The Top Japanese Whiskies, According To The 2024 World Whiskies Awards

Seven Japanese whiskies took top awards at the 2024 World Whiskies Awards. The winners were a mix of historic distilleries and new craft producers.

The top Single Cask Single Malt, 12 Years and Under is Mars Tsunuki 6 YO Cask # T121, 53% ABV.


The Mars Distillery, located in the scenic region of Kagoshima, Japan, is renowned for its exceptional whisky. Established in 1985, the distillery draws upon centuries-old Scottish techniques and the pure waters of the region to create its distinctive spirits.


Mars whiskies are known for their smooth and elegant profiles, often showcasing a balance of assorted fruity, floral, and subtly smoky notes. The distillery's commitment to quality is underscored by its meticulous production process, which includes the use of traditional copper pots and a focus on locally sourced ingredients.

The Judging Panel described the whisky as featuring:

Aromas of ripe banana and melon. Lemon candies on the palate with banana, grated apple and tea. Finishes with smoky and fruity notes. Rich, mellow, and well-balanced.

Also making the shortlist is Yuza, Medium Peated 2023 Spring, No Age Statement, 62% ABV.

The Best Small Batch Single Malt is Shizuoka Pot Still Whiskey 100% Japanese Barley First Edition, No Age Statement, 55.5% ABV.The Shizuoka Distillery, nestled in the foothills of Mount Fuji, is a pioneering force in Japan's craft whisky scene. Established in 2016, it quickly gained recognition for its innovative approach to whisky-making, focusing on locally sourced ingredients and traditional methods.

One of the distillery's standout creations is its “pot still whisky,” crafted with meticulous attention to quality. As with many other traditional producers, the copper pot stills play a crucial role in shaping the whisky's character, allowing for greater control over the distillation process and the development of rich, complex flavors. The label reference to “pot still” refers to the type of still used in distillation, not the mash bill of a traditional Irish pot still whiskey.

Shizuoka's pot still whisky is known for its bold and robust profile, often featuring notes of dried fruit, spice, and a hint of smoke. Each batch is carefully monitored and aged in a variety of cask types, including ex-bourbon and sherry casks, to further enhance its depth and complexity.

The Judging Panel described the whisky as showing:

Oaky aromas with notes of incense. Palate contrasts dried bonito flakes and creamy chocolate, with sweet fruit. Oaky influence, and hints of smoke.

Also making the shortlist 12 Years and Under is Mars, Komagatake, 9 YO, 50% ABV.

The Best Japanese Single Malt 12 years and Under is Yoichi, Single Malt, 10 YO, 45% ABV.

The Yoichi Distillery is one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Japan. It was founded in 1934 by Masataka Taketsuru, the father of Japanese whisky. Yoichi is renowned for its Scottish approach to whisky-making.

The distillery's location in the harsh northern climate of Hokkaido plays a crucial role in the character of its whiskies. The cold temperatures slow the maturation process, allowing for a more gradual interaction between the spirit and the casks, resulting in a rich and complex flavor profile.

Yoichi whiskies are crafted using traditional methods, including the use of direct coal-fired pot stills, which impart a distinctive smoky and robust character to the spirit. The distillery also emphasizes the use of locally sourced ingredients, including barley and water from the surrounding region.

The Judging Panel described the whisky as featuring:

Hot sweetened almond milk, vanilla, lemon peel, and creamy notes on the nose. Milky and smoky palate that is nicely balanced. Pleasant finish.

Also on the shortlist is Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu Red Wine Cask, No Age Statement, 50% ABV.

The Best Japanese Blended Malt is Mars, The Y.A. #02, No Age Statement, 49% ABV. A blended malt is a combination of single malts and does not include any grain whisky. The Judging Panel described the whisky as:

The nose evokes the aromas of a forest – fresh, green, and damp. A refreshing palate with fruity and malty notes, ginger and some peat smoke. Well balanced.

The Best Limited Release Blended Japanese Whisky is Ichiro’s Malt & Grain Blended Japanese Whisky 2024, No Age Statement, 48.5% ABV.

According to the Judging Panel, the whisky features:

Aromas of fallen leaves, grapefruit peel, and Sherry. Palate has persimmon, cured ham, and gentle smoke, with some astringent new-oak notes.

Kirin, Fuji, No Age Statement, 43% ABV is the Best Japanese Blended Whisky. The Judging Panel described the whisky as featuring:

A grain forward nose and palate with bourbon-like vanilla, honey, almond, some estery notes, and very subtle hints of malt.

The Best Japanese Grain Whiskey is Nikka, The Grain, No Age Statement, 48% ABV. The Judging Panel described the whisky as having “a rye whiskey-like aroma”.

Niigata Kameda New Pot Non Peat 2024 Edition, 60% ABV, is the Best Japanese New Make. Japanese new make whiskies are a new phenomenon in Japan and are virtually impossible to find in North America. As in the US, demand for new make spirits is being driven primarily by the Mixology community.

The Judging panel described the spirit as showing:

A gentle nose with wheat chaff, soybean, lemon, cinnamon, and some fruity esters. Good maltiness on the palate, which is full-bodied. Coherent, clean, and sweet. Pleasant lingering finish.

The World Whiskies Awards is an annual event that recognizes and celebrates the best whiskies from around the globe. Organized by Whisky Magazine, the awards feature a panel of some of the world’s most esteemed whisky experts as judges who blind-taste and evaluate whiskies across various categories, including single malts, blends, bourbons, rye, and grain whiskies.

The awards aim to highlight exceptional whiskies and promote excellence in the whisky industry. They are among the first to recognize how truly international whisky has become by recognizing the top entries across both their countries of origin and by category of whisky. The winners are selected based on their quality, character, and overall drinking experience, making the World Whiskies Awards among the most prestigious honor available to whisky producers and putting it well on its way to becoming the world’s most prestigious whisky competition.

The seven Japanese whisky winners along with the other finalists were judged the best of what Japan’s distillers currently offer. Most of these whiskies can be found in North America, although some expressions may take a bit of a search. All are worth trying and all would be excellent additions to your home whisky bar.


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