Japanese Whisky Pairing – 8 Power Couples!

Two glasses of japanese whisky pairing with a japanese meal

Pairing whisky with a meal or a snack had become a tasteful event for some whisky connoisseurs. If pairing food with scotch is considered to be a little bit tricky, Japanese whisky pairing take these tastings to a whole other level.

Given that this type of whisky has a more subtle character, pairing it with a whole meal may have its secrets. The main goal is to enhance some of the whisky’s hidden flavours while enjoying a delicate fish course. And, although Japanese whisky can be the perfect date for almost any dish, not every dish is the perfect match for any of this spirit’s expressions.

A lot have changed in the Japanese Whisky world since it started being produced, 100 years ago. For a quite recent spirit, it evolved fast to compete with other types of whisky. It came a long way from a style that mimicked the scotch whisky production to where it is now, where combining different kinds of casks seems to be the way to go to make a difference in a highly competitive market.

There are a couple of things, however, that stayed the same: the search for perfection and the purpose of making it match Japanese food like no other.

In this article, we’ll make a quick tour around the japanese whisky world, talk about how to create Japanese whisky pairing with (mostly) Japanese food and give some examples of power couples that deserve to be tasted.


Table of Contents – Sip this Article!

    1. About Japanese Whisky
      1. Japanese Whisky Flavour Profile
    2. Japanese Whisky and Food Pairings
      1. The Culture of Pairing Food with Japanese Alcoholic Drinks
      2. Japanese Whisky Pairing with Food – The How To
      3. Is Japanese Whisky Good With Sushi?
    3. 8 Japanese Whisky Pairings You Should Taste
      1. Hakushu 12-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky + Smoked Salmon
      2. Suntory Kakubin Yellow Blended Whisky + White Fish Sashimi
      3. Hibiki Japanese Harmony + Kobe Beef
      4. Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky + Tonkatsu
      5. Akashi White Oak Single Malt Whisky + Pink Peppercorns Dark Chocolate
      6. Yamazaki 18-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky + Daifuku Moshi
      7. Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky + Tayaki Cakes
      8. Suntory Toki Blended Malt Whisky + Kaki-pi


Several Japanese whisky expressions in a table


About Japanese Whisky

If there is a type of whisky that is getting a hype for the last years it has to be Japanese whisky. Maybe it’s because it has been considered an exotic product that awakens the curiosity on most whisky lovers; maybe it is due to their balanced flavour profile; or maybe it is because Japanese Whisky brands have been ranking higher in most markets. Whatever the reason, we can assure you Japanese Whisky is one of a kind and it deserves all the hyped that it is getting.

We find this type of type whisky so worth tasting, we have included some expressions in whisky tasting boxes sent to our costumers in the past.

With the Japanese whisky brand Suntory turning 100 years, the history of this spirit it’s not hard to tell. However, it has some intricate details you might like to discover.

Japan produced its very first whisky expression in 1870, but it was only launched to the market one year later after the opening of Yamazaki distillery (in 1923). As you might know, Yamazaki distillery is part of the brand Suntory, that now owns several scotch whisky distilleries itself (like Laphroaig, for instance). The ownership of Scotch whisky distilleries by Suntory could only have to do with economic growth of the brand, but it might have to do with the close relationship between the two whisky-producing countries.

Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru are the whisky masterminds behind the whisky production in Japan. And, for that, Taketsuru studied the whisky making art in Scotland before bringing his knowledge to Japan, where Torii had found the perfect loction to establish a distillery – The Yamazaki, located outside Kyoto.

It is because of the similar production process and the ingredients used that Japanese and Scotch Single Malts may seem similar. But location and the water used means a great part of the whisky making art, so, in the end, these two spirits have different characters and profiles.


Japanese Whisky Flavour Profile

The Japanese obsession with perfection is something that is really present in the countries whisky production. And, although it is extremely hard to trace a flavour profile of this type of whisky, one thing is certain: the Japanese whisky tends to be smoother, lighter, well-balanced with a fruity and floral character.

There are a lot factors that contribute for these delicate flavours to appear in a strong drink such as whisky. For example, the Yeasts Japanese distillers use have unique characteristics that help accentuate flavour during fermentation. Another factor is the purity of the water and the location of the distilleries. They are often located in high elevation points, which drops the boiling point of the spirit, leading to a higher retention of flavours. And, lastly, the type of wood they use for whisky maturation. Some barrels were already used to age Umeshu (another Japanese liquor), that gives the whisky a sweeter flavour, and some are Mizunara Oak casks, that imparts coconut and sandalwood flavours in the whisky.

Of course, every brand is a different and each expression is unique. We are sure Japanese whisky has a much wider range of flavours and diverse characters along the line.

Bar with several bottles of Japanese Whisky in the shelves


Japanese Whisky and Food Pairings

The Culture of Pairing Food with Japanese Alcoholic Drinks

Alongside with Japanese whisky, Japanese food has been a hit in western countries for decades now. If it’s not for the sushi, its definitely for the tempura, the gyozas all the other traditional and delicious food.

If pairing meals or snacks with whisky is something relatively new to the western part of the world, for the Japanese is almost an ancient art.
They have been drinking Sake or Shochu (a distilled liquor) while having a meal or enjoying Otsumami, which is the equivalent for finger food. Nowadays, as they perfected their whisky making process, they perfected the art of pairing food with Japanese whisky.

Although Japanese Whisky pairing with food is as recent as this type of spirit itself, the habit of combining food with high ABV content drinks was already in the people’s mind. And let us tell you: it works perfectly!


Japanese Whisky Pairing with Food – The How To

As we dive in the Japanese whisky pairing theme, it is important to remember the ground rules of whisky pairing.

The first thing to remember, though, is that you have to ways to go: either you pair whisky to complement each other’s flavours subtly, or you choose to play with complementary opposites to bring up some hidden flavours and change how both food and whisky taste.

Pairing Japanese whisky can be a bit tricky, though. Since this type of whisky is usually balanced to perfection, you don’t want to pair it with food that will overpower it. If we had to choose the way to go when pairing this type of whisky, we would choose to complement flavours. Nevertheless, you might want to go big or go home and play with flavours to try to discover some hidden flavours.

No matter what way you choose, here’s some tips about how flavours change in the whisky, depending on what food you pair it with.
Fat food coats the mouth, reducing the alcohol punch and letting you taste the real flavours in whisky.

  • Bitter food balances both sweetness and saltiness in whisky.
  • Sourer food brings up salty notes, while it balances the sweet and spicy flavours.
  • Salty food enhances all the other flavour notes
  • Sweet food will cut the alcohol kick, the spicy, salty and smoky flavours. It brings up fruity flavours in the whisky.
  • Spicy food goes along with the spiciness in the whisky while bringing up sweeter flavours.
  • Smoked food enhances other smoky flavour notes, as it brings up the whisky’s caramel notes.
  • Citrus may overpower a whisky, since they have a lot of juice and strong flavours.
  • Fresh food will match herbal and floral flavours in the whisky, while allowing the sweeter flavours to come up.
  • Nuts match the oaky and woody whisky flavours, while bringing up the spicy and sweet flavours.
Two glasses of japanese whisky pairing with a japanese meal
Some japanese whisky was made to be paired with japanese food. That is why western foods may be harder to align with this whisky flavours


Matching Flavours with Japanese Whisky

When pairing this type of spirit with food, you should have in consideration that Japanese whisky has subtle flavour and an utterly balanced character. Our advice is that you choose some subtle flavoured food as well, so nothing gets overpowered.

However, the range of Japanese Whisky has becoming wider. Whiskies from the coast of Hokkaido, for instance, have more salty flavours, so you might want to pair them with a fish meal. There are also whiskies with strong nuts and wood flavour notes, and those will have a perfect match meat or earthy vegetables, like mushrooms.


Is Japanese whisky good with sushi?

The answer is Yes! Japanese whisky goes perfectly with sushi. It matches some salty notes the whisky may have and the sweet rice will bring up the floral and fruity notes of the spirit.

Seafood, in general, is a go-to when pairing this whisky because of the delicate character of them both. You can pair it with sashimi, tempura prawns or any other shellfish.

Pairing japanese whisky with sushi is one of the go-for matches
Pairing japanese whisky with sushi is one of the go-for matches


8 Japanese Whisky Pairings You Should Go For

If you feel lost on what Japanese whisky to pair with what food, here’s some bomb examples you definitely should go for as soon as you have the chance!


Hakushu 12-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky + Smoked Salmon

With several awards won, Hakushu 12-Year-Old is a next-generation Japanese whisky that gathers the Japanese perfection drive with the Scottish peat tradition.

This Hakushu whisky is matured in American White Oak Casks and, given that the barley used for this whisky is roasted over peat fire, you can expect this expression to have light smoky notes. You can also taste pears, herbs and citrus.

We created this Japanese Whisky pairing because the smoky and salty notes of the salmon will enhance the light smoke flavours present in this whisky, as well as the sweet fruit and herbal notes.


Suntory Kakubin Yellow + White Fish Sashimi

The Kakubin Yellow Whisky is one of the best-sellers in Japan, and for a good reason. It has been produced since 1937 and it’s a Blended whisky that carries the roots of Japanese whisky production.

The name “Kakubin” stands for ‘Square bottle’, which is the form of the whisky bottle. The bottle represents the shell of a turtle, which symbolizes a prosperous, long life.

Using whisky from Yamazaki and Hakushu distilleries, the Suntory Kakubin Yellow is matured in sherry and wine casks to give it its complexity, while maintaining the refined profile. This whisky was created to be paired with the typical Japanese gastronomy, so you cannot miss this pairing.

This whisky has a sweet character with strong flavours of honey, citrus and hints spice. We paired this expression with a typical Japanese food, as it should be – white fish sashimi.

White fish has a subtle flavours and sea salt notes, which will enhance every hidden flavour note of this Japanese whisky.


The Suntory Kakubin Yellow is one of the expressions we have sent to our customers in Whisky Tasting Boxes in the past!

Bottle of Suntory Kakubin Whisky

Hibiki Japanese Harmony Whisky + Kobe Beef

Probably one of the most well-known Japanese whiskies currently, the Hibiki Japanese Harmony is a whisky everyone wants to taste. Its balanced and smooth character pairs perfectly with the tenderness of the Kobe Beef.

The flavour of the Hibiki Japanese Harmony tends to be sweet and citric, with hints of white chocolate, honey. It ends subtly with light cinnamon and pepper, coming from the Mizunara Oak Casks in which it is matured.

This Japanese Whisky pairing is complementary, with the fat of Kobe Beef providing the perfect coating to cut the alcohol kick. It is so tender, it matches the smoothness of Hibiki Japanese Harmony, while letting its flavours flow.


Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Single Malt Whisky + Tonkatsu

The 12 Years Old dram that became the front expression of the Yamazaki range, from Suntory. This Single Malt Japanese Whisky is still a best-seller and its simplicity speaks for itself. Such an iconic Japanese dram deserves to be paired with an iconic Japanese food – Tonkatsu.

Aged in American White Oak and ex-Sherry casks, the Yamazaki 12-Year-Old is an expression with a buttery mouthfeel, sweet flavours of honey and coconut, as well as acidic fruit, such as cranberry, orange and lemon peel. The finish is long, full of spices like cinnamon and ginger, and with hints of pineapple.

The Tonkatsu is a traditional pork dish coated by panko breadcrumbs. The fat of this meat will provide the perfect mouthcoat to cut the alcohol punch. Moreover, its sweet flavour will enhance all the fruity flavours of the whisky while playing nicely with the spices.

This is another example of a Japanese whisky expression we sent to our costumers in the past!


Bottle of Yamazaki 12 Years Old in a bar


Akashi White Oak Single Malt Whisky + Pink Peppercorns Dark Chocolate

Created with a blend three different malts from the White Oak distillery and aged in three different casks, the Akashi Single Malt Whisky almost goes unnoticed in the western whisky market. It is, however, the perfect representation of the Scotch production influences in Japan.

The Akashi White Oak is a rich and complex spirit, given that is made from 7-year-old, 5-year-old, and 3-year-old whisky. In addition, it is also aged in ex-bourbon, Spanish Cherry Oak and American Oak casks. This whisky blend and cask mix provides the smoky, spicy and fruity character.

Such a complex whisky deserves a japanese whisky pairing that will not overpower it, but one that, instead, brings up the fruity and spicy flavours. Nothing like dark chocolate to give a pull on the sweet ripe fruit notes, with the pink peppercorns enhancing the oak spiciness (such as ginger and cinnamon) of this Japanese whisky expression.


Yamazaki 18 Year-Old Single Malt Whisky + Daifuku Moshi

The Yamazaki 18-Year-Old Single Malt whisky is a rich and fruity dram that deserves a sweet, chewy pair like the Daifuku Mochi.

This Yamazaki expression is aged for 18 years in ex-sherry, ex-bourbon and Mizunara casks – a combination that gives this whisky its fruity, sweet, spicy and herbal character with notes of smoke in the background. All in all, it’s a well-balanced expression that has won several golden awards.

The Daifuku Moshi is a Japanese sticky rice cake with adzuki bean paste as filling. It may seem an odd cake, but the palate is just right (even without pairing it with whisky). The adzuki bean is sweet and it will match the apples, dark chocolate and toffee flavour notes on the whisky.

By its turn, the sticky rice has the perfect texture to coat your mouth and reduce the alcohol punch, allowing you to feel every tasting note of this Japanese whisky.

Japanese Whisky Pairing with Daifuku Mochi
Three adzuki bean cakes – Daifuku Mochi -, that pair perfectly with Yamazaki 18 Year Old


Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky + Tayaki Cakes

The Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky is the expression created to celebrate the founder of Nikka distillery and the responsible for bringing the whisky-making art to Japan. This elegant expression match perfectly with Tayaki Cakes, a traditional Japanese patisserie made with adzuki beans.

The Taketsuru Pure Malt is a complex, but smooth, blended whisky created with malts from the Miyagikyo and Yoichi distilleries. While the first ages its whisky in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks, the second is known by its peated whisky aged in ex-bourbon casks. The result is a whisky with a creamy mouthfeel and strong sweet notes of honey and vanilla, followed with sharp green apples and coffee flavour notes. In the end, smoke is released alongside with cinnamon spice.

For this Japanese whisky pairing, we matched a smooth whisky with the sweet and aromatic Taiyaki cakes. This cakes are made from adzuki bean paste, which is soft and have earthy flavours. It will enhance the fruity flavours of pears and apples the whisky have, while matching the spicies.


Suntory Toki Blended Malt Whisky + Kaki-pi

Between the traditional and contemporary cultures, Suntory Toki is a blended whisky that promises to take who drinks it for a tour in the current streets of Tokio. Such a creative and eclectic spirit deserves to be paired with a mix of Japanese snacks that brings up the best of this whisky’s character.

Respecting the tradition of whisky blending in Japan, Toki combines whisky from three different distilleries in a innovative manner to create a modern and bold whisky expression. In each bottle there is Chita, Hakushu and Yamazaki whisky present, ending up in a sweet, fruity and spicy dram with hints of fresh herbs.

For this last Japanese whisky pairing, we suggest a mix of Japanese snacks called Kaki-pi. This common snack is known for having different flavours, including wasabi and chili nuts and soy-flavoured rice crisps. This nut mix will bring up the peppermint and thyme flavours of Toki, while matching its fruity and vanilla flavours.

The spicy in the Kaki-pi will only fire up the white pepper and ginger present in the finish of the whisky for a truly powerful experience.


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