Because Scotland’s whisky regions are familiar to many people, we’ve used them as a loose framework for finding a Japanese single-malt to your taste. Most Japanese companies have yet to establish distribution deals in the United States. Until they do, you must order your bottles online from Europe.
If you like the Peat and Brine flavors of Islay:
Known for peat, Islay’s stronger whiskies taste like smoke and seawater. While not as potent as Lagavulin or Laphroaig, Yoichis taste strongly of sherry, with medium peat. If you like Highland Park 12, try Yoichi 10 (about $86) or 12 (about $115).
If you prefer lighter Islays like Bowmore and Bunnahabhain, try Hakushu 12 (about $89). Much like Caol Ila, it’s peaty but smooth, tasting lightly of flowers and the ocean.
If you like the Sweet, Flowery, and Rich flavors of Speyside:
Speysides are generally Scotland’s sweetest malts. For soft, meadow-flower types similar to Glenlivet 12 and Glenfiddich 12, try Yamazaki 10 (about $50).
For sherried character, spice, and rich fruit like Aberlour 10’s, try Karuizawa vintage 1992 (about $122). This lesser-known distiller’s spirits range from malty, sweet, and dry to earthy, oaky, and winy.
If you like the Rich, Aromatic flavors of Highland:
Unlike Islays, Highlands are rarely potent, but they are intense. If you prefer the bold Oban 14 or Speyburn 10’s smoky finish, try the full-bodied Yamazaki 18 ($100). It’s silky and spicy, with a kiss of smoke. Also try Yoichi.
For fans of sweeter, aromatic Highlands like Glenfarclas 12 or Dalmore 12, try Yamazaki 10 (about $50) or Yamazaki 12 (about $70). Both are bright, floral, somewhat fruity, and medium bodied. The 10 starts sweet, turns spicy, and finishes smoky. Considered Japan’s first mass-marketed single-malt, the 12 ($47 at BevMo!) is the most widely available Japanese whisky in America. It smells like cereal, and has a smooth, herbal taste, with a perfect woody finish. Dalmore fans should also try Karuizawa.
If you like the Light, Mellow flavors of Lowland:
Often used in blends, Lowland Scotches are mellower than Highlands. Though only a ballpark comparison, if you like Auchentoshan 10 or Glenkinchie, try Miyagikyo 12 (about $116). Generally clean and floral, Miyagikyo 12 tastes of honey, light ginger, and more oak than many Lowlands.
Rare, Blended, and Unusual If you are willing to try malts that don’t fit easily into a comparison with most Scotches, you might enjoy these lesser-known brands: Nikka’s blended Taketsuru 17 (about $116) and 21 (about $150). Ichiro’s Malt brand, especially its potent Queen of Hearts single-malt cask ($160). Ginkgo, a blend of single-malts (about $104).