Japanese Single Malts: A Tasting Tour of Tokyo Whisky

By: Claire Bullen

August 1, 2013

These days, Tokyo is more than just a destination for sake lovers – in the last decade a community of Tokyo whisky connoisseurs has flourished in the Japanese capital. Japanese single malts are now the top choice in the city, and American bourbon is also showing up on more and more menus.

Homegrown Japanese whisky has also seen its international profile rise significantly over the last ten years or so. Small batch distillations from the Land of the Rising Sun are among the favourites of whisky connoisseurs worldwide, and Suntory is now known for more than just its “Lost in Translation” cameo.

For those seeking a taste of Japanese whisky in Tokyo, we’ve found four must-sample stops. From specialist whisky bars for the true aficionado to cocktail bars with whisky lists on the side, these watering holes will provide an excellent introduction to Japan’s premium malts.

Shot Bar Zoetrope

Shot Bar Zoetrope | Tokyo

Shot Bar Zoetrope © Shot Bar Zoetrope

It’s hard not to have a good time at Shot Bar Zoetrope in Tokyo’s Shinjuku neighbourhood. Founded by Atushi Horigami, who’s as devoted a cinéaste as he is an ardent whisky drinker, the bar screens classic Buster Keaton and Charlie Chaplin films on one wall while serving punters from its selection of over 300 whiskies. Try the 10 Year Nikka Yoichi Single Cask for a good introduction; another decent bet is Mercian Karuizawa’s 15 year Single Malt.

Nikka Blender’s Bar

Nikka Blender's Bar | Tokyo

Nikka Blender’s Bar © Daiji Hirata

Devotees of Nikka Whisky, one of Japan’s predominant brands, won’t want to miss the chance to stop by Nikka Blender’s Bar. Owned by the company, the bar stocks a huge number of bottles from its distilleries, including its Taketsuru 21 year, which was crowned the World’s Best Blended Whisky by the World Whiskies Awards in 2010. Also on offer are tasting flights of five different single malts which drinkers can blend themselves.

The Mash Tun

The Mash Tun | Tokyo

The Mash Tun, Tokyo © The Mash Tun

Whether homesick expats or native Japanese consumers, Scotch lovers of all kinds flock to The Mash Tun – a bar with an extensive supply of top distillations and a heavily Caledonian vibe. Though Scotch whisky makes up the bulk of the bar’s offerings, the Mash Tun also stocks bottles of special Japanese distillations like Suntory Single Cask Yamakazi whisky from 1994.

Ginza S

Suntory Whiskies | Tokyo

Suntory Whiskies © Daiji Hirata

Getting its name from the ritzy Ginza neighbourhood where it’s situated, Ginza S is a classically sleek speakeasy with immaculately groomed and perfectly precise barmen. Founded by Scottish-trained whisky expert Seiji “CJ” Mizota, its whisky selection is serious business. Expect dozens of highly obscure distillations, which can be ordered neat or enjoyed in cocktail form.

Header photo: Bottle of Hibiki Suntory Whisky © René Mayorga

Book your flight to Japan with Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow.

Have you visited any of these Tokyo whisky bars? What is your Japanese whisky of choice? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Written by Claire Bullen


Claire Bullen

Claire is a born globetrotter: before relocating to London, she spent time in New York, Paris, Philadelphia, Chicago, and San Francisco. When she's not in pursuit of the next exciting meal, she can be found haunting indie bookstores and sketching outdoors. Follow Claire @ClaireMBullen

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