The Japanese whisky market is exploding. Ever since Suntory’s 2013 Yamazaki Sherry Cask won the best whiskey in the world in 2015, it thrust Japanese whisky makers–who have been around for decades—into the spotlight. But that exposure was a double-edged sword, causing the demand for Japanese whiskies to dwarf the supply.
“The available reserves from the larger distillers, including Suntory and Nikka, sold out immediately,” says Nima Ansari, a buyer specializing in Japanese whisky for Astor Wine and Spirits. With no juice left, distillers had to discontinue their oldest products and limit others while they focused on creating new, younger variants just to keep some whisky on the shelves. “This naturally raised the price for everything,” Ansari says, “Especially the older expressions.”
Due to the scarcity, if you’re shopping for a bottle of Japanese whisky, you’re increasingly faced with two options: the younger, unmatured offerings, typically less expensive though by no means cheap, or you’re looking at pricier bottles. “I’d stay away from the younger stuff,” says Flavien Desoblin, owner of New York City’s Brandy Library bar and Copper and Oak, a bar with 100 Japanese whiskies that eschews cocktails to serve the spirits pure, in one- or two-ounce pours. “Younger products from newer distilleries could be interesting and great to watch from the future, but I would go something with an age statement or a recurring limited edition. You’re assured a quality spirit.”
Both Desoblin and Ansari agree that you’ll have to put in a little more effort to find the right bottles than you would for a Scotch or a bourbon, but you also don’t have to go broke when buying Japanese whisky. Below, some of their favorite bottles, across a number of price points.