Buying Japanese Whisky in Japan 2016 Report

***Please see the 2017 report here for the latest buying reports***
It’s been a year since I wrote the post Buying Japanese Whisky In Japan Nothing But Scorched Earth so time to see if anything as changed. The main reason for the 12 month update is that particular post still generates a huge number of views and the vast majority of emails I receive are from people travelling to Japan and asking where to by whisky. This new post is based on my experience travelling to Tokyo early last month.

If anything has changed it may be that things are even more bleak than last year. The situation where large groups travelling from other countries in Asia especially China on organised shopping tours pillaging all the limited release and age statement Japanese whiskies is now virtually non existent. The reason being is there is almost none of that stuff left to buy anyway.

Whether it be large liquor retailers such as Liquors Hasegawa, Shinanoya, the liquor section of department stores like Isetan or Takeshimaya or the local 7 Eleven the main offerings are pretty much the same. You’re looking at no age statement blends from Suntory, Nikka, Kirin, Mars and Akashi, no age statement single malts from Nikka and Suntory, Nikka The Blend 12YO, Nikka Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt, Taketsuru NAS, Hibiki Harmony. There is quite a lot mini bottles of Yamazaki 12 around. Isetan still had some of their in house only Mars Tsunagu Blend available. Liquors Hasegawa had some Yamazaki LE 2015 but as they sold out everywhere else last year the price was at a premium of Y22,000. You can buy something like Yamazaki 18YO Narita Airport amongst the very limited number of offering’s available there but it’s still the travel exclusive bottling with the fancy label for Y50000.
If you do go to Liquors Hasegawa it may be worthwhile asking if they have anything interesting not on the shelves, I know they had some but again be prepared to pay a decent premium above the original retail price. Shinanoya had some Hakushu 12YO. It is always worth while checking out any of these places as you may be lucky, well very lucky, to be there on a day when one of their in in house bottling’s becomes available. That’s if they haven’t all pre sold before they hit the shelves. I was lucky enough to grab the one bottle of Hakushu 18YO left on the shelf at Shinanoya Kabukicho branch, how that lasted I have no idea but of course even at Y24000 I didn’t hesitate. A bottle of Chichibu On The Way from Liquors Hasegawa for about the original retail price of Y9,500 and a bottle of Kirin Small Batch 18 YO Blend for Y26000 at a small liquor store in the vicinity of Hakoneyumoto Station. The latter two where also last bottles left. Yamazaki distillery had a dozen bottle of Hibiki 12 and their 300ml No age statement Single Malt available to buy but by the end of my 1 hour tour and a few whiskies at the bar they were all sold out. So you may walk into any liquor store and fluke an interesting bottle but they are not available on mass all of the time.
I was discussing the Japanese Whisky scene with the manager of Liquors Hasegawa and he mentioned that only three years ago they were lucky to sell 12 bottles of Japanese Whisky a month.

In relation to bars I only went to a few, you can still try the Yoichi age statement range at least up to the 15 year old, Takestsuru 17 and 21, Hakushu 12 and 18YO and the same from Yamazaki, also Hibki 12,17 and 21 year olds. The famous Zoetrope still has a lot of different bottling’s but you can forget about anything from Karuizawa or Hanyu Card Series. In fact I think there was only a few Hanyu left to try at Zoetrope and a very limited range of single casks from Yoichi, Yamazaki, Hakushu, Akashi and Mars. Yamazaki distillery(took a day trip with some family) is still a good place to try single cask component malts at very reasonable prices. I tasted one dram each of cask strength Heavily Peated, Sherry and Mizunara casks for Y2500 in total.

So what will happen moving forward. Not much in the short to medium term, say three to 8 years. It’s true that the big players such as Nikka and Suntory have ramped up production but when this will bear fruit in regards to age statement whiskies is anyone’s guess but I’d say maybe 5-6 years. There were quite a number of new bottling’s from Chichibu over the last 12 months but unfortunately many of these are single cask single malts or single class blends that sell out very quickly in Japan. Mars released a few new bottling’s but again most sell out quickly in Japan, same with Akashi. Good for those smaller output distilleries but not of much use to most Japanese whisky enthusiasts. Yamazaki LE 2016 was released last month and pretty much sold out straight away. Horigami-san owner of Zoetrope bar told there are three new distilleries coming on line this year. That’s great but they will not make any impact for at least 3 years when they can be classified as whisky and even then will they just be three new versions of Chichibu. That is to say, smallish production runs that sell out very quickly if they are good quality and hardly if at all impact the amount of Japanese whiskies available outside of Japan. In the meanwhile prices for no longer available at retail bottling’s of Japanese whisky will remain high due to supply and Japan. Still lenty available on the auction circuit for those with deep pockets. Is there a light at the end of the tunnel? Yes, but at them moment it’s a long tunnel and the light is fairly dim.

47 thoughts on “Buying Japanese Whisky in Japan 2016 Report

  1. Great article. I’d only add to it, that if you are willing to travel out of the major cities, and have the time and patience to search the mom and pop liquor stores in the boonies, you may find some pleasant surprises and interesting dusties.

  2. Interesting insight. I was in Tokyo in March and found anything “aged” to be almost unobtainable. It was hit or miss at “any” of the retail shops that carried Japanese whiskey. Luckily I was able to score a bottle of 17 Taketsuru, unfortunately the price immediately increased the next day. Everything is starting to resemble the stock markets.

  3. Good luck to you if you manage to get anything from Yamazaki, Hibiki and Taketsuru with years.
    I live here in Osaka and I regularly visit shops in the hope of finding the favourites but it’s taken me 6 months to find Hibiki 21!
    I have a little stash of whiskies which I am keen to off load if you’re interested.

  4. Just went to Yamaya in Aobadai (Yokohama) and they had Hashu 18 for around JPY25,000. Limit one per customer.

    • I was at K&L liquors in Los Angeles. They were selling the Hakushu 18 for $250. They had the Yama 12 for $86. I also got a Yama 18 for the same price. With dollar weakening against the Yen, it’s cheaper to buy in the States, if you know where to shop.

  5. I returned home from a 2 week trip to japan in May. I was already a big scotch fan, so adopting a passion for Japanese whisky was easy.

    I looked everywhere for interesting bottles, but things were already picked over. I went to all of the major chains and specialty liquor stores without much luck. I came home with a Yamazaki 12, Hibiki 17, Nikka Taketsura 17, Nikka from the Barrel, Yoichi NAS, and Nikka Pure Malt Black NAS (the last two for my local whisky club tasting). While I was in Japan, I tasted Hibiki 17 and Yoichi 10. I do regret not making it to Shot Bar Zoetrope.

    When I returned home, I scoured the “internets” for mail order opportunities, and found Yoichi 10 and 12, Nikka Taketsura 12 and 17, Hibiki 12, and an extra Yamazaki 12 and Hibiki 17. I paid more than I should have of course, but not much more than I saw them going for in Japan (and sometimes quite a bit less).

    Do we think that these bottles will hold their value or increase? Or once the whisky producers catch up with demand, age-statement bottles will start being produced again? Either way works with me I guess. If they fall in value, I have some great whisky to drink. If they go up in value, I have some trading chips for the next big thing in whisky!

    • Hi,

      In regards to values they won’t go down any time soon and all should be easy to sell if you decide to do so.

    • The Taketsuru 17 is going to be valuable if you can hold onto it longer. It’s already nigh-impossible to find in Japan these days and it’s only a matter of time before Nikka announces they’re discontinuing it.

      • What makes you think they will discontinue the 17 and not the 21 also? Where do you get your view from. I’m really interested in why you think this.

        • Have a friend who owns a Whisky Bar in Japan. He and other bartenders agree that Nikka doesn’t have the supply to meet the demand. And it’s only a matter of time before they announce discontinuation above the 12 year.

  6. Here’s what I found in Japan on this trip to Fukuoka.
    1) Yamazaki 12, 18 Don Quijote
    2) Hibiki 21 Don Quijote
    3) Yamazakura 15 Sherry Finish Single Cask – Daimaru
    4) Yamzaki 2016 LE – Daimaru
    5) Mars – The Lucky Cat “Ash 99” – Local Liquor Shop
    6) Akashi White Oak – Sea Anchor – Local Liquor Shop
    I saw several Yamazaki 12’s around, Bic Camera and Don Quijote. The prices have gone up to Tokyo Levels 8,900 Yen and up (Used to find them for around 7500 yen). Still on most shelves it was the NAS stuff and the bottom shelf mixer material.
    What I didn’t see at all was Nikka Taketsu 17 or 21 (except in overpriced liquor shops for double MSRP). The 12 or the NAS were the only ones I found on the shelves. They are really becoming scarce.

    • Nice buys! It’s obvious that folks are going to have to look outside Tokyo and maybe even Osaka to land anything good. Earlier this summer on a trip to Tokyo it was a wasteland for any age statement bottles. I was able to pick up several bottles of Yamazaki 2016 LE because I have family there but that was about it.

  7. One bottle of Taketsuru 17 year old left at the Roppongi Don Quijote for ¥6,990 (nope, didn’t miss a zero. $69. They would only sell me two). Get it while it’s hot.

  8. The Bic Camera at Shin-Yokohama station had a lot of bottles of Matsui Kurayoshi 8 Years Old Sherry Cask for ¥6,500. Never heard of this one- anyone tried? They also had a couple bottles of Nikka “The Nikka” Premium Blended Whisky 12 Years Old for ¥5,500 or so.

    It appears that all hope is not lost.

    • Kurayoshi is not a distillery, they import the scotch from the UK and age it in their own barrels in Japan. I picked up the 18 for 12,000 yen. Will give it a taste to see if it’s actually good

  9. I went on a tour of the Yamazaki distillery yesterday. The gift shop had NAS Yamazaki, Hibiki Harmony and Chita, as well as 500 ml bottles of Hibiki 12 Years Old for ¥4,536. They were also selling these little 300 ml bottles of “Yamazaki Single Malt” that are a Distillery Limited Edition (numbered bottles, with the two I got in the low 300k range). They were only ¥1,440 each, limit one per person. My traveling companion each bought one at the beginning of the tour, intending to sneak back and buy another one at the end of the tour. By the time we got done an hour later, the shelf was empty. I asked if they had any more, and they told me that was all “for today.”

    We also found out they had Yamazaki 18 and 25 behind the counter for ¥27,000 and ¥137,000, respectively. I bought a bottle of the 18 and sent my friend up to buy another. By the time he got up to the gift shop 2 minutes later, it was gone. It seems that Suntory has decided to sell a set quantity every day and are saying “tough luck” once the day’s supplies are exhausted. Interestingly, they had the full range of Beam’s portfolio (both in the gift shop as well at at the tasting bar) which was being assiduously ignored by everyone. Next to a bottle of Hibiki 30 Years Old, Jim Beam White Label just doesn’t hold much appeal.

    I gently quizzed the tour guide about Suntory moving the whole portfolio to NAS, like Nikka did. She was being somewhat noncommittal, but I did manage to get out of her that they had stopped producing Hibiki 12, but that they would keep producing Yamazaki 12, with tight allocations. Basically, small liquor stores would be prioritized ahead of large chain stores. Her advice was to go to somewhere remote and look for “Mr. So-and-So’s Liquor Store.”

    She also said offhandedly during her presentation that they expect supply and demand to “normalize” in 5 years, which I presume reflects the benefit of the additional stills they added in 2013. Not sure if this means they are moving to an 8 Year Old or 10 Year Old expression or what.

    Seems like the best startegy would be to arrive early in the morning (our tour was at 3 PM) and bring a variety of disguises, to facilitate repeat purchases 😉

  10. Just got back…

    Fuji-Gotemba Distillery still had these bottles on the shelf: They appeared to be down to small (200ml) bottles of the malt version. Both were available for tasting. The single malt is quite good – it’s lightly peated (which works really well with the anise/pickle-juice profile of their malt whisky). The single-grain is OK – the 15 year old they used to sell at the distillery is still the best single grain whisky I’ve ever tried, and they haven’t matched it with any of the distiller select bottlings since… but I do prefer it to any of the Chita or Nikka Coffey Grain whiskies I’ve tried.

    They had the 25 year single grain available behind the counter (37,000 yen or so), and available for tasting. It’s on par or better than the 15 year old they used to sell at the distillery… at 7.5 times the price. 🙂

    Last time I visited (1 calendar year ago), they had the 18 year small batch single malt, which is still available for tasting, although it didn’t appear to be available for sale at that time. Last time they also had 2 single cask 10 year old malts, and the 18 year old single malt (the original official bottling) behind the counter, but those appear to be gone now.

    Hakushu distillery had the ‘distillery only bottling’ for sale while I was there – it has significantly more peat influence than the NAS and even the 12 year old, and was worth the purchase considering the modest price. I saw the 12 year old on the shelf, and 500ml 12 year old Hibiki as well on the shelf (now out of production, it seems). The for-pay bar still component 12 year old malts for Hakushu and Yamazaki, 17 year old component malts for Hibiki, and all of the official bottlings except for Yamazaki 25. No single casks available to taste any more.

    In stores (and excluding NAS stuff), Hakushu 12/18, Yamazaki 12/18/2016LE, Hibiki 17 were available in popular locations like Liquors Hasegawa/Shinanoya. I saw Taketsuru 21 available in a couple smaller stores while traveling but never saw a bottle of Taketsuru 17 (which was available in popular locations a year ago). Taketsuru bottlings were still available on Rakuten, but the price is rising. Duty free had Hakushu 18/Yamazaki 18/Hibiki 21 at 50,000 yen each, and an 18 year old Fuji-Gotemba blend with a sherry cask finish for 32,000 yen. Liquors Hasegawa and Shinanoya had plenty of rare/out-of-production official bottlings from living and dead (karuizawa) distilleries, if you’re willing to bay 5~20 times MSRP.

    Anyway, I was expecting to find NOTHING, and at least landed a few unique bottles at the distilleries… and could have landed some age-statement official bottlings at only slightly marked up prices if I didn’t already have them.

    • Hi Nick,
      Thanks for the report. Sorry but I had to remove the link you attached as that is not an approved website here the TJW Review. I think you are talking about the following still available at the Gotemba distillery?
      http://www.thejapanesewhiskyreview.com/2016/10/24/kirin-fuji-gotemba-blenders-choice-single-grain-whisky-2015-46/ and it’s single malt equivalent.
      I will have a review of the Kirin 25YO single grain soon as I own a bottle with some friends. Indeed a sumptuous single grain but quite at the level of the best single grain whisky I’ve tried from Kawasaki.

      • No, that’s a different release… and I see even in my previous post, I got the naming mixed up a bit. 🙂

        The “blenders choice” is available from their online store and distillery shop (may no longer be available online), while the “distiller’s select” was never made available online. It has a different bottle shape & label.

        I haven’t had the blender’s choice & distiller’s select grains side-by-side, but I do have the last 2 blender’s choice releases & distiller’s select grain on-hand, so when I get around to opening the distiller’s select, I’ll report back. The malt releases are distinctly different, though (specifically, the higher peat level in the distiller’s select).

    • The other month my mate and me went to Yamazaki for some tasting and after reading the previous post about picking up a 18 or even a 25 Yama, we had great hopes.
      We did the museum tour and we were basically the first at the tasting area.
      We got stuck in and had our favorites and ones that we could only dream of like Hibiki 30 and Yama 25.
      I asked the lady if I can get a bottle as I had came all the way from overseas and my dad (keen as guy on whisky) was having his 60th and I wanted to give him a bottle.
      But there was no sign of a sale going on there.. not even a wimper of one.
      So our dreams were dashed, but we managed to stay for 4 hours and feel very rewarded and welcome when we left.
      I’m going back. !

  11. Happy New Year!
    Here’s my final report for 2016’s availability in Fukuoka and outlying areas.

    Department Stores: most had nothing but the NAS bottles except for miniatures. A few had Hakushu 12 for about 8500 yen. Or the Nikka 12.
    I did however find the Mars Komagatake Tsunuki Aging – Mitskoshi 8,000 yen.

    Liquor shops. A few places had the Hibiki 17 from 11,200 to 12,500 yen. Found one distributor that had Hibiki 21 for 23,000 yen. So I picked it up. Also found Mars Komagatake Kohiganzakura for 8,800 yen. And a Akashi 8 year Sherry butt for 7,500 yen. But it was the last of them.

    Dusties: Went to my usual warehouse for any dusties and found what appears to be the last 3 they had, Suntory Royal 15, Suntory Excellence and Nikka Kingsland. Each was about 4,000 yen.

    Special pickups: My connection in Fukuoka got me the following. Ichro’s Malt: Malt Dream Cask for Bar Kitchen and Blackadder Mars Komagatake Peated.

    I’m heading to Tokyo in a few days, but don’t expect to find anything of worth there. Although I do pick up the Nikka G&G Samurai bottles as souvenirs for friends.

    • Happy New Year!
      Thank you for all the great reports throughout the year! This post receives the largest number of views on the site so is of significant value to a lot of people.
      I may not make it back to Japan in 2017 as I have a fairly packed schedule of other adventures around the world so will probably start a post along the same lines so anyone can contribute.
      Kampai
      Brian

      • Please do! I’ll be in Tokyo in February, with a fresh survey.

        Also, presuming it would be of general interest, I’d like to hear how availability is in other geographies worldwide?

        For example, here in Chicago we have Hakushu 12 Years Old readily available, and we periodically see new shipments of the Yamazaki 12 Years Old, but existing stocks of all the other Age Statement whiskies from Suntory and Nikka seem to be mostly depleted. The odd bottle is available here and there, at a price.

        There are abundant supplies of the NAS whiskies, with Eigashima (Akashi and Akashi Single Malt), Mars (Iwai and Iwai Tradition), Nikka (Coffey Grain, Coffey Malt, Miyagikyo, Taketsuru, Yoichi), and Suntory (Toki and Hibiki Japanese Harmony) all represented on the shelves of major bottle shops and even some grocery stores.

        You can also find a few of the Chichiubu bottlings (“The First,” Floor Malted,” and “On The Way,”) usually for $200-250/bottle.

    • That’s a great price on the Akashi 8 Year Sherry Butt. My buddy with family in Akashi City got one for closer to ¥20,000. Here in Chicago they have the 3-year-old expression for $220.

      • Just picked up a second one for 9,000 yen. Yes it’s higher than my last one, but how often can you find these, even at this price?

        • At under ¥10,000, I’d be buying these all day. I’m a big fan of Eigashima – their Akashi single malt NAS is lovely. If you crack open a bottle of the 8 year Sherry Butt, I hope you’ll post a note and let us know how it is!

  12. Hello!

    Was reading this post as I’m currently in Osaka and about to head back to Australia and was desperate to find some aged Yoichi and Taketsuru to bring back as it’s virtually impossible to find anything in Australia and way beyond too expensive if i were to find it online. Tbh this post made me worried I’d be heading home with nothing but…

    Did some back alley walks near Dotonbori and found a few small bottleshops and picked up 2 bottles of Yoichi 10 (¥21800) and a Taketsuru 21 (¥14800). Found one shop with a Taketsuru 17 for ¥14900 (didn’t purchase) they also had a Yoichi 12, can’t remember the price on that one

    Not sure if the best prices but compared to literally nothing in Aus, I’m a happy girl

  13. Just FYI . . .
    In Hakata earlier this month found an Hibiki 21 at Daimaru. Then bought one of them Kurayoshi 18 year old at BIC Camera Hiroshima on a whim (wondering about this one, will taste when back home). Also found, but decided not to buy, an Hibiki 12 YO at a side street retailer. Just today found the last bottle on shelf of Hakushu 18 YO at BIC Camera in Ikebukuro (the bigger one, closer to station). Also bought some miniature Hibiki 17 YO at Seibu in Ikebukuro.
    Cheers all

  14. Don’t bother looking for anything around Tokyo. Seems to be all dried up, at least in my opinion. Could not even find any miniatures. Heard a rumor that “large” shipments were sent in before the holidays now everything is gone at the moment. I did see a few Yamazaki limited editions but that was it. Even at the airport they only were selling hibiki 21. Everything else was sold out.

    • How much is hibiki 21 selling for at the airport in Tokyo? Did they seem to have a good stock of it? I am planning on going to Japan this summer…I’ve been debating paying $450-500 USD for a bottle here vs waiting in hopes of buying one for $200-250 in Japan.

      I would even prefer to buy many miniature hibiki 21s as well.

      • You won’t find Hibiki 21 for $200-300 at the airport. If there is some at the airport it will be at least Y50,000 because they repackage it in a fancy bottle and can sell as much as they want to Chinese tourists…

        • It’s rare, where ever you go you can’t find it. Here is a list of bottles everyone likes but are nowhere and will be very very hard to find for the unforeseen future-

          Hibiki Harmony (right now it’s hard to find but can be found)12, 17, 21, 30 (impossible)
          YAMAZAKI 12 (Yama 12 is patchy to find) 18, 25 LTE 14’15’16’ (16’s are still around but will go)
          Nikka Taketsuru 17,21 is even more rare I feel.

          If you want any of the ones which are hard to find then the only way to take them home is look for hookups and you will pay more but you will get it.
          My tip- don’t waste your holiday being disappointed and wasting time looking for something you might never ever find while here.

          • I live in tokyo and regularly check about 4 good liquor stores in the Roppongi and Akasaka areas, plus a few others in various areas around town. Availability varies weekly and from store to store, with almost no rhyme or reason, except after New Years everything is out. With slow but steady searching, Hibiki NAS is almost always available at certain stores, and I usually see H17, T17 and Y12 about once a month, T21 about once a quarter, and Y18 and H21 about 2x per year…and usually at the same time. H30…only saw one sign once. Y25 never. T25 twice. I have all except Y25 and H30. Then there are the aged Hakushu, Mars, Akashi, Kirin and Chichibu varieties….plus rare (and often good and cheaper) NAS and even very good common NAS from
            Suntory and Nikka, of which From the Barrel is a particularly outstanding value, in my opinion.

          • Yep, think Tokyo gets more than Osaka that’s for sure. it’s down to population really.
            Rural shops are random as you get out of the big cities, in NAGANO i have only ever found H17 once in 3 years and saw some LTE’s but that’s is. Apparently Karuizawa could be a good place to check as loads of rich Tokyo residents go there so they get some stock. As to what I don’t know.

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