Whisky from Japan has become one of the rarest, most luxurious categories, and for good reason.
As is expected from Japan, endless attention to detail and the pursuit of perfection has led the country's growing legion of distillers to experiment and innovate, and in turn seeing whisky from The Land of the Rising Sun earn international awards from judges and praise from enthusiasts and connoisseurs.
This isn't restricted to the world-renowned Yamazaki, Nikka and Hibiki brands. Here are three smaller distilleries worth watching and, if you can, sampling – duty free stores or liquor store in Japan's more remote location are where these unicorns can be found.
After kick-starting Japan's small whisky distillery boom in 2008, Chichibu is responsible for leading other local distilleries to the global stage and has seen many local producers attemtping to follow in its footsteps.
Chichibu remains the most popular boutique Japanese distillery both domestically and globally, with new expressions selling out instantly, while founder Ichiro Akuto is rightly regarded as the rock star of Japanese whisky.
Chichibu uses an abundance of cask types including Japanese Mizunara oak, and unique production methods to create strong yet balanced whiskies, from fruity, spiced sherry expressions to sweeter, creamier bourbon-aged bottlings.
New releases from Mars Shinshu sell out in seconds online, and the distillery now enjoys a cult-like fan base similar to Chichibu’s.
Ironically, Mars Shinshu started producing whisky in the 1980s but the site shut down in the 1992 when whisky consumption in Japan was plummeting as the country's native spirit shochu gained ascendency.
Only in 2010, sparked by newfound interest in Japanese whisky, did Mars Shinshu reopen with an exciting new team and has been making waves ever since.
Hombo Shuzo, the company behind Mars, has also established the Tsunuki distillery in the Kagoshima prefecture of Japan's Kyushu Island. Looking to diversify its flavour portfolio, Hombo Shuzo ages whisky in different climates – something which ultimately changes a whisky’s flavour profile.
White Oak is but one arm of sake-maker Eigashima Shuzo, which produces this whisky only for part of the year – making it a rare dram indeed. With a licence to make whisky issued in 1910, White Oak is officially Japan's oldest distillery. With plain labels and straight-forward production techniques, White Oak is a minimalistic distiller whose location by the Inland Sea brings a maritime influence to its whisky.