Unearthing the Spirit of Nippon: Exploring Underrated Japanese Whisky Brands in Singapore

Malt & Wine Asia - Japanese Whiskey on Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2021

For ages, whisky connoisseurs have showered praises on the distinguished brands of Japan, offering rich, unforgettable flavours. Today, let’s unfold the lesser-known stories behind the other vibrant characters of Japanese whisky beyond Yamazaki (山崎), Suntory, and Nikka.

Understanding the Unique Cask Flavour Profiles of Lesser-Known Japanese Whiskies

Often misunderstood as a mere derivative of Scotch whisky, Japanese whisky delivers an unmistakably unique flavour profile, thanks to the cultural nuances infused into the distilling process.

What Makes Japanese Whisky Unique?

The distinctiveness of Japanese whiskies, whether blended or single malts, lies in the precision of the distillation process and the unique characteristics of mizunara oak casks. The Japanese’s meticulousness and commitment to quality often result in a whisky that is impeccably balanced, subtle yet complex.

The Influence of the Cask on Whisky’s Flavour Profile

The type of cask used to age whisky plays a major role in determining its flavour profile. Japanese distilleries like Suntory (サントリー) and Nikka (ニカナ) rely heavily on Mizunara oak, which imparts signature spicy、 incense-like notes. The unique properties of Mizunara oak, which grows naturally in the climate of northern Japan, lend distinctive aromatic qualities that differentiate Japanese whisky from Scotch or bourbon. Beyond Mizunara, wine casks like Sherry butts and Port pipes also find their way into Japanese whisky maturation, offering sweet fruit layers.

Tracing the Evolution of Single Malt Japanese Whisky

Japanese whisky has over a century of history and is considered among the finest whiskies globally. Production began in the late 1800s when Masataka Taketsuru, a Scottish-trained brewer, established the Yamazaki Distillery, one of Japan’s oldest and most respected. Initially following Scottish methods, Japanese distillers eventually developed a unique style. After WWII, economic growth and rising demand led to many new distilleries and dramatically increased production. Another decline in the 80s/90s forced closures, but recent years have seen a revival among new generations of whisky drinkers discovering the distinctive Japanese flavours and qualities. Today, Japanese whisky includes a diverse range of styles and is again considered among the world’s best, enjoyed by whisky lovers globally. Over its century-plus history, Japanese whisky has transitioned from emulating Scotch to becoming a renowned style of its own.

Why Consider Kamiki and Umiki Brands for a Different Japanese Whisky Experience?

While established brands are accessible favourites, newcomers Kamiki and Umiki are crafting unique offerings that merit equal reverence.

Kamiki (神木): Merging Tradition and Innovation

Kamiki Whisky - from Kamiki Website

Kamiki Whisky – from Kamiki Website

The Kamiki (神木) distillery combines time-honoured Japanese whisky-making traditions with innovative ageing and blending techniques. Founded in the late 1990s in the Kumamoto prefecture of Kyushu, Kamiki aims to put its own unique spin on Japanese whisky. Its award-winning expressions balance depth and complexity with charming fruitiness and subtle tropical floral aromatics. Kamiki blends smooth malt Japanese whisky with a rare Yoshino sugi cask finish, offering a refreshing take on the whisky world. The name Kamiki, meaning ‘God’s breath’, embodies the natural purity of these distinctive whiskies.

Umiki(海木): The Taste of the Ocean in a Bottle

Umiki Whisky - from Umiki Website

Umiki Whisky – from Umiki Website

Umiki(海木) comprises two kanji characters. The first character, “umi” means (ocean) and the second character “ki” means (tree). Is an innovative world-blended whisky with an apparent maritime influence. It’s crafted with ocean-matured malt whiskies from around the globe and Japanese whisky, resulting in a delicately blended taste. Based on the coastlines of Hiroshima, the upstart Umiki distillery embraces the influence of the sea and forest in its whisky. It sources water from a natural underground spring in the Seto Inland Sea and uses locally-made Mizunara oak casks that impart briny and coastal notes. Umiki single malt offerings provide a contemporary yet classic Japanese whisky profile, with waves of sweet vanilla and spice complemented by salty minerality.

Comparing Kamiki (神木) and Umiki(海木) to Established Brands like Yamazaki (山崎) and Suntory (サントリー)

Compared to giants like Yamazaki (山崎) and Suntory (サントリー), Kamiki (神木) and Umiki(海木) still have a way to go in terms of recognition. The latter distilleries take inspiration from tradition while crafting more playful, nuanced flavours that appeal to both whisky enthusiasts and novice drinkers. Though less renowned, Kamika and Umiki stand out for their distinct regional identities and whiskey expressions encapsulating a true sense of place.

Revisiting the Classic: Kura, a Hidden Treasure from the House of Suntory

Delving deeper into the House of Suntory’s offerings, one encounters Kura – a humble yet commendable contender.

An Overview of Kura(蔵)

Kura (蔵) Whisky is a premium Japanese blended malt whisky from Helios Distillery in Okinawa. Helios values preserving Okinawa’s natural environment and using its history and resources to craft authentic spirits under their “From Okinawa to The World” motto for over 50 years. The whisky has aged at least three years in American oak barrels, then finished in Helios’s rum casks, achieving a balanced flavour with tropical, vanilla and seaweed notes. It blends malt whiskies up to 18 years old, with 3 years being the youngest component.

How Kura’s Distillery Practices Influence Whisky Flavour

Kura is crafted at Suntory’s Chita distillery, located on the scenic banks of the Chita Peninsula. Here, distillers embrace traditional techniques like fermentation in wooden washbacks, allowing natural enzymes to shape the whisky’s signature taste. The marine climate also enables gentle ageing, as seasonal temperature changes interact with the oak casks to promote complexity. These time-honoured, small-scale methods make Kura an exemplar of the classic Suntory flavour profile.

Kura vs Hakushu: The Unseen Contender

While Suntory’s other whiskies, like the Hakushu single malt, received wide acclaim, Kura has qualities make it stand apart. It lacks the smoky undertones of Hakushu yet offers a rounder, more approachable flavour. Enthusiasts note its sweet, honeyed nose, dried fruit accents and softly spiced finish – a subtle, elegant drinking experience that retains the smooth drinkability of a blended whisky. This refinement and balance allow Kura to compete with more esteemed whiskies as a showcase of the Suntory artisans’ craft.

Sampling Reki: The Crowning Glory of the Akkeshi Distillery

Reki is the flagship whisky from Akkeshi Distillery, one of the rising stars in Japanese whisky production. With its robust smoky profile, Reki demonstrates the distillery’s pursuit of innovation and excellence.

Unveiling Reki: The Dark Horse of Japanese Whisky

Though lesser known than larger distilleries, Akkeshi and its Reki expression have rapidly built intrigue among whisky connoisseurs. Nestled in Hokkaido’s remote wilderness, Akkeshi’s small-batch production and pristine water source allow its whisky to stand out for its purity and intensity of flavour. Of their releases, smoky, complex Reki is the distillery’s crowning achievement.

Takeshi’s Intriguing Peated and Non-Peated Single Malts

Drawing on Scotch and Japanese whisky traditions, Akkeshi founder Takeshi Kishinami elegantly balances peated and unpeated malts in Reki’s blend. Adding a measured portion of peated barley allows the emergence of the rich, woodsmoke notes Reki is known for while retaining Japanese whisky’s honeyed sweetness and delicate fruitiness. This skilled blending underlies Reki’s unique flavour profile.

Comparing Reki to the Popular Peated Brand Hibiki

While Suntory’s Hibiki is widely considered Japan’s iconic smoky malt, Reki compares favourably in its purity and intensity of smoky flavour. Unfettered by the need to appeal to mass tastes, Akkeshi can focus intensely on a bold, unwavering exploration of smoke in their whisky. For those enamoured with the sea salt, leather and barbecue flavours peat imparts, Reki is an exciting, formidable contender to even as refined a classic as Hibiki.

Buying Japanese Whisky Online in Singapore: A Guide for Connoisseurs

Singapore whisky enthusiasts are gaining an appreciation for high-quality Japanese styles like the refined Kura single grain and Kamiki Sherry Cask single malt. Those looking to expand home collections can purchase rare bottlings online from Malt & Wine Asia, Singapore’s premier spirits retailer.

Finding Rare and Limited Edition Japanese Whisky Online

Buying Japanese whisky online has never been easier. From Malt & Wine Asia to alcohol delivery services, many platforms allow Singapore whisky lovers to explore rare and limited-edition whiskies from their homes. The experience is akin to a virtual tour through Japan’s celebrated distilleries, from where you could pick the gems of your choice.

Creating Your Personalized Japanese Whisky Highball at Home

The Highball classic mixes whisky with bubbly water over ice for a light, refreshing flavour. Blending rare finds like Kura Cask Strength White Oak or Kamiki Single Malt Wine Cask online from Malt & Wine Asia’s selection allows connoisseurs to invent their ultimate bespoke Highball.

Ensuring Authenticity When Buying Japanese Whisky Online

While online portals cater to easy access, whisky lovers must be wary of counterfeit bottles. It’s advisable to buy from reputed online stores, keeping an eye out for anomalies in bottle labels and seals. If reviews are available, it’s worth noting what other customers have experienced. As Singapore’s trusted Japanese whisky specialist, Malt & Wine Asia enables online access to rare releases, customisation options, and fully verified authentic products. Explore their range today to grow your home collection.