After picking up a ton of international awards in recent years, Japan is no longer "the hidden secret of the whisky world," according to Dave Broom, author of The World Atlas of Whisky. Instead, the country's distillers are now recognized masters in "just bloody good whisky." Experts say Japan's climate sweltering humid summers and cold winters both speeds and slows cask maturation, imparting unique tastes. Japanese water, which has fewer minerals than Europe's, also plays a crucial role. "There's a transparency about the flavors," says Broom. "In Scotch you get this wonderful jumble of complexities, so things are kind of flying out and nipping at you from all angles. In Japan, there's slightly more control on the palate." Want to check out the latest thing in international whisky? Here are four great tipples.
1 Yamazaki Single Malt 18-Years, $250
This award-winning 18-year-old whisky from Japan's oldest distillery comes on strong, assaulting the mouth before leaving behind hints of oak and fruit.
2 Hibiki 12-Years, $60
International interest in Japanese whisky saw this bottling released to overseas drinkers before the domestic crowd. Its softness on the palate "changes quite dramatically on the finish," says Broom, "and suddenly gets a spicy, mouthwatering character." It owes the latter to its maturation in casks that once held plum wine.
3 Taketsuru 35-Years, $840
Nikka's Taketsuru brand is a nod to Masataka Taketsuru (1894-1979), Japan's whisky pioneer. It produced only 1,000 bottles of the 35-Years, so if you're lucky enough to find (and afford) one, you're in for a treat. But don't expect this whisky to fight for attention. The nose is light and the taste silky, with whispers of honey and smoke.
4 Ichiro's Malt 3-Years, $140
The newly opened Chichibu Distillery is owned by Ichiro Akuto, whose family has been in the business since the 1940s. Don't be put off by the youth of his three-year-old whisky. "It's very mature for its age," says Akuto. The taste is very smooth given the limited cask time, offering up dashes of vanilla, honey and citrus.
Got an awful travel gripe? The Avenger may be able to sort it out for you.