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Paradise for whisky lovers isn’t just in Scotland – Japan is one of the best places to experience whisky, too! Japanese whisky has become a hot topic around the world after Japan has gained more awareness for its whisky through movies such as “Lost in Translation” and world-renowned awards (e.g., Suntory’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 for Best Whisky in the World). If you’re new to the whisky world or you’re a whisky lover who wants to add enjoying evenings sipping whisky at bars to your travel to-do list, here’s your handy travel guide to locations in Japan that serve whisky. Get your Japanese whisky fix while you’re in Japan by stopping by one of these bars:
Suntory Whisky House, Osaka
As you can expect from a bar and restaurant established by the distinguished Suntory whisky company, the Suntory Whisky House in Osaka is a must-visit spot for tourists. Serving divine cuisine and exquisite Japanese and international whisky, this luxurious restaurant is sure to please your palate in many ways. The Suntory Whisky House even offers whisky tasting so you can sample all kinds of whisky from Japan or from other countries. Before you stop by, though, book a reservation so you can be seated right away; even the locals enjoy this place and it gets packed quickly!
Nikka Blender’s Bar, Tokyo
Just like Suntory, Nikka, another leading Japanese whisky company, set up Nikka Blender’s Bar in Tokyo and serves Nikka-exclusive whisky. As the bar’s name suggests, you can order the whisky tasting and blending special sampler and create your own Nikka whisky blend. If you’d like to experiment with blending your own whisky and sampling Japanese whisky from a renowned whisky distiller, be sure to visit Nikka Blender’s Bar for a real treat of phenomenal Japanese liquor.
Brilliant Bar, Shinjuku
Indulge in high-quality Japanese whisky and relax in a luxurious lounge at the Brilliant Bar in Shinjuku. What’s unique about Brilliant is that they allow you to reserve an unfinished whisky bottle under your name and drop the price for your next visits, which is an excellent deal for travelers who plan to stay in Japan for a while or who want to drop by Brilliant regularly during their stay.
Hibiya Bar Whisky S II, Ginza
Offering a wide variety of Suntory-exclusive whiskies from the Hakushu Distillery, Hibiya Bar Whisky S II in Ginza is another sophisticated bar that gives you plenty of domestically made whiskies to try, even though all of them are from a single distillery. This recently established (May 2014) Ginza-based bar also has a selection of whisky-friendly snacks and dishes for you to sample while you indulge in superb liquor.
Bar Plat, Tokyo
A true hidden gem when it comes to Japanese whisky bars, Bar Plat in Tokyo is known for having a wide range of first-rate Japanese whiskies, even rare bottles. If you want to lay your eyes on an elaborate collection of exquisite Japanese whisky, take a trip to Bar Plat for your evening indulgence.
For its quirky-cool atmosphere and beautiful selection of Japanese whisky, the Zoetrope bar in Nishi-Shinjuku was built on the foundation of the owner’s (Atsushi Horagami) two loves: American movies and Japanese whisky. Zoetrope is a popular watering hole where silent movies or movie soundtracks play in the background, giving this unique bar a fun social area for locals and tourists. Even the decor, which was made with the famous Japanese director Takeo Kimura’s creative mind, resembles a vintage-styled cinema! While you try rich and rare whiskies from Horagami’s collection, you can enjoy the background theatre that Horagami has set up for his guests’ entertainment.
Bar K, Osaka
With the polished American-like decor and wide selection of Japanese whiskies and other spirits, Bar K in Osaka is another well-known location for enthusiastic liquor lovers. Here at Bar K, you can try a wide range of whisky straight-up or have the experienced bartenders fix you a delicious and satisfying cocktail.
Bar Keller, Kyoto
Named after the German word for “cellar,” Kyoto’s own Bar Keller is a quaint and unique hole-in-the-wall that has a simple, yet refined, decor that reflects its name. Three wooden barrel casks are lodged in the wall behind the bar while countless miniature whisky-filled bottles twinkle at you from above, which creates an authentic cellar appearance.
Like other bars in Japan, Bar Keller offers a service where customers can claim unfinished liquor and save it under their name. What Bar Keller does to accommodate this service is pour the unfinished beverage into empty decanters, also known as bottle-keeps in Japan; you’ll see these decanters resting on shelves behind the seating area at the bar. To complement the whisky and other alcoholic beverages offered at Bar Keller, you can nibble into beautifully made cuisine.
Bar Cordon Noir, Kyoto
Another favorite bar in Kyoto, the Bar Cordon Noir is well worth the trip to one of Japan’s most historically rich cities. Featuring hundreds of whiskies, including hard-to-find Japanese whiskies, behind the bar, Bar Cordon Noir lets you experience whisky fully thanks to the highly knowledgeable and experienced bartenders and well-stocked shelves. With jazz playing in the background and the dim lighting, the ambiance of this popular bar allows you to relax and savor the moment as you sip on perfectly blended cocktails or rare, matured whiskies.
New York Bar in Park Hyatt Hotel, Tokyo
We can’t have a list of places to drink Japanese whisky without mentioning the New York Bar in Tokyo’s Park Hyatt Hotel! This world-famous bar gained its fame through the movie “Lost in Translation,” and the movie also has Bill Murray’s character advertise Suntory’s whisky, which also helped bring awareness to Japanese whisky. The swanky New York Bar houses a diverse collection of whiskies for patrons. If you want to visit the New York Bar, make sure to wear appropriate formal attire and enjoy the view while you’re relishing in your whisky!
BONUS: Tours of Japanese Whisky Distilleries
Bars and liquor-friendly restaurants are fantastic places to experience Japanese whisky culture, but there’s another way for you to discover and understand the fame that Japanese whisky has gained throughout the years: by visiting Japanese whisky distilleries! If you want a behind-the-scenes look at how Japanese whisky is made or you want to sample Japanese whisky straight from the distillery, there are plenty of places you can tour including the following:
- Suntory’s Yamazaki Distillery – The whisky giant, Suntory, provides paid tours and tastings at its Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries. Suntory requires reservations before entering the facility, so be sure to reserve before coming to Japan or while you’re staying in Japan. You can find more information for Yamazaki Distillery tours here and Hakushu Distillery tours here.
- Nikka Whisky’s Yoichi Distillery Tour – Nikka offers Japanese-only whisky distillery tours, so it’s best for those who speak and understand Japanese to visit. Visit here for more information.
- Kirin’s Fuji-Gotemba Distillery – As one of the biggest Japanese whisky distilleries in the world, Kirin’s Fuji-Gotemba Distillery offers free tours and paid tasting (approximately $10 USD). Most tours are in Japanese, but English tours are given based on demand.
If you’re planning a trip to Japan and want to get a taste of the legendary Japanese whisky before investing in a bottle for at-home indulgence, add any of these bars or distillery tours to your itinerary and make the most of your evenings while in Japan! Dekanta is always here when you want to purchase a fine bottle of Japanese whisky when you’re away from Japan.