We’re now well over half way through 2021 and Autumn will soon be rolling in. With that in mind, now seems like the perfect time to look back at the best Japanese whisky releases of the year so far.
In recent years, the Japanese whisky landscape has experienced some significant changes, with the introduction of new labelling standards and a number of exciting new distilleries popping up around the country. It used to be that the whole industry was dominated by just a few big producers, and while said companies still hold an enormous market share, the fact we are seeing more choice for customers in the industry is a fantastic thing for Japanese whisky and its fans around the globe.
Some of these new distilleries have already started to release fantastic expressions, and we’ll take a look at a few of those today, along with some new releases from the big names in Japanese whisky.
So without further ado, let’s get into it.
The Amahagan range, created at the up and coming Nagahama Distillery, has already made waves in the industry, and picked up a number of awards in the process. Created by blending malt and grain whisky sourced from countries around the world, including whisky distilled at Nagahama, it aims to highlight the possibilities within the new World Blended Whisky category, delighting noses and palates in the process.
The World Malt Peated Edition follows on from previous editions in style, adding an extra layer of peat smoke to the creamy, fruity spirit. It brings vanilla, burnt orange, milk chocolate, honey and gentle oak, all backed up by building peat smoke that is delivered in the smoothest of fashions. It’s one of our favourite releases in the range so far and we wouldn’t be surprised if it followed in the footsteps of its predecessors by picking up some awards at international spirits competitions.
The Mars Lucky Cat range has garnered something of a cult following throughout the years and this latest bottling, The Choco, has already received widespread acclaim from fans and critics around the globe.
The range was initially thought to be Japanese blended whisky, however after the introduction of tighter labelling standards, it was revealed that the expressions are in fact World Blended Whiskies. However, this has left drinkers undeterred, as at the end of the day, it’s all about the drinking experience and this one delivers that with aplomb.
As the name suggests, it brings layers of chocolaty aromas and flavours to the table that mingle superbly with hints of red berries, cherries and subtle oak. As with all bottles in the series, it comes in an elegantly designed bottle, featuring a beautiful cat on the label, and will stand out in any collection. Another really fine creation from Hombo Mars.
Suntory released this new Hakushu Peated Malt 2021 Edition without so much as an official announcement. Rather, a Japan-exclusive lottery quietly took place, with only 300 bottles up for grabs. Fortunately, we managed to get our hands on a couple of bottles, so that you can try this magnificent, limited expression in all of its glory.
Crisp, refreshing and incomparably smooth, it brings everything we have come to expect from the Hakushu Distillery. Floral tones of fresh flowers and freshly cut grass marry perfectly with subtly building peat smoke, before gentle vanilla and toasted cereals come through on the palate. The use of fresh mountain water, sourced right next to the distillery, seems to add some sort of magic to Hakushu whiskies that makes them as crisp and smooth as anything on the market, and that is the case once more with this bottling.
As this expression is so limited, it does command a somewhat higher price point, however owning one of the 300 bottles released could prove to be a shrewd investment in years to come.
The Yamazaki Limited Edition range is one of the most popular Japanese whisky ranges ever released, with previous releases now fetching rather lofty fees at auction houses as whisky fans try to get their hands on these highly limited bottles. The series came to a temporary end after the 2017 release as a result of the on-going Japanese whisky shortage, however this year it made a comeback.
The Yamazaki Limited Edition 2021 was created by marrying malts of 12 years and older, all of which had been matured solely in virgin Mizunara oak casks. The results are a delightful whisky that is smooth, flavour-packed and keeps you coming back for another glass time and time again.
It brings pineapple, orange and nutmeg on the nose before honey, coconut cream and blueberries arrive on the palate. The finish is medium length and somewhat smoky, with vanilla and ginger lingering in the background.
It was released exclusively to the Japanese market in May of this year and all of the stock we had sold out in record time, however we are hopeful of getting access to some more bottles in the near future.
Hopefully there will be more Yamazaki Limited Editions in the years to come, as they really do give fans of the distillery something incredibly exciting to look forward to.
The Shizuoka Distillery is another of Japan’s rising stars. The distillery is one of the most modern in all of Japan, and they have sourced an old Karuizawa still and the world’s only wood-fired pot still to produce their whisky. These unique traits make Shizuoka stand apart from the crowd, and they have resulted in some stunning liquid so far. The Prologue K, produced in the Karuizawa still, was a resounding success, with fans everywhere clambering to get their hands on the highly limited bottling. Now, the Prologue W has arrived and it is set to be just as successful.
It’s an innovative whisky that was created from Japanese malt, peated and non-peated Scottish malt and beer malt from Germany, all of which was then distilled using the unique wood-fired pot still. It was then matured in a rather intriguing array of cask types: first-fill Bourbon barrels, first-fill Bourbon quarter casks, and virgin American oak barrels.
The results are an astounding, well-rounded and moreish whisky that delivers an elegant array of notes on the nose and palate, all backed up by gentle wood-fire and peat smoke. The combination is something that we have not experienced before, but we would be more than happy to try again.
Those at Shizuoka are clearly innovators who understand what it means to make quality whisky, and if they keep releasing expressions like the Prologue K and W, it won’t be long before they’re a household name.