When it comes to rare, limited whisky, staying ahead of the game is vital.
Yamazaki Essence of Suntory (Peated)
Credit: Courtesy of Dekanta

Prices rise, bottles sell out instantly, and die-hard fans scour the web and land for limited expressions by their favorite distilleries. To no whisky lover’s surprise, we’re talking about Japanese whisky.

As the global boom keeps pushing forward, it’s difficult to keep up with, let alone try, the exciting new bottles launching throughout the year.

When it comes to rare, limited whisky, staying ahead of the game is vital. So, here are three new bottles and ranges, to start hunting for before it’s too late.

Yamazaki Peated

Just weeks into 2018, drinks giant Suntory announced one of its most exciting ranges to date: The Essence of Suntory.

Launching in Japan on February 27, the range consists of three bottles, one from each of the company’s distilleries. To the surprise of fans the world over, all were bottled at cask strength, and feature modern, artistic labels, unlike the well-known Suntory ones we know and love. The profile of each bottling is also very unique.

Annually amassing global awards and said to be responsible for the global Japanese whisky boom, the great Yamazaki distillery is well-known to most whisky enthusiasts. Throughout history, the distillery has very rarely produced smoky, peated expressions.

For this reason, the announcement of the Yamazaki Peated bottling was warmly welcomed, and has created a huge buzz globally. At 49 per cent ABV, aged for 12 years, and featuring the Kanji character for “originate,” this is perfect for lovers of intensity, smoke and earth.

This, along with the other Essence bottlings, the Hakushu Rye and the Chita 16 Year-Old Wine Finish, is expected to sell out immediately. The company is yet to announce if there will be an allocation of bottles for the West, so purchasing options are limited to the secondary market and Japanese retailers shipping globally.

Nikka Yoichi Rum Finish

When Nikka announced the launch of the exciting set of the Yoichi and Miyagikyo Moscatel Finish single malts, Western fans were left feeling a little unloved. The set was to be a Japan-exclusive.

Then, to our delight, the company announced yet another set soon after, to be exclusively distributed in Europe and the U.S. The bottles launched in November 2017.

Both the Yoichi and Miyagikyo Rum Finish bottles are immense, but we’ll be focusing on the Yoichi here. The Yoichi distillery was founded by Masataka Taketsuru, who is today known as the father of Japanese whisky. Situated in the cold, snowy area of Hokkaido, Yoichi expressions are known for their intensely peaty and oaky character, as Taketsuru aimed to make whisky like the Scottish had for centuries. After the Yamazaki, Yoichi enjoys the most universal fan base in terms of Japanese whisky.

Here, maturation in ex-rum casks brings an added layer of depth to the classic Yoichi single malt. Sweetness comes through notes of caramel, sweet citrus and chocolate, while the Yoichi’s earthy, smoky profile leads the palate.

If you’re feeling extra generous, buy the two bottle set and compare how the rum influences the fruity, playful Miyagikyo as well.

Chichibu IPA Finish

Made by one of Japan’s smallest yet most loved distilleries, the Chichibu IPA Finish perfectly brings together the worlds of Japanese craft beer and whisky.

Created by Chichibu’s founder Ichiro Akuto, who is known today as the “rockstar” of the Japanese whisky world, this single malt has been aged in casks previously holding India pale ale. The distillery collaborated with multiple breweries for this expression, including the hugely popular Minoh brewery from Osaka and the Shigakogen brewery in Nagano.

Initially, casks holding whisky were emptied and sent to the breweries. They, in turn, filled them up with beer, eventually releasing their own barrel-aged IPA. The casks, now imbued with beer and hoppiness, were sent back to the distillery and filled with a new batch of whisky for maturation.

The single malt was first released in Japan, before reaching Western shores near the end of 2017. Worry not. With 6,700 bottles released, it’s still easy enough to secure a bottle. Bursting with aromas of papaya and mango, the hops come through most on the palate, with notes of grapefruit, lemon, balanced by thick honey from the malt. At 57.5 percent ABV, expect a kick!