Whisky Review Round Up: Kaiyo Japanese Whiskies

, | June 20, 2019

Editor’s Note: These whiskies were provided to us as review samples by Ego Bev. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review.

Oak. In this case, Mizunara oak, an expensive and coveted wood out of Japan. We’re talking about a tree that generally has to be about 200 years old, just to be big enough to even be used in a barrel. It also tends to not grow very straight, so you have to select just the right trees. And, due to a heavier water content, it’s soft and generally doesn’t want to bend into barrel shapes. Pretty much a pain in the ass to work with.

Also known as, quercus mongolica, Mizunara oak contains a large amount of vanillins, which in science speak regards to chemical elements that give vanilla bean that sweetness. Due to this, distillers using these barrels sometimes have to alter their aging programs to balance the whiskeys accordingly. It is also a pretty malleable and porous wood, and thus prone to damage and leakage. Pretty much, still a pain in the ass to work with. But when it’s good, it’s good, so depending on what you’re doing, pick your battles. For consistency sake, a lot of Japanese distilleries tend to outsource barrels from America and Europe.

The production style of Japanese import brand Kaiyo Whisky is pretty much the same as bourbons outsourced from a larger distillery (gotten from someone else and then finished by the brand now holding ownership). There’s a full breakdown on what goes on with this brand at K&L Spirits Journal for you to read, but the nutshell is that these are so-called “teaspoon” malt whiskies which were purchased “from an unnamed Japanese whisky supplier.” The Mizunara oak casks hosting these whiskies then eventually set off on a months long ocean going journey from Japan to the United States, reportedly further enhancing the final flavor profile.

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As a whisky round up, this was a fun series to try side by side. Especially, since I haven’t tasted any Mizunara cask expressions before. Initially, I thought I was tasting a bunch of sherry finish with these, but after researching and such, ah yes, the oak finish is where that sweetness and fruit comes from.

Some of the Kaiyo Japanese whiskies (image via Kaiyo)

Tasting Notes: Kaiyo Whisky

Vital Stats: 86 proof, 43% ABV, $55 ~ per 750ml bottle.

Appearance: light straw or hay

Nose: Orange peel, coriander, and a bit of boozy heat

Palate: Banana and sweet, with a touch of agave syrup notes.

Final Thoughts: Not quite balanced. This one is a touch too heavy on the sweet and lacks the complexity one might hope for.

SCORE: 3/5

Tasting Notes: Kaiyo Peated Whisky

Vital Stats: 92 proof, 46% ABV, ~ $100 per 750ml bottle

Appearance: Earl grey tea, a somewhat pale yellow.

Nose: Peat, citrus notes, some sweetness that reminds one of sherry finishes

Palate: Sweet and peated, honeydew, smoked honey, and toasted grains

Final Thoughts: Sweet and peat. I do like the direction this expression is going, but it’s not quite there yet. Thinking a higher proof may help balance out the flavor profiles as a bigger whisky.

SCORE: 3.5/5

Tasting Notes: Kaiyo Barrel Strength Whisky

Vital Stats: 106 proof, 53% ABV, no age statement, ~ $90 per 750ml bottle

Appearance: Copper, amber, burnt orange.

Nose: Sandlewood, black tea, with a touch of orange peel in the background

Palate: Big vanilla in the front, following up with banana and baking spices. Long finish .

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Final Thoughts: Out of the bunch, this is the favorite. It is balanced and has all of the complexities that one may seek in a Japanese whisky. Definitely adding some water or ice, makes this one shine, adding more fruit flavors without the sweetness of the others.

SCORE: 4.5/5

Tasting Notes: Kaiyo Single Barrel Whisky

Vital Stats: 96 proof, 48% ABV, aged seven years, ~ 50$ per 750ml bottle

Appearance: Reminds me of green tea, somewhere between a pale yellow and green.

Nose: Melon and honeysuckle for sure, and a bit boozy.

Palate: Sweet honey, orchard fruit (apple/pear), leading into whispers of spice and peat. 

Final Thoughts:  This one was fun. Reminds one of a Speyside Scotch. A nice combination of fruit, spice, and a touch of peat. But alas, still a bit too much on the sweet side.

SCORE: 3.5/5

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Kenji Mizumori

Kenji is a bartender in Portland, Oregon at the Pope House Bourbon Lounge. A bourbon enthusiast for decades. He likes big whiskeys, pretty much anything over 100 proof.