We’re about halfway through 2022 and in recent months we’ve started seeing some fantastic releases from Japan’s newer and legendary distilleries alike. With that in mind, we felt like this might be a good time to round up the best releases of the year to date. Each of these unique whiskies has been painstakingly created by the Master Distillers around Japan, with the utmost attention to detail – as is the Japanese way.
So without further ado, let’s take a look at the best Japanese whiskies of 2022 so far.
Between 2014 and 2017, the Yamazaki Limited Edition bottlings were some of the most sought after annual Japanese whisky releases on the market. Limited in numbers and containing some precious, aged Yamazaki liquid inside, they delivered in quality, appearance and collectibility.
It was only once the realities of the perilous whisky shortage took hold that these wonderful expressions were lay by the wayside, making way for a number of less-premium, NAS whiskies such as the Essence of Suntory Volumes 3 and 4 and the recent Yamazaki Cask Finish releases.
Then, last year, Suntory revitalized the series with the release of the Yamazaki Limited Edition 2021, bringing back the good times, at long last.
And this year, they have kept the ball rolling with another release that follows on from its predecessors in style.
This one is heavily focused on the use of top quality Mizunara wood for maturation, resulting in a creamy, aromatic expression that delivers a lively, fruity tasting experience backed up by a unique and elegant array of spices. It’s smooth, flavour-packed, limited and incredibly moreish – what more could you want?
The long awaited revival of Suntory Limited Edition releases was some of the most exciting news of 2021, and not just because the Yamazaki Limited Edition bottling was making a return, it was also accompanied by a magnificent new Hibiki release.
The Hibiki Blossom Harmony 2021 gave fans of the world class blended whisky a chance to try a new expression in the range for the first time in years. Naturally, it was incredibly well received by fans and critics alike, many of whom marveled over the brands ability to continuously create some of the finest blended whiskies on the planet.
This year, they followed up with another limited edition – The Hibiki Blossom Harmony 2022, and we’re glad to say it brings everything that last year’s release brought and then some.
For this new release, the Master Blenders at Hibiki have taken the same, attentive approach and, as expected, it’s smooth, gentle and moreish, with the light fruits and creaminess of Hibiki whisky merging seamlessly with the gentle floral tones and light spices imparted by the Sakura cask.
The end result is a unique, memorable drinking experience and a whisky that is well worth sharing with family and friends.
Over the years, Hibiki whisky has picked up a plethora of awards at international spirits competitions around the world, even winning the most prestigious accolades on a number of occasions. Their expressions are some of the smoothest you’ll find on the market today and the aromas and flavours inside each bottle work together in harmonious fashion and the Hibiki Harmony 2022 is another to add to the list.
The Sakurao Brewery and Distillery Co. was founded in 1918 in the town of Sakurao in Hatsukaichi, Hiroshima. It was initially known as Chugoku Jozo and they produced sake, as well as attempting to create their own single malt whisky.
Much like many distilleries in Japan, their early attempts at whisky-making weren’t entirely fruitful, and the ‘silent period’ of the 1980s was particularly tough on the company. It was at this point that they decided to give up on creating their own Japanese whiskies, and instead moved towards importing spirit from around the world and blending it inside of Japan.
However, in recent times, with the introduction of new labeling standards to the Japanese whisky industry, Sakurao are once again revisiting their long-lost dream of producing their own single malt whisky, and there releases to date have been nothing short of extraordinary.
This Sherry Cask Stillman’s Selection is a brand new release from this fast-rising distillery that was matured in the finest quality sherry casks, resulting in a rich, fruity and well-balanced expression.
Not only that, but it comes in a gorgeous bottle that screams premium whisky and is fit to be the centrepiece of any whisky cabinet. An excellent creation that makes us excited for the future of this fantastic distillery.
Upon its founding, the Shizuoka distillery owners purchased some of the leftover equipment from the defunct Karuizawa distillery and it was in an ex-Karuizawa still that they distilled their first single malt, the Prologue K.
The expression was very well received around the world, whipping up a bit of a storm around this relatively new distillery that clearly has a lot to offer.
Now, the Shizuoka Pot Still K looks set to follow in the footsteps of the Prologue K in real style.
Distilled from half imported malt and half home-grown malt, it was then aged for 3 years in bourbon barrels, before being bottled for release.
It brings a fantastic range of notes to the table, including gentle vanilla, sweet honey, melted milk chocolate and much more. It is nothing short of an excellent second entry into the Japanese whisky industry from Shizuoka that looks set to have fans as excited as the first release did.
The Kanosuke Distillery is another one that began making waves in the industry shortly after its foundation. Their releases thus far have been lauded by Japanese whisky fans around the world, for their elegant flavour profile and unrivaled balance.
The Kanosuke Single Malt 2022 is yet another fantastic release and one that embodies the distillery’s concept of “Mellow Land, Mellow Whisky”.
To create the expression, the Master Distillers at Kanosuke used spirit from all three of the distillery’s unique pot stills, which was then aged in a variety of cask types, but mainly ex-Shochu, for a minimum of 3 years before being blended together and bottled. The results are a smooth, flavor-packed expression that brings an incredible array of rich, fruity and smooth aromas and flavors to the table.
The nose offers a treat of fragrant citrus, vanilla, lemon tea and green apples, before the palate arrives with sweet, sticky honey, cinnamon spice and slight hints of grapefruit that help to bring the palate back down to earth. The finish is medium length and starts off sweet, before more of that grapefruit leaves a slight, but pleasant, bitterness that holds until the next sip.
It’s set to be a fantastic release and one that gives fans another peek behind the doors of the Kanouske distillery, leaving us excited for their future.
Taking its name from the Japanese word for ‘sisters’, the Shimai is dekanta’s second world blended whisky and an ode to the sisterly partnership between Scotland and Japan and the whisky mentorship that has resulted from that.
In Japan, one often refers to their female mentor as “Shimai”, even if they are not related, due to the historic culture of older females mentoring their younger sisters in a bid to help them reach their full potential. The parallels between this and the relationship between Japan and Scotland are ones we felt worth celebrating.
The innovative expression marries well-aged whisky from superb Scottish distilleries with young single malts from two of Japan’s rising stars. It’s a match made in heaven and something that we hope brings as much excitement and joy as the Kyōyū did.
The final result is an incredibly well-balanced, moreish expression that combines rich, fruity and oaky Scotch, with lighter, floral and subtly smoky Japanese whisky.
On the nose it brings a burst of citrus fruits and fresh strawberries that mingle with gentle layers of vanilla before gradually becoming richer.
Like the nose, the palate starts fresh, with a mixture of pear drops and light oak, before that richness slowly creeps in once again as the oak builds and is joined by melted dark chocolate, Glacé cherries and cinnamon baked apples, all the while subtle smoke lingers in the background.
The finish holds for a medium amount of time and leaves refreshing flavors of sliced apple, fresh berries, charred oak, along with another tickle of cinnamon.
It’s a fine example of a top quality blended whisky that exhibits superb balance throughout.
Limited Quantities Available
Each of these unique whiskies is a limited edition expression and is highly limited in numbers. Many of the younger distilleries in Japan, such as Shizuoka and Kanosuke, do not yet produce enough liquid to create thousands of bottles, while Suntory are still in the midst of dealing with the Japanese whisky shortage.
As such, if you want to get your hands on one of these top quality Japanese whisky releases, it’s worth acting fast before they are gone.