The Best of Japanese Whisky in 2019

Another whisky year over and what a year it was. Chichibu single casks proliferated, but secondary market prices went through the roof, a classic whisky bar closed but an excellent new one opened, and a stunning 30-year whisky wowed deep-pocketed malt lovers

Best Japanese Whisky of the Year: Hakushu 30-year for the Kiyosato Field Ballet 30th Anniversary, with an out-turn of only 15 bottles. It’s certainly not cheap: expect to pay about 60,000 yen (about USD550) for 30 ml. But what a whisky this is. You know that sublime aroma that overpowers all your senses when you visit the Hakushu forest warehouse? Oh yeah, this whisky doles it out in spades. And you get the fruity magnificence of pineapple, white peach and kiwi. This is truly a bottle for the ages.

Kiyosato 30th Hakushu

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Best Distillery Tour: Chichibu Whisky wins again. Yumi Yoshikawa and the team always deliver a superb experience.

Best Chichibu Whisky: Of the dozens of single casks, it was a close call between three 10-year Malt Dream Casks. In my humble, the Cask and Still 10-year (cask number 175) just pips Cask Number 212 and Claude Whisky MDC.

Best Mars Whisky: Komagatake 27-year cask number 1040 is world-class. The 7th edition Papillon (American white oak cask number 1698) is the best from New Mars.

Best Whisky Festival: Chichibu Whisky Matsuri, with Whisky Talk Fukuoka a close second.

Best New Whisky Bar in Tokyo: Aloha Whisky in Ikebukuro. David Tsujimoto has opened a well priced bar with an outstanding selection of Japanese, scotch and global whiskies.

Best New Whisky Bar Outside Tokyo: The Highlander Inn in Chichibu not only has a solid range of Japanese and old scotch bottles, but also outstanding food. The Cullen skink (fish soup) and scotch egg are real crowd pleasers.

Best Whisky Bar that is No More: Malt Bar South Park in Nakano closed its doors in October. Everyone asked but no one found out where all those stunning bottles went.

Best New Single Malt: Yamazukara has just delivered a really promising single malt, Asaka The First bottled at 50%. Next year, there will be many more competitors in this category, including Mars Tsunuki, Akkeshi, Shizuoka and Nagahama.

Best Tasting Event: Bar Kage held a couple more of their phenomenal Card Series tastings. Sure, at first glance 40,000 yen (USD360) seems a lot. But for two and a half hours of sipping up to 60 single cask Hanyu, Chichibu and Kawasaki whiskies, it’s a killer bargain.

And finally, the Worst of the Year: the mishandling of Chichibu bottle sales at the Tokyo International Bar Show in May. How will the organizers handle it in 2020? And there are also fears for the Chichibu Whisky Matsuri 2020? Tickets sold out online in just two hours, compared to ten days last year. Will we see hundreds of non-whisky fans lining up at the tombola for a chance to buy and flip a Chichibu bottle? A re-think might be needed there.

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