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Asia owns the whiskey scene right now. Japan’s Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt 17 Years Old is the latest drink to steal the headlines, winning the prize for World’s Best Blended Malt in 2014 and 2015. But that’s just one in a long list of Japanese and Taiwanese whiskies to have won the whiskey world’s most prestigious accolades since the late 2000s. Though the coveted Taiwanese labels are still hard to come by in Bangkok—we’ve yet to find anywhere selling the Word Whiskies Awards 2015 Best Single Malt-winning Kavalan Solist Vinho Barrique Single Cask Strength—there has never been a better time to explore this city’s booming Japanese whiskey bar scene. And to taste the country’s most coveted bottles.
The Hanakaruta brand sprung to fame thanks to its floorto-ceiling stack of whiskey bottles in a tiny little Sukhumvit Soi 39 bar (staffed by a friendly barman who was crafting ice balls long before everyone else). The Sathorn Soi 10 branch opened in 2014 offering more of the same, only in a larger space, more open to the outside world. Both Suntory Yamazaki and Nikka whiskies are in ready supply, including limited-edition bottles like Suntory Single Grain (B400/glass) and Nikka Single Cask Whiskey 20 Years Old (B1,500) alongside smaller producers like Hanyu Ichiro’s Pure Malt Whiskey Wine Wood Reserve (B650) and Ichiro’s Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve (B650).
Sathorn Soi 10, 085-061-7318. Open Mon-Sat 5pm-2am 36/4
Sukhumvit Soi 39, 089-783-3534. Open Mon-Sat 5pm-2am
Hanakaruta’s founder, Noriaki Tsuboshi, has actually left his original business to work at this more intimate watering hole for serious drinkers. The whiskey list is handpicked by Nori himself. Right now, expect to find Suntory Royal Blended Whiskey, Suntory Special Reserve, Hakushu Single Malt 10 and 12 Years and Yamazaki Single Malt Whiskey 12 Years.
3/F, 47/1 Sukhumvit Soi 49. 085-147-7085. Open daily 8pm-2am
Japanese labels can only be found in two branches of this whiskey-specializing chain of bars: Silom and Sukhumvit Soi 23. Nikka Taketsuru 12 Years Old (B300/glass), Hakushu 10 (B280) and 12 Years Old (B330), and Suntory Hibiki 17 Years Old (B640) are on the list at both.
16 Sukhumvit Soi 23, 02-664-4252. Open daily 2pm-2am
981 Silom Rd., 02-661-3220. Open daily 2pm-2am
Located just a few steps from Hanakaruta’s Soi 39 branch, Yoichi Nikka is the first venture outside of Japan by APR Trading Group, which is behind more than 30 restaurants in Hokkaido, and specializes in food and drinks from the country’s northernmost island. Here you can find most selections from Nikka Company, including the award-winning Takesuru 17 Years Old (B400). For an affordable journey into the flavor profiles of Japanese whiskies of different ages, try one of the tasting flights, like the Taketsuru set (12, 17 and 21 Years Old, B700) and the Yoichi set (10, 12 and 15 Years Old , B700).
6/11 Sukhumvit Soi 39, 02-662-4270. Open daily Mon-Sat 4pm-1am
This minimal Japanese bar is very cozy and private. But despite the size, the owner stocks many of the best Japanese whiskies. Along with Hibiki (starting B550 for shot) and Yamazaki, you’re also likely to find drinks from smaller producers like Hanyu Ichiro’s IWAI Tradition Blended Whiskey and White Oak Akashi—the latter is highly recommended by the owner. That said, he can be cagey about exact prices, since what’s in stock varies all the time. Just know that the list starts at B200/glass.
2/F, 7/1 Sukhumvit Soi 31, 02-662-8087. Open daily 6:30pm-1am
Tucked down a no-name soi, this gentlemanly bar is one of Bangkok’s best spots to get a good selection of whiskey in a casual vibe. Going beyond Scotland, they also serve some niche bottles like the Eigashima Akashi (B470) and Hakushu 10 years (B300).
160/17 Thonglor Soi 6, 092-276-2772. Open Tue-Sun 6:30pm-1am
Bangkok’s most high-end Japanese hotel, The Okura Prestige, does a great line in both Japanese wine and whiskey. Check out their list of premium bottles like Suntory Hakushu 12 Years Old (B450), Suntory Kakubin (B290) and Taketsuru Pure Malt (B690). Normally, the whiskey is served neat or with an ice ball, but there’s also one cocktail on the list made from Suntory Hakushu 12 Years, Massenez Creme de Griotte, antica formula vermouth and orange, called Blood and Sand (B475).
24/F, The Okura Prestige 57 Wireless Rd., 02-687-9000