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Where To Drink Japanese Whisky When You’re Not In Japan

It’s fairly obvious that the best place to drink Japanese whisky is in Japan, whether you’re at The Door in Kyoto, or Zoetrope in the Nishi-Shinjuku area of Tokyo, or the tasting room at the Yamazaki distillery, to name just three.  But what about Japanese whisky aficionados who don’t happen to live there, and can’t book an airplane flight every time they want a whisky flight? Where does one go, outside Japan, to satisfy a craving for a hard-to-find Chichibu malt or an elusive aged Hibiki?  Thankfully, there are some terrific whisky bars around the globe with enough selections from Japan to tickle the taste buds of even the most uncompromising connoisseurs.  Here are five of the best we’ve found in our travels:

 

Copper & Oak (New York City). You won’t find cocktails at this dark, small (eight stools) Lower East Side locale, but you’ll find what may be the best whisky selection in New York City. The voluminous menu includes more than 100 Japanese expressions, from blends like Suntory Kakubin (ubiquitous in Japan but almost impossible to find in the States) and Mars Tsunagu, to pricey-but-worth it rare gems such as a Karuizawa single cask offering, distilled in 1984 and bottled in 2012, and a 23 year old cask strength dram from the famed Hanyu distillery. There are a lot of world-class whisky bars in New York, but for the Japanese whisky fan, this should be the first stop. If you’re in the mood for fancier digs, check out their sibling bar, the Brandy Library, located in TriBeCa, which also has a good Japanese selection and a plush, men’s-club vibe. (157 Allen St.)

Seven Grand (Los Angeles). Open since 2007, Seven Grand was at the forefront of L.A.’s spirits and cocktail revival, providing great drinks as well as education and information through their Whisky Society club. There are three other Seven Grands in the States, but the Los Angeles branch has the deepest Japanese whisky selection, with a healthy helping of Nikka and Suntory stalwarts as well as noteworthy drams like Ichiro’s “The Floor Malted” from Chichibu and a brandy cask-finished expression from Ohishi. (515 W. 7th St., 2nd floor)

Sexy Fish (London). One of the finest Japanese restaurants in London also boasts a larger selection of Japanese whisky than most whisky bars in Japan — more than 400 bottles!  The legendary Xavier Landais has spent the last seven years curating the collection, and has written a menu worthy of the whisky.  Whiskies are listed by distillery, each of which is given a short biography.  Among the most noteworthy drams are a 33 year old single grain whisky aged in refill sherry butts, from the now-shuttered Kawasaki distillery, laid down in 1976; the Maltage Satsuma 12 Year Old from Kagoshima, which ceased production in 1985; and a 23 year old virgin puncheon cask expression distilled in 1991 at Nikka’s Yoichi distillery.  Patience is required both to sift through the menu and to get the whisky; each one is served with a hand-carved ice ball (unless otherwise specified) that takes about 10 minutes to create.  It’s worth the wait. (Berkeley Square House, Berkeley Square, Mayfair)

Golden Promise (Paris). A whisky lover’s paradise, Golden Promise offers more than 1,000 whiskies from all over the world, including a ample supply of Japanese whiskies.  And not just your run-of-the-mill expressions, either. “The Lounge,” a speakeasy-within-a-bar, contains more than 60 offerings from the legendary Karuizawa distillery alone. The bar proper, in addition to a healthy whisky list of its own, offers Japanese tapas and innovative takes on classic highballs. (11 Rue Tiquetonne)

Club Qing (Hong Kong). It never hurts to have a passionate whisky collector who runs his bar.  How passionate is owner Aaron Chan about Japanese whisky?  He owns the entire 54 bottle collection of the famed Ichiro’s Card series!  At his bar in central Hong Kong, you’ll find his excellent taste and knowledge guides Club Qing’s library, with plenty of whiskies from the famed (and closed) Hanyu distillery, along with classics and rare drams from Karuizawa, Eigashima, and Fuji Gotemba, among others. And take note that their collection of rare Scotch single malts is as impressive as the Japanese selection. (10/F, Cosmos Building, 8-11 Lan Kwai Fong, Central)