Japanese Whisky: The Best of 2021

Chichibu cask 2636

Best Whisky of the Year: Chichibu Cask Number 2636 for the 2021 Chichibu Whisky Matsuri. A stunning 10-year aged in an oloroso sherry hogshead (American White Oak). Do whatever it takes to taste this stunning Chichibu.

Best Long-matured Whisky of the Year: Komagatake Papillon 30-year. In recent years, Mars has consistently delivered outstanding whiskies (for example, the “Sad Dragon” 29-year Shinanoya release from 2017, along with distillery exclusive 27-year and 28-year releases ) and this year’s, with its exquisite butterfly labels, is no exception.

Not a Yamazaki 55-year but a 50-year

Worship of Mammon Whisky of the Year: Yamazaki 55-year. I tried a couple of Yamazaki 50-years a few years back and was of course stunned so I have no doubt this 55-year will be a stunner. It will be sad if collectors’ obsession with its secondary market value means few will ever be enjoyed.

Best Whisky Bar in Japan: Bar Kitchen in Fukuoka. This and South Park used to be the Samson and Goliath of Japanese whisky bars. Since the closure of South Park in 2019, Bar Kitchen towers above all with its astonishing selection of old bottles across the gamut of styles. The owner, Oka-san, has recently been promoting his armagnac selection on Instagram but a first-class selection of Japanese, scotch and American spirits remain for your pleasure. Though his full set of The Hanyu Card Series is long finished, there are serious quantities of Chichibu.

Best Whisky Bar in Tokyo: Aloha Whisky. David Tsujimoto’s bar in Ikebukuro goes from strength to strength. He keeps a terrific selection of Chichibu, including releases for overseas markets, recent releases from Mars, Kanosuke, Shizuoka and other Japanese newcomers, plus a really well curated selection of scotch and world whiskies. A great selection for a bar not yet three years old.

Best New Japanese Single Malt: Kanosuke The First. The nose of orange peel, black tea, ginger, raisin and figs transmogrifies to a palate of candied fruits, forest berries, subtle burning wood and and buttered toasted fruit bread. Delectable.

Worst of the Year: once again, it must be the inventory of Japanese whisky at the average liquor store. Locals use the Japanese word for phantom, maboroshi, to describe the appearance of Yamazaki 18, Hibiki 21 or a Chichibu in a liquor store. You see, those whiskies may as well be apparitions from Kwaidan or Ugetsu. Nevertheless, happy hunting!

Here’s to an exciting New Whisky Year!

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