The Japanese whiskey market today

History of Japanese Whiskey

Find, buy, collect

Definition and types of whiskey

Whisky machen


Servier Whisky

Japanese whiskey brands

The Japanese whiskey market today

Let's just put it this way: the Japanese whiskey market is a mess. It is the ultimate whiskey category for buyers.

It's true that Japan produces some of the best whiskey in the world. It's also true that there are really expensive Japanese whiskeys that are really just cheap imports from Scotland and Canada.

Whiskey regulations in Japan are so weak that they have spawned a large number of counterfeits aimed at fooling unsuspecting enthusiasts. Additionally, a new sub-category of shochu-based whiskeys has emerged, adding further confusion to buyers.

Now more than ever, it pays to educate yourself and browse patiently.

How did you get to this place with high prices and numerous fakes?

Causes and effects of the Japanese whiskey craze out of stock

Years of insufficient production coupled with increased demand have caused famous products to disappear and prices to rise.

The popularity of Japanese whiskey is at an all-time high. At the same time, the range of the most sought-after brands is incredibly small.

In response, major manufacturers Suntory and Nikka have discontinued many of their famous age-stated brands. Nikka was particularly tough, essentially removing all of her age information.

Meanwhile, much of the old stock that would have gone into these popular products has been diverted to new No-Age-Declaration (NAS) brands. This practice makes really good whiskey but also brings much younger whiskeys into the mix.

Another side effect of the red hot market has been the overwhelming price increase. Dwindling volumes of discontinued bottlings have fueled much of this. This has prompted collectors and enthusiasts to speculatively devour other Marquis labels. examples for this areYamazaki 18($850+),Hibiki 21($900+) and Hakushu 18 ($500+). The prices of these bottles have almost doubled in just a few years. There aren't many of these whiskeys left on store shelves and will they be discontinued next time?

The above supply and demand dynamics are easy to understand. Unfortunately, Japanese whiskey has a few other issues that add to the confusion in the market. Both focus on labeling laws. One of them is harmless enough, but the other is malicious.

We'll start with the lighter subject associated with Japan's native spirits: shochu and awamori.

Japanese Rice Whiskey - Also known as: Koji Whiskey

Rice whiskey is a relatively new product available in the United States. But not everything is as it seems.

How Japanese rice whiskey evolved

Due to protectionist international trade agreements, shochu cannot have too much color.

This agreement allowed Japanese shochu and whiskey to enter the European markets. Dark, aged shochu was seen as a threat to whiskey and was banned for protectionist reasons. Since no barley malt is used, shochu is not considered whisky, at least in Europe.

Despite this, some cask-aged genshu (neat) rice shochu was made in Kumamoto, Japan. And it was delicious. Unsure what to do with it, the producers let this shochu rest in casks.

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In the USAWhiskey is not required to use malted barley. Eventually, word got around about the Kumamoto distillate and soon after, it hit the US market.

The two pioneer brands are Ohishi andFukano. Both brands are referred to as rice whiskey. They also list malted rice as an ingredient. But make no mistake, that's marketing slang. Malted rice is actually koji rice.

¿Whiskey oder Shochu?

These new shochu-based whiskeys taste remarkably whisky. The effects of cask aging on spirits are profound. So much so that given sufficient cask time, almost any grain-based spirit will end up resembling whiskey.

Koji whiskey is a common name for this new category. Many other brands have appeared recently. At the moment, the two originals are still the best.

Koji whiskey is here to stay and we're okay with that. Aged shochu can be great. And when aged in oak casks, the results look, smell and taste just like whiskey. You also get some characteristics of the base rice brandy: apple and citrus, quite aromatic, a light body and a clean finish.

Brands such as Kujira and Meiyo have bottled and sold extensively aged awamori as rice whisky. We also expect to see barley koji whiskey and sweet potato shochu coming to market at some point.

Japanese Whisky: Authentic vs Fake

Finding authentic Japanese whiskey is a challenge. And even define whatauthenticmeans it's not easy.

Labeling Laws

Today, the biggest problem plaguing Japanese whiskey's reputation is its lax labeling laws.

As long as the whiskey is bottled in Japan and contains a few drops of authentic Japanese whiskey, it can be labeled "Made in Japan" or "Product of Japan".

Many Scotch and Canadian whiskeys are bottled as such, along with some whiskeys from the United States.

The practice of using imported whiskey to make Japanese whiskey has long been common. Even big names like Nikka and Suntory do it. And not just for nefarious reasons. But that didn't stop many unscrupulous sellers from taking advantage of consumers.

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The Dirty Secret of Blended Japanese Whisky

Blended whiskey made entirely in Japan is a rarity. For the most part, only the largest multi-distillery producers do this. Even then, many of his brands relied on imported whiskey for their blends.

Dependence on imported whiskey has been common in Japan since the industry's inception. Many exclusively domestic brands are made with a significant proportion of these imports.

One of the reasons for this is that the whiskey industry in Japan is uncooperative. They are highly competitive. Unlike in Scotland, the companies do not market whisky. This makes it very difficult for producers to produce blended whisky.

This also applies to many brands in the export market. Even award-winning whiskeys like Nikka From the Barrel use imported whiskey in their blend.

In general, Japanese single malts tend to be brewed in Japan. But as we'll discuss below, that claim is increasingly under threat.

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fake japanese whiskey

The rise of Japanese brands made entirely from imported whiskey has been explosive.

Without naming names, 18-year-old and 12-year-old "Japanese" single malts from Scotland have appeared on the market at similar prices to Yamazaki. Countless unsuspecting customers paid high prices for these nefarious labels. This has tarnished the reputation of Japanese whiskey.

Will there ever be any transparency with Japanese whiskey?


Stay away from fakes and koji whiskeys with this great infographic from Nomunication.

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Transparency and reform of the Japanese whiskey industry

The reformation of this mess has started with a few producers who care about taking small steps in the right direction.

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Japanese Blends of the World

Rather than labeling blends of imported and domestic whiskey as "Japanese whiskey" or "Made in Japan," some producers have taken a more transparent approach.

Whiskeys marked asworld mixesstarted hitting the shelves, starting with the authentic Chichibu whiskey producer. Consumers have the benefit of knowing the truth about these whiskeys and Chichibu is able to offer a more affordable product without sacrificing brand credibility.

Suntory did the same with its Ao World Blend.

This is not a long list! But let's hope more distilleries join in.

Voluntary label reform

The announcement of voluntary labeling standards for Japanese whiskey for 2021 caused a stir.

Enthusiasts have heralded this as the start of a new era of transparency. Many regular consumers complained when they realized they had been scammed. The truth is complicated, but the new standards are positive.

Behind these new voluntary standards is the Japan Spirits and Liqueurs Manufacturers Association. Many of the biggest names in Japanese whiskey are members. Some of the biggest criminals are too. His idea is to align the definition of Japanese whiskey with the rest of the major whiskey producing countries in the world.

According to the association, in order for a whiskey to be called “Japanese whiskey” or “Made in Japan”, it must meet several requirements.

First, it must be made from grain kernels. Malted grain should always be an ingredient. Saccharification, fermentation and distillation must be done in Japan. And the alcohol content of the distillate is a maximum of 95%.

In addition, wooden barrels of less than 700 liters must be used. This breeding must be done in Japan and for at least three years.

After all, the whiskey in Japan must be bottled at at least 40% ABV. The use of caramel color is allowed.

look at this list(in Japanese) from union members to get an idea of ​​which brands will meet these new standards.

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The history of Japanese whiskey

Japanese whiskey wasn't always a global superstar, although it started off strong.

For hundreds of years after its creation, whiskey was alien to Japan. The country's policy of isolation came to an explosive end in 1853. That year, American Commodore Matthew Perry arrived in Tokyo harbor with a small fleet of technologically advanced warships and demanded that Japan open up to trade. The intimidation tactic worked and the Kanagawa Convention was formalized. Trade between Japan and the West resumed.

As a parting gift, the Americans left a 110-gallon whiskey cask. It was a huge hit, but the Japanese had no idea how it was made.

The first whiskeys made in Japan were terrible. Manufacturers mixed grain liqueurs with all sorts of things (perfumes, juices, spices) as an approximation. 1918, aAmerican Expeditionary ForceOfficials in Hokkaido wrote about this nefarious thing, a local brand called Queen George.

"All cheap bars have Japanese-made scotch... If you come across one, don't touch it. Her name is Queen George and she's fucked up than her name. It has to be 86% caustic sublimation resistant because 3,500 crews stink fifteen minutes after coming ashore. I've never seen so many get drunk so easily."

Mayor Samuel I Johnson

Modernization: The Rise of Whiskey in Japan

Officials in Japan realized their isolation had made them vulnerable to other countries. They sent scientists and ambassadors from around the world to learn about modern science, governance and education.

One of these men was a chemist named Masataka Taketsuru. He traveled to Scotland to formally learn about whiskey making and did several apprenticeships at whiskey distilleries in Speyside and Campbeltown. Taketsuru would also meet his future wife Rita Cowan on this trip.

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Taketsuru returned to Japan with Rita and a new understanding of the whiskey making process.

At that time, another Japanese whiskey pioneer was building a beverage empire. Shinjiro Torii's vision was to create western-style spirits for the Japanese palate. His original hit was Akadama Port Wine. This sweet fortified wine that featureda provocative advertising campaign, generated the income for Torii's true dream: making authentic Japanese whiskey.

Torii had heard of Taketsuru's experience and hired him to run the Yamazaki establishment. The legendary distillery opened in 1923 and was the first facility in Japan.

The two titans of Japanese whiskey didn't get along. To make matters worse, Yamazaki was plagued with production problems and its early whiskeys weren't great. In 1929 the company launched Suntory Shirofuda (White Label). It was the first authentic Japanese whisky. And bombed.

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The accumulation of these events was too much for Torii. He demoted Taketsuru, who resigned.

Torii and Yamazaki would right the ship. Taketusuru's journey didn't end either. Rita put her husband in touch with several investors who would support the creation of a new whiskey distillery. It didn't happen overnight, but in 1936 the Nikka Yoichi Distillery was founded in Hokkaido.

Suntory Kakubin was launched in 1937 and became the most successful Japanese whiskey of all time.

The Yamazaki and Yoichi distilleries would spark fierce competition that continues to this day. In the early years, the market for its products was mostly limited to wealthy businessmen and the military. The latter had a special affinity for their whiskeys.

During World War II, the two companies were contracted to supply whiskey rations to the Japanese army. This kept the two companies afloat during a turbulent time.

After the war, Japanese whiskey gained national prominence. Other distilleries popped up to meet demand. In 1946 the Hanyu Craft Distillery was created and ten years later the legendary Karuizawa. Suntory and Nikka also started new distilleries. The Miyagikyo, Hakushu and Chita distilleries were established between 1969 and 1973.

In the early 1980s, whiskey in Japan reached its peak of popularity. It was around this time that things took a turn for the worse.

Whiskey and the salaried man: the industry goes bust

International trade reform in the mid-1980s forced Japan to open up its markets and unify its alcohol taxes with the rest of the free world. These promotions made shochu more affordable while increasing its popularity among younger drinkers.

This shift in consumer tastes came just as Japan's economy began to stagnate. A period known as the lost 10 years would make the salaryman a symbol of collapse. Shochu consumption continued to increase, as did beer consumption.

Several distilleries closed: notably Hanyu, Karuizawa and Mars Shinshu. Suntory and Nikka significantly reduced their production. The lack of supply mentioned earlier on this page can be attributed to this period of low production.

Around the year 2000, signs of positive change began to emerge.

Awards and a historic comeback

Beginning with a 10-year-old Yoichi single malt whiskey in 2001, Japanese whiskey has won numerous international whiskey awards. They have dominated since 2007.

A promising new brand would also have international impact. Ichiro Akuto founded Venture Whiskey in 2004. Hanyu was owned by his family and Akuto bought a majority of his shares, along with Karuizawa whiskeys andKawasaki. These were blended and bottled as a Card Series under the Ichiro's Malt brand. The demand was overwhelming. Akuto used the capital to establish Chichibu Distillery in 2007. The first Chichibu release sold out in less than 24 hours!

Other manufacturers would emerge to meet the growing demand. Mars Shinshu resumed operations in 2011. Eigashima'sWhite oak distilleryincreased its quality and production after decades of supplying home drinkers. And recently, Akkeshi Distillery has opened to craft terroir-focused whiskeys in remote Hokkaido.

Would you like to learn more about the history of Japanese whiskey?

We've got a whole site just for you whiskey nerds out there! Dive deepThe history of Japanese whiskey.

Find, buy and collect Japanese whiskey

Whatever type of Japanese whiskey you're looking for, we'll help you find it.

There are many excellent Japanese whiskeys at different prices. It all depends on what you are looking for. Yes, prestige brands and discontinued classics fetch astronomical prices. But it's also true that some delicious authentic whiskeys have been created for the budget conscious Japanese whiskey enthusiast.

General tips to find authentic whiskey at a fair price

Buying Japanese whiskey can be a confusing experience. As mentioned above, there is a combination of factors that account for this: imported counterfeits, koji whiskey and a dwindling supply of iconic brands.

The best place to start buying Japanese whiskey is online. There are countless delivery options available today, a trend that will only continue to grow.

Don't rush and buy the first whiskey you find. Chances are there is a better deal out there. Japanese whiskey is worth shopping for!

sites likeWeinfinderThey're a useful tool to see what local retailers are charging. Once you are familiar with the price range for the whiskey you want, you can make a better decision about what you are willing to pay.

Entry-level whiskeys from Japan

Cheap, authentic Japanese whiskey is almost a contradiction in terms. There are only a few selected brands. However, there are plenty of cheap fakes out there, so know your whisky!

Suntory Toki ($30), Mars Iwai 45 ($35), and Mars Tradition ($35) are common brands. These are great options for mixing. Their low prices also mean that restaurants and bars can use affordable Japanese whiskeys in their cocktail programs. Finding and buying these whiskeys is easy. Many delivery options are available depending on the laws in your state. Many large liquor stores also carry them. Even Costco is a good place to check this out.

As the price increases, many options appear. Akashi Blended ($45) is a good value with a wide distribution. Nikka Coffey Grain ($60) and Coffey Malt ($75) have been temporarily discontinued, but supplies are still plentiful. These whiskeys can increase in price in the short term. Both are excellent options. Finally, Kaiyo whiskey has emerged in recent years and appears to be authentic. However, the origin of the whiskey is a closely guarded secret.

Marquis brands start popping up around $80. Examples include Nikka's Yoichi, Miyagikyo and From the Barrel, and Hibiki Japanese Harmony. The availability of these whiskeys online and in retail stores is great enough that you need to shop around. There are some expensive bottles that you should avoid.

This also applies to purchases in restaurants and bars. A common goal for the beverage program's spirits cost is around 20%. This would translate to a price of $22 for a 1.5 ounce pour from a $75 bottle (wholesale). Each program is different, but beware of prices that are much higher.

What about other Japanese whiskeys? If you haven't already, read the previous sectionwelcher Whiskyjfakes. Some of these whiskeys (Fukano and Ohishi) are very tasty. Just make sure you know what you're buying first.

Buy medium quality Japanese whiskeys

We're talking about whiskeys with an average retail price of between $100 and $250. There are some really good whiskeys in this price range. Of course, these prices would represent the higher end of most other whiskey categories such as Scotch, Irish Whiskey, Bourbon, etc.

There are quite a few Marquis brands in this price range. Akashi Single Malt ($100), Yamazaki 12 ($130) and Hakushu 12 ($170) come to mind. The Hakushu has been partially discontinued and prices have risen rapidly. It is questionable whether it is really a collector's whiskey, as it has not completely disappeared from the market.

The list of imposters is very long in this price range. Again, you should know in advance what you are looking for. Never heard of the brand? research. Is Scotch used to make Kurayoshi 18 more flavorful than Highland Park 18? No it is not. So why pay more for the fake product than the real one?

As with cheaper Japanese whiskeys, there are many online retailers to choose from. Compare prices and get a base price for the bottle you are looking for. Many of these stores also deliver.

Would you like just a glass of your favorite Japanese whisky? Restaurants and bars often offer more reliable access. Of course, the prices vary greatly. Consider the 20% of cost benchmark quoted above. If a 750ml bottle of whiskey costs $150 wholesale, a 1.5 ounce serving would cost $44.30. Don't treat this number like gospel, because every business has different operating costs. However, this is a good starting point for value buyers.

Luxury Japanese whiskey shopping

Are you looking for a prestigious brand like Yamazaki 18 or Hibiki 21? What about the rarer and more discontinued whiskeys like Nikka Yoichi 15 or Karuizawa? We also have some tips for you.

There is a wide price range here. A product like Nikka's Yoichi Apple Brandy Finish can only set you back$500. Payless than $10,000for Yamazaki, 25 years would be a bargain. Want a 50 year old Yamazaki?That costs more than an average US home.!

The basics of smart shopping remain the same for whiskeys under $10,000. You'll want to shop more than ever. Use sites like Wine-Searcher, Drizly, or The Whiskey Exchange to set a guide price for the whiskey you want. Sometimes it's better to wait.

If you can, keep an eye out for these whiskeys in retail stores in Japan. Sometimes you can save $1000 compared to North American or EU prices. However, you will still want to be patient.

Once you start looking for ultra-rare whiskeys, your bargain-hunting opportunities will diminish. Many of the rarer Japanese whiskeys are only available in a few shops around the world or at auctions.

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Collection of rare and expensive whiskeys from Japan

Most Japanese whiskeys are not collectible. Research is required to determine what is collectible and what is not. That being said, there are some general indicators of what can become a collectible.

There are a handful of brands that have the cachet of going up in price. Yamazaki and Hibiki are the most obvious duo. Hakushu certainly belongs here too. They have long been Suntory's single malt value. But Hakushu's range cuts have spooked the market and pushed up prices.

Nikka's Yoichi and Miyagikyo also have the prestige of being collectibles. This also applies to most Chichibu/Ichiro limited edition malt whiskeys. Finally, whiskeys from closed distilleries like Karuizawa, Kawasaki and Hanyu are definitely collectibles. Even if those marks come back, you can't replace the original ones.

But brand name alone doesn't make Japanese whiskey a valuable commodity. Attitude or fear of it is often the other side of the collectability equation.

As previously mentioned, after Suntory temporarily discontinued Hakushu 12, prices for Hakushu are increasing. 18 year old enthusiasts bought this brand fearing it might be next. This is a speculative purchase that also occurs with Hibiki and Yamazaki whiskeys.

Other classics such as Hibiki 12, Nikka and Karuizawa Age Statement whiskeys have already ceased production. These whiskeys are likely to continue to rise in value. How quickly, however, is unclear.

For fans of these whiskies, it is easy to assume that this trend will continue. And it probably will be in the near future. However, the worldwide success of Japanese whiskey encouraged distilleries to increase production. At some point, the profits will become noticeable in the offer. Although we may have to wait another decade or more before some of the old statements may return.

If your goal is whiskey to collect, it is extremely important that you research the market. The Internet has unlocked the inventory of millions of retail stores. Some of these can be mailed to you. Cast a wide net, set your maximum price and don't be afraid to walk away.

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Ready to find your next Japanese whiskey?

Check out our list of the most popularCommon brands and manufacturers.

Was ist Whisky?

To become a Japanese whiskey expert, you need to understand the basics of whisky.

Die Definition von Whisky

Whiskey has some distinctive properties.

One of these characteristics is that the whiskey is made from a fermented blend of grains. Barley, corn and rye are the most commonly used grains. Wheat, oats, rice and other grains are also used depending on the locally grown grains. In most cases, malted barley is a key ingredient. The malt can break down the grains into a mash into a fermentable sugary liquid.

Another characteristic of whiskey is a bit more technical, although still important. The whiskey is distilled at less than 95% ABV. As a result, it retains some of the properties of the basic ingredients. Most whiskeys are not distilled for this test, and many of the best whiskeys leave the still at around 70% ABV. Or less.

A third and very important characteristic of whiskey is cask aging. You can't make whiskey without them. Most countries require at least 2-3 years on wood. The interaction of liqueur, cask and air gives the whiskey its appearance and taste. You can't make whiskey without them.

Finally, most whiskeys must be bottled at a minimum percentage of 40% ABV.

Where did the whiskey come from?

Whiskey is a spirit of Celtic origin. It's not clear if it started in Scotland or Ireland, but it's clear both places were involved. The Irish called itagua, and the Scotsaqueous- both translate as "water of life". The first written mention dates back to 1495.

This spirit eventually reached England where it became popular. The English also anglicized the nameWhiskey.

¿It's whiskey or whiskey?

There is no universally correct answer. Scots, Canadians and Japanese use the spellingWhiskey. The Irish use the spellingWhiskey. In the United States, whiskey is the typical choice, but any spelling is legal.

Common types of whisky

Here is a short list of some of the most common types of whiskey that are made.


Single malt whiskey is made from a single malted grain in a single distillery. Malt is usually made from barley. Copper stills are also a common requirement.

Malt whiskey is a premium product. They generally have a sturdy body with a rich flavor profile.

mixed malt

A blended malt is made when two or more single malt whiskeys from different distilleries are blended together. The flavor profile is similar to a single malt whiskey. This style has been mentioned many timesVatted maltin the past. This is a different type of whiskey that is typically made in pot stills.

pura malta

Single malt whiskey is a somewhat confusing category. A large number of single malt Scotch whiskeys have been labeled as single malt whiskeys in the past. The Japanese took the term and gave it their own spin. In his case, single malt whiskey is usually a blend of single malt whiskeys from different distilleries.

This would suggest that pure malt is the same as blended malt, but there's a catch. In Japan, distilleries are highly competitive and do not market or use whiskeys from other distilleries. A single malt from Japan is a product of several distilleries but belongs to the same company.

The best-known example of this is Nikka's Taketsuru Pure Malt Whiskys. These 100% pot distilled single malt whiskeys are a combination of two distilleries: Yoichi and Miyagikyo.

single grain

Single Grain Whiskey is made in a single distillery using only one grain. This grain can be a combination of malted and unmalted components. Individual grains are usually made in a continuous pot still.

mixed grain

Blended grain whiskeys are a combination of two or more individual grains. This is not a common style.


Grain whiskey often ends up in blends instead of being bottled neat. Sometimes no malted barley is used. In this case, hydrolysis is used instead.

Grain whiskey is usually distilled in a continuous column to give a high percentage.


Blended whiskey is a big category. All whiskey producing countries produce blended whisky, so there is no universal standard. However, blended whiskey is made by mixing malt and grain whiskeys together. Grain whiskey usually dominates the blend, but there is a lot of variability.

The types of whiskey mentioned above are the most common. Depending on the country of origin, there are many other types. To see a complete list,look at that.

Age statement and NAS whiskeys

Most whiskey producing nations require at least two to three years in a cask. The vast majority of whiskeys do not have an age statement on the bottle. If this is the case, all whiskeys used to create a product must be at least the stated age. This means that a bottle that is a blend of 18 year old and 4 year old whiskey may only be labeled as 4 year old whiskey.

Age-stated whiskey is common in Scotch and was common in Japanese whiskey as well. Unaged whiskey is often referred to as unaged whiskey, or NAS.

Want even more whiskey knowledge?

Learn the basics of whiskey with our postFrom grain to barrel

Whiskey Making: Production Overview

Now that you know the basics of whiskey, are you ready to find out how it's made? Below is a schematic of the process. Each of these steps has many variables that affect the quality of the whiskey produced.

Malting, grinding and mashing

Making whiskey begins with the ingredients. The mash count or grain count is the blend of grains used in the recipe. Malted barley is typically included because it contains enzymes that break down the starch in other grains into more fermentable glucose.

To make malt, you have to germinate the grain. This triggers the formation of the enzymes. Before the grain fully germinates, it is heated (baked) to stop its growth. The kilning also roasts the malt, which changes its flavor and color.

Once you have malt, it's time to mash. Malt and other grains are finely ground. The grist is then immersed in hot water in a mash kettle. The hot water softens the kernels, liquefies the starch and activates the malt enzymes. This sugary liquid is known as the mash or wort.


To produce alcohol, yeast must be added to the sugary mash. The unicellular fungus eats glucose and produces ethanol and CO2. This step takes place in a wash or open fermentor.

The fermented mash is usually between 8% and 14% vol. At this point it is now known as beer. yes beer It contains no hops but is otherwise the same.


Distillation is the process of concentrating alcohol to the desired concentration by separating the water and other dissolved components. This process turns beer into spirits.

This action takes place in a closed alembic, which is almost always made of copper. The quality of the distillate is strongly influenced by this step. By selecting the best part of the distillation, a pretty good whiskey can be made.

This is a complicated subject.

BecomesThe basics of whiskey makingLearn more.

types of still images

A still is the structure in which the spirits are made. They are closed and allow the fermented liquid to be heated and the alcoholic vapors collected at the top.

Stills for the production of spirits are almost always made of copper. This element effectively removes many aggressive compounds (congeners) from the spirit. The longer the distilled alcohol solution is in contact with the copper, the brighter and smoother it becomes.

The still and the continuous column are the two main types of spirit stills.

The copper-colored still

The alembic is the oldest design and has countless variations. Essentially, this type of distillation uses a batch process. The first pass concentrates the beer to a concentration of around 25% vol. This raw brandy, called Low Wines, is redistilled to a concentration of about 55% to 70% vol. The second distillation refines the base wines into a drinkable spirit.

Distillers often stop after this second distillation. A third distillation can also be used. This tends to make the final spirit lighter in body and flavor.

Very high quality whiskey can be produced in a pot still. However, using a batch process is inefficient. It takes more work and time to make whiskey this way.

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The column goes on

The distillation column was invented to increase the efficiency of the distillation process. The use of one produces a pure and light spirit. Because of this, it became the industry standard for making neutral spirits.

And also for the production of whiskey, continuous stills are used. Actually, that's what it was invented for. It is common for grain whiskeys to be made in continuous stills. Using one results in a lighter whiskey with fewer congeners. That means it's less harsh, but also has less character.

There is much more to still images.

Learn more about theTypes of whiskey stillsNow!

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cask aging

No whiskey can be made without cask aging. A stay in an oak cask transforms a clear base spirit into a dark and complex whiskey.

This development is due to a number of factors.

Many of the key flavors in the whiskey come from the oak itself. The combined flavor notes of vanilla, coconut, caramel and smoke are derived from the oak casks. The type of oak used, how it was seasoned, how new it is and how heavily the cask is toasted are all important variables.

Porous oak favors contact with oxygen resulting in a darker colour, causing evaporation and concentrating the whiskey.

types of barrels

There are many different casks and casks used in making whiskey. And when it comes to cask types, an important consideration is the type of oak used.

American white oak is a common choice for whiskey casks. It is a strong wood and can be purchased for a low price. American oak characteristics include a loose grain, broader annual rings and high tannins. Barrels made from it allow for greater evaporation than European types.

Some oak aged whiskey markers contain vanilla, cinnamon, coconut, dill and brown sugar.

European oak is another common wood used to make barrels. European varieties tend to be more porous and slower growing than American oak. They allow less evaporation, which slows down the ripening process.

Euro oak is often associated with flavors such as dark chocolate, salty spices, dried fruit and coffee beans.

Japanese mizunara oak is all the rage these days and can fetch very high prices. This porous oak is leaky and difficult to work with. For a long time it was considered inferior to American and European oak. However, the flavors it offers are highly sought after.

Common tasting notes for mizunara include sandalwood, aloe wood (kyara), coconut, and honey.

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Finishing casks and second-use casks

Whiskey casks are not just limited to the oak species. Often a cask used to age whiskey has historically contained something else. Whiskeys can spend their whole life in these used casks or just rest in them for a short time (cask finishing).

Ex-bourbon casks are often used to age whiskey. Bourbon regulations call for new casks, meaning plenty of charred and seasoned casks are available.

The casks that sherry is aged in are also used frequently and are very valuable. Most of the sherry casks are old and not sold by the bodegas. Instead, sherry casks come from specialists who season new casks with sherry before selling them to whiskey producers.

Madeira, Port and Sautennes casks are used less frequently than Sherry but are still highly prized. Other types of casks include rum, tequila, shochu, wine, IPA, and even sake.

whiskey climate and aging

The last piece of the whiskey maturation puzzle depends on the storage conditions. Weather has a dramatic effect on whiskey aging. For example, high temperatures accelerate evaporation.

Humidity also affects evaporation. High humidity in the environment promotes the evaporation of alcohol more than water. This leads to a slow decrease in alcohol content.

Dry conditions encourage water to evaporate more readily than alcohol, increasing alcohol concentration over time.

In either case, this loss of liquid from the keg is referred to as Angel's Share. The whiskey remaining in the cask will continue to increase in intensity.

Finally, the way the casks are stored can have a big impact. The distance between the barrels and the height at which they are stacked are important variables. For example, Scottish style storage will result in less evaporation and slower maturation. Bourbon casks are often stored in racks up to 10 stories high. Temperatures above can be significantly higher than below, which can speed up ripening.

Whiskey aging in Japan

Japan's climate is fairly humid but varies from cool to tropical depending on latitude. As already mentioned, the alcoholic component of whiskey evaporates faster than water in humid climates. This results in a consistent lowering of the proof for most whiskeys matured in Japan. However, the concentration continues to increase.

Temperature will also have a major impact on the rate of ripening. Whiskeys aged in cold Hokkaido develop more slowly than whiskeys aged in subtropical Kagoshima. Neither is superior to the other. Temperature is just another variable affecting whiskey aged in different locations in Japan.

Interested in learning more about how whiskey is packaged?

Check overDie Oak Barrel and Whisky Connectionto improve your whiskey IQ!

Whiskymischung in japan

Japanese whiskey producers don't work well together. This is a relic of the fierce competition between Masataka Taketsuru (Nikka) and Shinjiro Torii (Suntory).

In Scotland, whiskey is traded and sold on a large scale to make blends from various distilleries. But the Japanese never noticed that.

Instead, Japanese whiskey makers have mastered the art of blending in-house. Part of this equation is using a variety of still designs, distillation techniques and cask types to produce a variety of styles in-house. Master blenders then combine the individual components to create a very complex whiskey.

But there is another component of the blend and Japanese whiskey that is less palatable.

Blend of imported whiskey with Japanese whiskey

We've discussed the downsides of Japanese whiskey earlier in this post, but it's worth discussing here as well. The Japanese whiskey industry is heavily dependent on imported whiskey. And because Japanese producers don't like to trade with each other, their blended whiskeys regularly use these imports.

This practice dates back to the early days of Japanese whiskey making and continues to this day. In Japan, most entry-level domestic whiskeys consist almost entirely of whiskey bought in bulk from Scotland, Canada and the United States.

Even some award-winning Japanese whiskeys, like Nikka From the Barrel, rely on imported whiskey to create their refined blends.

There are signs that some growers in the industry are ready to change their approach. Chichibu and Marsrecent blended whiskeysUse of part of the distillate from the other manufacturer. We hope to see a lot more of this in the future.

Serving Japanese whiskey

There are many ways to use Japanese whiskey. The most important consideration is your preference.

A splash of water or a single ice cube are general recommendations for drinking fine whiskey. Lower quality brands may work better on ice or as a cocktail.

Using a larger ice bucket has become very popular. Large cubes tend to melt slower and cool a whiskey significantly. But it will still melt, so be careful with over dilution.


The type of glass you use literally affects the taste of a whisky. Most larger jars offer better control over flavor intensity. The opposite is true for a small container like a shot glass. With little headroom, the aroma is difficult to discern and the flavors appear lighter.

The latest whiskey glass has a concave shape with a wide bowl and a narrower opening. This design holds the aroma, allows you to shake the whiskey and better assess the flavor profile.


Nobody likes hot whisky. Alcohol can already burn, and warm temperatures increase this effect. For this reason, we recommend a single ice cube for finer whiskeys. This is especially true when the bar is hot.

Sometimes warm whiskey is really desirable. The addition of hot water can also open up the aroma of a whisky. At the same time, the water dilutes the spirit to a more palatable alcohol level. This is really the same concept as oyuwari, the hot water and shochu mix popular in Japan. And wouldn't you know, it works great with koji whiskey.

Japanese whiskey cocktails

There are a number of classic whiskey cocktails in which Japanese whiskey shines.

Manhattan and Old Fashioned are excellent options for mid-range whiskeys. Both are able to mask even stronger aromas.

Other cocktails that pair well with Japanese whiskey include Penicillin, Whiskey Sour, Boulevardier, and Sazerac. This means that the whiskey can be hidden by the other ingredients for better or for worse.

Japanese Whiskey: The Definitive Guide (2021) (17)

The Japanese whiskey highball

The classic Japanese whiskey cocktail is highball whiskey. All you need is cold whiskey, sparkling water and ice. It's an easy recipe, but we recommend squeezing a lemon zest over the drink.

Check overour post about this classic Japanese whiskey drinkfor whiskey recipes and recommendations.

Japanese whiskey pairing

Whiskey is not often thought of when it comes to pairing food and drink. Traditionally, a seat is taken at the end of the dining experience. And it works very well with the food associated with the eating phase.

Rich desserts usually go well with dessert. This is especially true when spice elements like cinnamon and vanilla are present. Caramelized desserts also pair well with whiskey. Apple pie, pecan pie, creme brulee, and anything covered in ganache will work with most whiskeys.

Cheese and whiskey are another great combination to end the meal. Smokier Japanese whiskeys like Yoichi and Hakushu pair well with blue cheese. Fruitier brands like Yamazaki and Miyagikyo pair well with soft cheeses with a floral rind such astoday's Mothai.

Scotch and oysters are a classic pairing that can also work with Japanese whiskeys. This is especially true for whiskeys made from peat malt. Yoichi and Hakushu again met the requirements.

If you want to sip whiskey over a meal, Mizuwari is a great option. By adding water to your whiskey, you can take the flavor to a more food-friendly level. The caramelised, grainy and mineral characteristics of many whiskeys pair well with many types of food. Grilled beef and whiskey is a combination that can really work.

Japanese whiskey brands and producers

Get to know the most important brands of Japanese whiskey.

Whisky Suntory

Suntory's brands and distilleries are legendary: Yamazaki, Hakushu and Hibiki. Suntory would produce the first authentic Japanese whiskey. They popularized whiskey in Japan and later abroad. Today, their whiskeys are among the most coveted in the world. And they deserve it.

Suntory started with Shinjiro Torii and his vision to create authentic Japanese whiskey. Torii built Suntory into a giant with wise decisions throughout his life. One of his more fateful moves was to hire Masataka Taketsuru to help develop Yamazaki. The distillery opened in 1923.

Taketsuru would go in search of Nikka, but his experience has certainly helped Yamazaki become a success.

Yamazaki whiskeys are among the world elite today. This distillery uses a variety of pot stills and produces a variety of single malt whiskey profiles. Direct fire is sometimes used to create a toasty, robust character. Yamazaki whiskeys also see a wide variety of cask types for added complexity.

In 1972 the Chita Grain Whiskey Distillery was completed. The following year the Hakushu was published. Chita whiskeys are mainly used for Suntory blends. These include the super-famous Hibiki.

The Hakushu, like Yamazaki, use a variety of stills to make single malt whisky. Hakushu whiskeys tend to use more peat malt than Yamazaki. Their single malt finish is also usually cooler.

There is a lot to write about Suntory here.

take yourSuntory, Yamazaki, Hakushu und HibikiWhiskey knowledge to the next level!

Whiskey Nikka

Nikka is one of the two legendary producers of Japanese whiskey. Founded by Masataka Taketsuru, the company would rival Suntory in prestige. Their whiskeys are in demand as well, which is no small achievement.

The Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido was Nikka's first. Taketsuru was founded in 1934. He chose the cold, maritime location because of its resemblance to Scotland. From the beginning, Yoichi Stills have produced single malt whiskeys with a smoky style inspired by Scotch. As with Yamazaki, Yoichi's still images are often shot directly to achieve rich character.

Nikka expanded its range in 1969 with the Miyagikyo distillery. This time stills and a pair of twin column continuous stills were used. The last type of ability is commonly known as Coffey Still.

With multiple types of stills, Miyagikyo can produce a variety of whiskey profiles. Bottles released under the Miyagikyo brand are usually single malts.

Nikka has also been very successful with its Taketsuru single malt whiskey line. This brand uses Yoichi and Miyagikyo malt.

Nikka is another GREAT theme.

Consult our informationNikka Whiskey Guidefind out more now!

Marte – Hombo-Shuzo

Mars whiskey is a favorite of many Japanese whiskey enthusiasts. This has a lot to do with the high quality and low prices.

Hombo Shuzo (本坊酒造) is based in Kagoshima and produces Mars Whiskey. They started out as producers of satsuma shochu, a practice they continue.

Mars Shinshu Distillery was built in 1984 in the shadow of Mount Komagatake. Production was halted during the Japanese whiskey bust but restarted in 2011.

OchojIwai-Traditionare Mars' flagship export brands. Both are blended pot still whiskeys made from malted barley and corn. Standard Iwai is mostly corn, while Tradition is malt-dominant. Each is affordable and great in cocktails.

Mars Iwai 45 is a new 90 proof version of the regular Iwai.

The Mars Komagatake brand is a line of single malts released in small batches. Japanese whiskey addicts should seek out these bottles. However, they are a big jump in price over Iwai tags.

the MarsTsuniki(津貫) whiskey distillery was completed in 2016 and has expanded its product range. look at this interestingWhiskey MagazineArticles about Tsunuki and Mars.

Japanese Whiskey: The Definitive Guide (2021) (18)

Akashi-Eigashima Shuzo

Akashi whiskey is a solid brand to know about. Home to a pair of copper stills, the cozy White Oak Distillery produces quality malt and grain whiskeys.

In North America,Mixed AkashijMalta AkashiThey are the two most accessible brands. Most other Akashi whiskeys are made in very small batches.

Akashi's maker, Eigashima Shuzo, was the first licensed whiskey distillery in Japan. However, they did not use it at the time.

Check out our postWhisky Akashiand Eigashima Shuzo for more information on their products.


Akkeshi Distillery is a new producer in rural Akkeshi, Hokkaido. They started distilling in 2016.

Akkeshi aims to produce whiskey with a similar character to Islay Scotch.

These whiskeys are still young, but they promise a lot.

Kurayoshi – Destileria Matsui

Kurayoshi is one of the most notorious emerging Japanese whiskey brands. His first releases were aged single malt whiskies, produced in Scotland but sold as Japanese whisky. They used this capital to start their own distillery.

The range now includes whiskeys from the Matsui and Tottori brands.

Whiskey Kirin – Fuji Gotemba

Fuji Gotemba is a whiskey distillery owned by Kirin. It is located on the slopes of Mount Fuji in Shizuoka, Japan. Although this is a major producer of Japanese whiskey, its products are not currently available in the United States.

The distillery is equipped with four copper stills. They make both malt and grain whiskeys and blends.


Helios is a large liquor producer (and brewer) from Okinawa. They make a variety of spirits including rum, awamori, habushu and whiskey.

Their Kura The Whiskey product uses imported American white oak aged whiskeys that end up in their rum casks.

Togouchi – Sakuroa Brewery and Distillery

Hiroshima's Sakurao Brewery and Distillery produces a variety of spirits including sake, umeshu, gin, and whiskey. Well, they don't make the whiskey, but they age it a bit in their underground warehouse.

Togouchi uses lightly peated Scotch whiskey in its whiskies. They will release their first homegrown whiskey, a three-year-old single malt, in Summer 2021.


Fukano is a shochu rice brewer from Hitoyoshi, Kumamoto, a region famous for its kuma shochu.

Some of their Honkaku (once distilled), Genshu (neat) Kuma-jochu were placed in wooden casks and aged for a long time. The resulting dark liqueur looked and tasted remarkably like whisky. Eventually it made its way to the United States as rice whiskey.

Fukano whiskey is light, fruity and delicious. The spiciness of the oak is reserved and the finish incredibly soft and smooth.

Although fukano whiskey is technically aged shochu, it's pretty good stuff. And it's made in Japan. We are big fans.


Ohishi is another kumamoto rice shochu producer with a similar backstory. Their Koji whiskeys tend to be slightly darker and heavier than Fukano's, but still relatively light and fruity compared to traditional whiskey.

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