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How To Drink Japanese Whisky (All You Need To Know)

How To Drink Japanese Whisky

Did you know that the Japanese started the practice of hand-carving ice balls for whisky? Many bartenders around the world also use Japanese-style tools to make drinks.

Japan took the whisky market by storm with its unique and subtle flavors of Japanese whisky. For over a decade and counting, Japanese whiskey has grown exponentially, and many people all around the world now enjoy the unique whisky flavors Japan has to offer.

How exactly do you drink Japanese whisky?

There are no rules. You can decide to drink it neat or on the rocks; just find what works best for you. In Japan, whisky is primarily drunk as a highball, so you can try that! You can also try other Japanese whisky cocktails. Other tips include choosing the right glass and pairing it with the right food.

If you’ve got a bottle of Japanese whisky and are wondering how best to drink it, you’ve come to the right place. So sit tight as you learn everything you need to know about enjoying Japanese whisky.

How To Drink Japanese Whisky

How To Drink Japanese Whisky

Again, there are no rules when it comes to drinking Japanese whisky, but you’ll need some signposts to guide you, let’s talk about some of them below.

Use the Right Glass

The best glass to drink Japanese whisky and any other whisky in is a Glencairn Glass. This type of glass is designed specifically to concentrate the aroma of the whisky so that you can experience the full flavor and complexity of the spirit.

The shape of the glass also helps to aerate the whiskey, releasing the subtle notes and aromas that are often lost when drinking whiskey from a regular glass. The glass also has a wide base which helps to keep the whisky cooler for longer.

Drink It Neat

Japanese whiskey has established a reputation of excellent quality, so the safest way to drink Japanese whiskey is neat. Drinking Japanese whisky neat allows you to fully appreciate the subtle flavor profile of the whisky, as the lack of ice or other mixers won’t interfere with the taste.

Drink It On the Rocks

It’s worth adding that you can also drink Japanese whisky on the rocks. Some people find the taste of Japanese whisky too strong to be consumed neat, others say you shouldn’t dilute the flavor with ice.

Whether or not you should drink Japanese whisky on the rocks is up to your personal preference. Try both to see what works best for you. If you want to make it feel more Japanese, you can hand-carve your own ice balls.

Drink It As a Highball

If you like Japanese whisky on the rocks, then you’ll love the highball even more. Highball is the most popular way to drink whisky in Japan and is often associated with social gatherings. The whisky is usually mixed with a lower-alcohol beverage, such as soda, which helps to reduce the alcohol content of the drink.

The combination of whisky, soda, and ice makes for a refreshing and light drink that is easy to consume. The highball is also enjoyed in casual settings, as the flavor of the whisky is not as intense as other drinks.

Whisky purists might frown on the idea of diluting high-quality Japanese whisky with soda, but the highball has become a staple in Japanese bars, and you can do whatever you want with your whisky.

Drink It With a Splash of Water

Many whisky connoisseurs recommend adding a small amount of water to whisky to open up its unique flavors and aromas. Ice might dilute your Japanese whisky to the point where it’ll be too diluted to enjoy.

If you want to open up the flavors but don’t want to drink it on the rocks, then add some drops of water and enjoy.

Pair It With the Right Food

The best foods to pair with Japanese whisky include spicy and savory dishes, such as grilled meats, sushi, and ramen. Rich and creamy dishes, such as curries and stews, are also great complements to the smoky and subtle sweetness of Japanese whisky.

For a more delicate pairing, light seafood dishes, such as sashimi and grilled fish, work well. Additionally, salty snacks, such as edamame and potato chips, help to balance out the whisky’s flavor.

A Brief History of Whisky in Japan

A Brief History Of Whisky In Japan

Whisky production in Japan began in the 1870s when a Scottish merchant named Masataka Taketsuru traveled to Scotland to study the art of distilling whisky.

He returned to Japan and opened the country’s first whisky distillery, the Yamazaki Distillery, in 1923. Since then, the whisky industry in Japan has grown exponentially, with many distilleries popping up across the country.

Japanese whisky has become renowned for its unique flavor and quality and has become increasingly popular around the world.

Why Is Japanese Whisky Not Whiskey

Japanese whisky is not simply referred to as “whiskey” for two main reasons. The first is that the spelling of whisky varies depending on the country of origin. In Scotland, Canada, and Japan, the spelling is “whisky,” while in Ireland and the United States, the spelling is “whiskey.”

The second reason is that Japanese whisky is made in a very different way than other whiskies. While Scotch and American whiskies are typically made from malted barley, Japanese whisky is made from a combination of malted and unmalted grains such as corn, rice, or wheat.

The distillation process is also different, as Japanese whisky is generally distilled in pot stills, while Scotch and American whiskies are distilled in column stills.

This unique distillation process gives Japanese whisky a unique flavor profile that is distinct from other whiskies.

The Best Japanese Whisky Brands

The Best Japanese Whisky Brands
  • Nikka Whisky: Nikka Whisky is the most popular brand of Japanese whisky, founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru. It produces a wide range of blended and single malt whiskies, including the award-winning Yoichi and Miyagikyo single malts.
  • Suntory Whisky: Suntory Whisky is another well-known Japanese whisky brand founded in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii. It manufactures the famous Yamazaki and Hakushu single malts.
  • Mars Shinshu: Mars Shinshu is a lesser-known brand of Japanese whisky, founded in 1985. It produces the famous Komagatake single malt.
  • White Oak: White Oak is an independent Japanese whisky producer founded in 1929. Akashi and Iwai’s single malts are some popular whiskys this brand manufactures.
  • Chichibu: Chichibu is a small, independent Japanese whisky producer founded in 2008. The Chichibu single malt is its most popular title.

Some Japanese Whiskey Cocktails

Have a bottle of Japanese whiskey and want to make a cocktail but don’t know where to start? Here are 2 great recipes.

Suntory Hakushu Highball

Suntory Hakushu Highball


  • 1oz Hakushu
  • 4 oz soda water
  • Ice
  • Fresh mint or basil to garnish


  • Fill a highball glass with ice cubes.
  • Next, add the Hakushu Japanese whisky.
  • Pour your soda water over the idea to release the flavor and aroma of the whisky.
  • Garnish with any herb or fruit of your choice (mint works well), and enjoy.

Japanese Sour

Japanese Sour

This is just a Japanese version of the whisky sour.


  • 2 oz Japanese whiskey
  • 3/4 oz freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 3/4 oz simple syrup
  • 1 egg white
  • 2-3 drops Angostura bitters


  • Fill a shaker with ice.
  • Pour in the whiskey, lemon juice, simple syrup, egg white, and bitters.
  • Shake vigorously for about 20 seconds.
  • Strain into a rocks glass filled with ice.
  • Garnish with a lemon wheel. Enjoy.

Final Thoughts

Japanese whiskey is a unique and complex spirit that can be drunk in any way you see fit. Just be sure to appreciate the work that goes into making such high-quality alcohol.

While there is a vast selection of Japanese whiskeys available, you’ll definitely find one that suits your taste.