Insights from Drizly’s Top 5 Japanese Whisky Brands
Japanese whisky sales peak during the holiday gift-giving season, making these top-selling labels essential for every retailer
Japanese whisky represents a far smaller share of overall whiskey sales on Drizly than bourbon or Scotch, yet the category deserves attention for its continuously increasing average unit price and the spirit’s popularity with gift-givers. Though the category’s share has hovered at around four percent over the last five years, its average unit price has grown from $78.77 in 2019 to $87.65 in 2023 year-to-date.
“Despite premiumization cooling across other categories,” says Liz Paquette, the head of consumer insights at Drizly, “consumers are continuing to spend more per bottle in this category.”
Japanese whisky sales on Drizly tend to be seasonal, with orders reaching their peak during the holiday season. Last December, the category’s share increased to 4.6 percent of the platform’s overall whiskey category sales.
Gifting plays a key role in this trend. In the past 12 months, 29 percent share of Japanese whisky sales were gift orders, compared to just 16 percent share for the whiskey category overall and 10 percent for Drizly overall. In December, gift share of the Japanese whisky category spiked to 43 percent of sales. The spirit’s premium price-point — in line with categories such as bourbon, Scotch, and añjejo tequila — is just one of the reasons behind its gifting popularity.
“Japanese whisky is one of the smaller premium whiskey categories,” says Paquette, “so it potentially offers something new for gift-givers beyond the typical bottles.”
The five best-selling Japanese whisky brands on Drizly have remained steady over the past year, which suggests that consumers are loyal to tried-and-true favorites within the category. Among these brands, the average unit price varies significantly, from just $38.88 for Toki to $229.80 for The Yamazaki.
“Toki surpassed Nikka [average unit price $88.68] to gain the number three position this year, so it appears there is growing popularity of more affordable options in this expensive category,” Paquette says. “Japanese whisky is likely popular among different sets of consumers for different reasons, whether they are just being introduced to the category or purchasing a treat for a special occasion or gift.”
Though the House of Suntory produces four of the category’s top five brands, the fastest-growing Japanese whisky SKUs on Drizly year-to-date include two non-Suntory brands: Kamiki Intense Wood Whisky and Bushido Rei Pure Malt.
Hibiki has been a top Japanese whisky brand on Drizly for years, and the Hibiki Japanese Harmony is the category’s best-selling SKU. Suntory launched this line of blended malt and grain whiskies in 1989 to commemorate the house’s 90th anniversary. The range also includes Hibiki 21 Years Old — ranked No. 9 among Drizly’s top 10 SKUs — as well as Hibiki 30 Years Old and a limited edition bottling of Japanese Harmony.
Suntory’s flagship single malt whisky brand retained its second-place position from the previous year. The Yamazaki 12-Year-Old Single Malt, which ranks second among the platform’s top 10 Japanese whisky SKUs, is the brand’s best-selling product. Also in the top 10 is The Yamazaki 18-Year-Old Single Malt, which ranks sixth. The range also includes 12- and 25-year-old Distiller’s Reserve whiskies — all aged in a combination of American, Spanish, and Japanese oak.
Toki moved up from the No. 4 spot last year to No. 3, and the Toki Suntory is the third-best selling SKU among Drizly’s top 10. This innovative spirit is an unconventional blend of whiskies from Suntory’s Chita, Hakushu, and Yamazaki distilleries. House blends typically use Yamazaki malts as their key component, yet Toki highlights the Hakushu malt whisky as one of its two key components. The brand launched in 2016 at a suggested retail price of $39.99, and Toki remains one of the category’s most affordable offerings. This makes Toki an attractive option for consumers just entering the Japanese whisky category.
Though Nikka took a step down in the category’s overall ranking from No. 3 last year to No. 4, Drizly’s list of top 10 SKUs includes three offerings from the brand: Nikka Coffey Grain (No. 4), Nikka From The Barrel (No. 5), and Nikka Miyagikyo Single Malt (No. 10). Nikka launched its first whisky in 1940, and the line now includes several whisky bottlings such as The Nikka, Super Nikka, and Taketsuro Pure Malt. The small but mighty house also distills gin and vodka under its Coffey line.
Holding steady over the previous year in the fifth position, Hakushu hails from Suntory’s forest distillery in the southern Japanese Alps. Its 12 Year Old Single Malt whisky ranks seventh among Drizly’s top 10 SKUs. Hakushu whiskies are known for their herbal notes and liveliness on the palate, derived from the distillery’s distinctive water source and high-elevation location. The line also includes Hakushu 18 Year Old and Hakushu 25 Year Old.