Japan has suffered fiercely during the pandemic, and while the Tokyo 2020 Olympics continued, all the travelers and foreign visitors that were once expected were unable to attend. It’s a shame for many reasons, one of which is that Japan is a fantastic tourist destination that offers much more than the fascinating modern urban environments of Tokyo seen on television, with lots of natural wonders, beautiful scenery, ancient culture and great food. .
They also make some of the best whiskeys in the world – if not the best – and that’s at least something you can still enjoy while watching the games.
If you are glued to the flat screen for hours at a time, the suggested libation would be highball, Japan’s signature whiskey cocktail, of moderation. Because Japan has never been a major wine-consuming nation, highball became popular as a beer alternative that went well with food, a cornerstone of Japanese culture. It became popular with distillery and brewing giant Suntory, who created special dish machines with highly carbonated sodas and chilled beverages so that bars across the country (and now around the world) could serve dish highballs as lightly as beer, with perfect consistency. You can not do it at home, but you can take advantage of Toki, the blended whiskey that Suntory explicitly created for highballs, widely available here and one of the more affordable of Japan’s coveted whiskey brands (around $ 40). For best results, mix with a high quality soda like Fever Tree and use oversized cubes.
Another good option for longer viewing sessions is Nikka Days, a relatively new addition (last year) to the lineup from Nikka, one of Japan’s four major manufacturers. Nikka has more than 80 years of blending experience and created Days as a delicious everyday spirit that is very smooth with floral notes (around $ 50). Marketed as “A vibrant blended whiskey for everyday sipping”, the blend uses Nicka’s soft and smooth Coffey Grain Whiskey for texture and adds a touch of Coffey Malt Whiskey and Nicka’s acclaimed Yoichi malt for sweetness and rich body. The result is a silky mouthfeel with muted fruity and floral flavors that can best be enjoyed on the rocks.
If there is an event you are really excited to see and want a festive step up while staying in a blend, I believe Hibiki is the world’s finest blended whiskey (sorry Scotland). The 21-year-old is the most awarded Japanese whiskey ever, and Japan has won an incredible number of awards, but you pay dearly. Drizly.com sells it for delivery in New York City from $ 1300, which is actually on the low side, with online prices of up to two majors. Hibiki 17 is the version that Bill Murray’s character famously drank over and over again at the bar in the Park Hyatt Tokyo in the movie Lost in Translation, and my personal fave, though I can not afford, with Drizly’s $ 734 again below average.
In 2016, they released Hibiki Harmony, the most affordable and accessible label in the prestigious lineup, with an MSRP of $ 65 but more commonly $ 80- $ 100. It has no age rating but is made from the same unusual shirts from Suntory’s trio of distilleries, Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita, and contains at least 10 malt and grain whiskeys, aged in five different types of casks, including the famous Japanese Mizunara oak. You can make a gourmet highball with it, but I would nip it on the rocks with a nice spherical ice cube in Japanese style.
If you have a friend or family member who is competing and really wants to go big, consider the just released new formulation of Yamazaki 25-year-old, the most famous of all Japanese whiskeys and single malt that put Japan on the world stage. In 1984, Yamazaki Single Malt Whiskey was released to commemorate 60 years since the first drop of whiskey was made at the Yamazaki distillery. In 2003, it became the first Japanese whiskey to win the gold medal at the International Spirits Challenge, and the 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask won the most coveted title of all, the World’s Best Whiskey. This month, a reformulated Yamazaki hit 25 shelves in the United States and 18 years after receiving its first, the new bottling also received a gold medal from the 2021 International Spirits Challenge ($ 2000). This one should be enjoyed nicely.
Two grand is a lot for a bottle of whiskey, so if you want to try something far more affordable, like a Japanese whiskey under thirty dollars – you can not. But you can get a taste of the Pacific Rim via Scotland with the new Dewar’s Japanese Smooth. This latest edition of Dewar’s Cask Series brings together the world’s two best whiskey making cultures in a single bottle. Dewar’s 8-year-old double-layered Scotch whiskey is finished in Japanese Mizunara oak barrels for six months. According to the company, “the resulting whiskey is unique and has subtle flower honey and heather notes along with complex sandalwood aromas on the nose followed by cinnamon spice on the palette — a result of the porous qualities of the rare 200-year-old Mizunara oak.” Best of all, MSRP is only $ “It is an indulgent and pleasant whiskey with a rare breadth and depth of complex and subtle flavors. The smooth, yet full-bodied finish makes it perfect for enjoying nice, on the rocks or in a classic Japanese highball,” says Stephanie Macleod , Dewars Master Blender.
But it is quite possible to enjoy fine Japanese whiskeys without taking a loan, and this is where Mars comes in. The fourth of the country’s four major distillers, it is the least known brand here. “People know the big ones, Suntory, Nikka and Kirin (Kirin’s whiskey is not ed to the US),” Kris Elliott from Imported High Roads Spirits told me. “Mars is number four, and the category has won great international praise. Today we are in this big boom of Japanese whiskey. Eight years ago, there were only six malt whiskey producers and nine distilleries in Japan. Now there are at least 26. ”
Mars got its distillery license more than 70 years ago, and in 2013, the 28-year-old blended malt won a World Whiskey Award. Four years later, Mars was named the Best Craft Distillery for the Icons of Whiskey Award. Last year, they released Tsunuki: The First, so named because it was the first single malt produced in the original Mars-level distillery on the warm southern island of Kyushu. This facility was closed in the 1980s in favor of the snow-covered, cold weather mountains of Nagano, but then reopened in 2016. Today, Mars uses both facilities, allowing them to mix two very different terroirs for their Iwai mix while produces two different single malt, Tsunuki and Komagatake. They make more than a dozen other labels, but only these three are available here.
The Iwai blend is finished in sherry and bourbon casks and really designed for cocktails. It makes a great highball, they recommend it to Manhattans, and it’s a good buy at $ 35, like the most available Japanese whiskey I’ve tried.
Personally, my Mars favorite is Komagatake, aged for three years in a blend of sherry casks and new American oak. It is rich and complex and received 94 points from Whiskey Advocate. It’s not cheap, but compared to other high-end Japanese single malt it’s quite reasonable at around $ 200. Tsunuki is also aged three years on sherry and ex-bourbon barrels and sees more evaporation and rapid maturation from the heat humid weather, making it rugged with a less polished taste and selling for around $ 250.