While Japanese whisky is based on scotch, it differs from its ancestor in a variety of intriguing ways. To get the most out of the whisky you encounter in Japan, it pays to understand the culture that surrounds it…

Contributed by Dekanta

Japanese whisky has been winning fans, and prestigious awards, in almost every corner of the world since the early 2000s – offering drinkers something intriguingly distinct from traditional scotch. Japanese whisky production stretches back the early 19th century, and reflects a proud, complex drinking culture. Today, visitors to Japan experience that culture for themselves in bars and restaurants around the country…

So if you’re planning your own trip to Japan, it’s worth keeping a few tasting ‘rules’ in mind…

Look for Subtlety

Japanese whisky tends to distinguish itself from conventional scotch, and other whiskies, with a subtlety of flavor and aroma. That’s not to say that Japanese whisky isn’t flavorful, but that its characteristic lightness and sweetness stems from its production environment.  Relevant factors here include the high-altitude and climate of Japan’s distilleries, and unique methodologies – like bamboo filtration – employed during production.

Find Flavor

While sweetness and fruit are common characteristics, there are other flavor notes which make Japanese whisky distinct. Like western scotch, wood is a significant part of the profile, but many Japanese distilleries use indigenous Mizunara Oak (instead of European or American Oak) to deepen the sweetness of the spirit. Thanks to a lack of natural sources, Japanese whiskies are generally less peaty than scotch. To overcome that issue, some producers import peat to achieve the desired intensity.

Savor the Texture

With many distilleries located in alpine regions, the distillation process of Japanese whisky takes place at altitude – specifically at around 700 to 800 meters (2300 to 2600 feet) above sea level. High altitude whisky production involves a lower-boiling point, which in turn results in a thinner-textured, smoother, silkier spirit. The low pressure production environment also helps unlock the nose of Japanese whisky – creating a much greater aroma spectrum.

Expect Water and Ice

One of the most fashionable ways to drink whisky in Japan is with soda-water and ice: the ‘highball’ style. Highballs complement the character of Japanese whisky, allowing for a more casual drinking experience, and the possibility of food pairing. Highball culture is popular all over Japan: highball whisky cans are even available in vending machines in airports and supermarkets.

Understand Your Choice

Japan is home to a relatively small number of distilleries when compared to Scotland. Fortunately, the broad range of whiskies that each produces makes up for this lack of brand diversity. This type of in-house production culture encourages experimentation and a spectrum of choice – from the popular to the more exclusive. If your first impression of a whisky isn’t positive, don’t write off that particular distillery completely. Instead, explore the spectrum of labels and bottlings it offers to find something that suits your palate.

Drink with Food

Thanks to the lighter flavor and texture, and the popular highball drinking style, it’s common to drink Japanese whisky with food so expect to see it ordered at dinner and lunch. Pairing Japanese whisky is an interesting process: staples like ramen, pork, and fish – especially sashimi – go well with lighter spirits. That said, don’t be afraid to seek more complex flavors like Japanese curry, steak or tempura dishes. Japanese desserts like Kohi Zeri (coffee jelly), and the sugary, fruity ‘Anmitsu’ also complement the sweeter notes of Japanese whisky.

Experiment and Enjoy

Despite the ‘rules’ above, the joy of Japanese whisky lies in exploration and discovery. Beyond the unfamiliar flavors and unusual food pairings, whisky lovers should feel free to enjoy their favorite single malt, or blend, on the rocks, neat, or in a variety of innovative new cocktails. Finally, don’t just look for Japanese whisky in Japan: with its star rising, expect to find bottles in bars, and restaurants – and home collections – all over the world.

Meet Dekanta

A family-owned company, based in Japan, Dekanta offers customers from across the world the finest Japanese whiskies – from popular award-winners, to the rarest exclusives. Dedicated to seeking out new bottles and brands from across the market, Dekanta prides itself on delivering customer service, quality, and innovation in a selection of whisky which evokes the unique culture and tradition of Japanese whisky-making.