Earlier this year I was contracted to do a "Japanese Whisky Now" type of story for a publication but it didn't work out so I've pasted it below. It is meant to be a survey of all the Japanese whisky on the US market, though there may be some additional new releases out since I wrote this back in March, not sure.
Hopefully if you're confused by who makes which Japanese whisky this will be useful.
Until last year there were only three Japanse whiskies on the US market, all of which are made by the company Suntory. In the years since, interest in these whiskies has increased and so has the number of them for sale stateside, available in a wide variety of prices and flavors. Now there are more than a dozen you can find if you look hard enough, ranging anywhere from $60 to $200 for standard bottlings and into the thousands for limited editions.
Suntory’s Yamazaki still offers a 12-year-old and an 18-year-old single-malt whisky. These were joined by a limited-edition 25-year-old Yamazaki single-malt in 2013 that sold out quickly even at $1600 per bottle.
The other single-malt whisky distillery owned by Suntory is Hakushu. They have offered a 12-year-old single-malt for several years, which tastes fresh and green like the forest. This will be joined this spring by an 18-year-old Hakushu for $200. There was also a limited-edition Heavily Peated (read: extra-smoky) Hakushu on the market but it has mostly sold out.
Suntory’s rival Nikka (both whiskies were crafted by the same person in the early 1900s as he moved from working for the Suntory company to creating Nikka, but now they’re the Coke-versus-Pepsi of the Japanese whisky world) is now imported to the US and has six whiskies currently available. These all carry the Nikka name, but are made at one of two different distilleries.
Nikka’s Yoichi Single Malt is made at the Yoichi Distillery, and in the US is offered as a 15-year-old. Their Miyagikyo single-malt, available as a 12-year-old whisky, is named after their other distillery that is located on the island of Honshu.
A new Japanese distillery Chichibu (opened in 2008) launched Chichibu The First, which is a 3-year-old single-malt whisky that’s only available in a few cities. It’s a single-malt aged in a combination of ex-bourbon and Japanese oak casks.
In addition to single-malts, Nikka also offers some “pure malts” that are a blend of single-malt whiskies from their two distilleries, bottled under the name Taketsuru Pure Malt. They sell a 12-year-old, 17-year-old, and a 21-year-old Taketsuru Pure Malt.
The final whisky from Nikka is their Coffey Grain Whisky. This isn’t coffee-flavored whisky, but whisky made in a Coffey still – the early version of a continuous column still, as opposed to the pot stills that produce all single-malts. All-grain whiskies are rare even among scotch whisky, making Coffey Grain unique in two ways.
Back to the Suntory company; their Hibiki line is a blended whisky; a blend of single-malts with column-distilled grain whiskies (and put into a beautiful bottle). They offer a Hibiki 12-Year-Old Blended Whisky, and in the fall of 2014 they’ll launch a 17-year-old and 21-year-old bottling.
That should be enough Japanese whisky to satisfy your thirst.