The Scots can be unpredictable—the country’s official animal is a unicorn, and then there’s the whole Loch Ness Monster business. But what may come as more of a shock to you is that this is the first time in 12 years not a single Scottish whisky made top five rankings in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, the Telegraph reports.
The winning title belongs to Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 from Suntory, Japan’s oldest whisky distillery, founded in 1923. This “rich and fruity” whisky has an “exquisite boldness” and a finish of “light, teasing spice,” according to the whisky expert himself, Murray, who sampled over 1,000 new entries for the Bible’s 2015 edition.
Now hear us out before you form an angry mob yielding your finest glassware and fretting over what’s become of the world of liquor. Japan produces some of the finest whiskies worldwide. And if you don’t want to hear us out, then listen to restaurateur and chef Michael Mina of Bourbon Steak Los Angeles at The Americana at Brand.
“I think the fact that [the winning Yamakazi is] aged in a sherry cask and done in a single malt style with clean Japanese water, makes it just such a superior quality,” Mina said in an email interview.
The Yamakazi Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 scored 97.5 out of 100 and earned great acclaim for being “near indescribable genius,” but getting your hands on some isn’t an easy task. Only 18,000 bottles were made, it’s sold out in the Whisky Bible’s online shop, and it’s only available in a few specialty shops in the U.K. for about $160. As an alternative, here are Chef Mina’s top four Japanese whiskies so you know what to drink—until the Yamakzi Sherry Cask is back in stock, of course.
Suntory Yamakazi Whiskies
You look at the obvious, Suntory Yamazaki, whose history and single malt style was instrumental in introducing Japanese whisky to the U.S. through the familiar concept of scotch.
Note: Single malt whisky is from one single distillery whereas a blended malt whisky is from multiple distilleries. Blended tends to be more consistent whereas single malt varies from year to year. If you think of it like you would wine, it’s a little more relatable. Some bottles are from a single vineyard whereas other wines are blends from multiple vineyards. It doesn’t mean one is better than the other, just different.
Hibiki is another great Suntory product and is by far the most popular among our guests. This is a true Japanese style of blended whisky utilizing different grains and water sources that makes its quality superior. This is a great one to try when you’re learning more about the importance of grains and water sources in whisky distilling.
Ranges from $59-$140 on The Whisky Exhchange: Online Whisky Shop.
Note: Whisky hasn’t changed too much over the years. That’s why people love it; there’s this amazing tradition to it that keeps such a strong focus on using the best grain sources and great water sources. It’s actually a really simple product.
Nikka Coffey Still Japanese Grain Whisky
Nikka Coffey Grain is more unique. It’s almost more along the lines of bourbon, as opposed to scotch. It’s sweeter, less smoky, and really great for cocktails; we use this one for a cocktail at PABU called the PABU Sour.
Note: If you have the opportunity, go to a Japanese whisky tasting or dinner and really explore each variety’s eccentricities. At Bourbon Steak Los Angeles and The Americana at Brand, we offer a Japanese Whisky Ceremony that’s presented tableside and served with a pairing essence; it’s a really unique way to experience individual whiskies and learn what pairs well with different Japanese whiskies. Guests have loved them.
There’s also Chichibu, that’s new to the market. It’s a little more whimsical, but the complexity and quality is remarkable for a relatively new product. It’s fun and exciting to see different styles of multi-grain and single malt as consumers continue to understand and become more educated on Japanese whisky.
Varieties include: Chichibu 2009 The Floor Malted, Chichibu Chibidaru 2009, Chichibu Port Pipe 2009, Chichibu 2009 The Peated, Chichibu 2010 The Peated, Chichibu 2013 On The Way (prices vary from about $140-$155 on The Whisky Exhchange: Online Whisky Shop)
Note: Most people don’t know how to cut whisky to brighten it or bring out more flavors – the amount of water to add to it, whether or not to add ice cubes. It’s a whisky-by-whisky basis, you can’t treat two whiskies the same!