Five different ways to try Japanese whisky

The UK (and Europe, for that matter) is known for its superior whisky. But if you’re unfamiliar with the products on offer, here are some top places to start

What’s yours is mine: one of the coolest whisky bars in the world, Juniper Alley in New York. Photograph: Flickr user manhcos

Never bet against the Scottish – whisky doesn’t hold back either. But recently, there’s been a surge of great whisky from Japan, which is renowned for many things, not least its knack for outdoing its Asian rival whisky-producing rivals. These seven distilleries will have your taste buds and palates at full tilt.

They’re all distinctive, precise, luxurious and avant-garde, but each distillery offers something different. It might be Hongkuwhisky (£45/25.50, £37.50, £37.50); machiikeya whisky (£35/24.50, £33.50, £29.50); or Hiku whisky (£53/32.50, £47.50, £45).

Perhaps this entire list could have been on the on-page.

Long standing in Glasgow since 1833, Gordon & MacPhail has the longest history of any distillery in the world, dating back to Edward Gordon MacPhail, one of Scotland’s oldest clergymen. The village of Milngavie (pop: 2,116) is so famous for whisky, in fact, that the community’s famous whisky taxi (Milngavie taxi) now serves dinner, too.

Not-so-smoky award-winning cider at Andersens, Canskoern Estate, Western Cape

Gone are the days when Japan’s whiskies were a sober affair, with whispers of such names as Meiji and Shunjitsu so unheard of as to often get the interview. If you’re curious, you need look no further than Tetsuya Iso, Nakazawa Yojimachi, or some forts behind the tracks of the Japanese national railroad.

Tokyo is not always around the corner and you will have to cross an ocean. But the gateway to Japan’s whisky wealth is Caledonia, 200km east of Tokyo. Mitsuru Seigo is credited with turning Nikka into the biggest whisky distillery in Japan. After Nikka’s founder was wounded in the second world war, he fled to America, where Nikka began producing whisky in the US. The country itself is similar to Scotland, with a variety of seasons and climates. Central Japan is in a cloud-beaten cloud forest. In the north there’s lake country and mountains.

The highland world is also home to Hakura, with its ghosts.

Hakura, one of only four mainland Japanese whisky distilleries, is rather grand. The views from its honour guard in Shinjuku are both fantastic and unapproachable.

Meanwhile, Caledonia’s Tokyu brand was founded in 1862 by Yoshi Yokoyama, a champion knitter and connoisseur of literature. So close to Scotland but not, well, very different.

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