Japan stunned the spirits world when the Yamazaki 25 Year Old was crowned “World’s Best Single Malt Whisky” at the 2012


New York Bar
3-7-1-2 Nishi Shinjuku, Shinjuku-Ku, Tokyo

7-10-14 Nishi-Shinjuku, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo (3rd floor)

5-2-1, Yamazaki, Shimamoto-cho, Mishima-gun, Osaka

2913-1, Torihara, Hakushu-cho,
Hokuto-shi, Yamanashi

Maduro Bar
6-10-3 Roppongi, Minato-Ku, Tokyo

 World Whiskies Awards. But it should not have come as a surprise: Japan’s major whisky labels, Yamazaki, Hakushu and Nikka (single malts), along with Hibiki and Taketsuru (blends), have been winning gold medals almost annually at the world’s major spirits competitions. The nation’s oldest distillery just turned 90, and Japanese distillers typically closely follow Scottish whisky traditions, including using the Scottish spelling for whisky (no “e”). Its bartenders, however, do not. In Japan, unlike Scotland, single malt is almost always served with ice — usually one huge, slow-melting and very pure cube or sphere ­— often in a wineglass. Whisky highballs (usually mixed with soda) are extremely popular, especially with meals, and can be found in cans and even on draft in many bars, where they are served in frosted beer mugs.

The best place to experience Japanese whisky culture is at the famed NEW YORK BAR in the Park Hyatt Tokyo hotel, immortalized by fictional Suntory whisky spokesman Bill Murray in the Academy Award-winning film Lost in Translation. Guests still come in daily to sit at Murray’s bar stool and order his preferred whisky (17-year-old Hibiki) from the bar’s long list while enjoying live jazz. But there are great whisky bars throughout Tokyo, especially in Ginza, Shinjuku and Roppongi (ZOETROPE in Shinjuku is the most famous and, like many, is hard to find, so ask your concierge). The MADURO BAR in the Grand Hyatt Tokyo, part of the vast Roppongi Hills shopping and dining complex, offers ­user-friendly tasting flights of Japanese whiskies. You can also visit Japan’s leading distilleries, and both of Suntory’s facilities, YAMAZAKI and HAKUSHU, are open for ­excellent free public tours, with tastings in several languages, including English. Known as the “Forest Distillery,” Hakushu sits in mountainous and verdant Kobuchizawa, a two-hour nonstop train ride from Tokyo, just minutes from the station, and houses a three-level whisky museum (off-limits through April due to renovations). Yamazaki receives more Western visitors because of its location just outside Kyoto (15 minutes by train), one of Japan’s top tourist destinations, and the fact that it’s close (25 minutes) to Osaka.