Here at Barrel and Brew, we’ve reviewed and discussed a lot of different whiskeys. One thing we haven’t gotten into yet is Japanese Whisky. I figured it was about time to change that with this review of Sensei Whiskey. While there are much bigger brands we could’ve started with such as Nikka, Suntory, or Hibiki, we wanted to try something a little less main stream.
In this Sensei Whiskey review, we’ll cover the tasting notes and price of a bottle, along with all the information you need on Japanese Whisky. So, if you’re interested in learning how the newest style of whiskey has become one of the most awarded, keep on reading.
Sensei Whiskey Overview
- Whiskey: Blended Japanese Whisky
- Owned By: Aiko Importers
- Distilled By: Blended from multiple whiskeys across the world
- Aged: NAS, unknown
- ABV: 40%, 80 proof
- Mashbill: Unknown, likely a high percentage of malted barley
There is very little information out there on Sensei Whiskey. The brand doesn’t have a website, it’s just listed as a product on Aiko Importers website. There, we get some ambiguous information. Sensei Whiskey is made from “fus[ing] together rare whiskey, finest malt whiskeys from the rest of the world, and…pure spring water from Japan”.
Aiko imports a lot of spirits from all over the world, so it’s difficult to know exactly what goes into a bottle of Sensei Japanese Whiskey. However, we can make some educated guesses based upon what we know about Japanese Whisky.
Japanese Whisky Overview
Of all the major whiskey producers in the world, Japan is the most recent country to begin producing whiskey. Production began in the late 1800’s as some locals learned how to distill whiskey from Scotsmen. Commercial production didn’t begin for another 50 or so years When the Yamazaki Distillery opened in 1920. Their practices emulated that of Scotch whisky, and soon, Yamazaki was producing blended malt and single malt whisky.
Due to its late start in the game, there aren’t many regulations surrounding Japanese Whisky – or at least there weren’t. In 2021, a couple regulations came into place. To be labeled Japanese Whisky, it must be fermented, distilled, and aged in Japan for a minimum of three years. The water used in production must come from Japan, and it must be bottled in Japan. However, these effects don’t take place until 2024.
Sensei Whiskey, then, does not follow these new regulations. We know the whisky is sourced from various countries, likely Scotland, but they simply use a Japanese water source and bottle it in Japan. From there, slap a label on it, and you have Japanese Whisky.
Sensei Whiskey Tasting Notes
Alright, there’s so much we don’t know about Sensei Whiskey. So far, the things I do know, I don’t like. Personally, I’ll be very glad when the new restrictions hit Japanese whisky in 2024. However, let’s be honest. There are a lot of things we can get over if the whiskey inside the bottle is good. It’s time to pour ourselves a glass and find out.
Nose: Strong floral notes reminiscent of gin. Rubbing alcohol. Some light almond aromas. Not much else here.
Taste: Very light and thin. Almost more vodka like than whiskey. Slight almond and oak with a floral undertone.
Finish: Fruity and green, but with a burning sensation. Not like a heat kind of burn either. Like an alcohol on an open wound kind of burn. A sizzle on the lips and throat.
There is almost nothing about Sensei Whiskey I enjoy. The nose reminds me of Deerhammer Gin, which may be my least favorite spirit I’ve ever had. The taste and mouthfeel is that of a flavored vodka. There is little evidence that this whiskey spent time in barrels outside of it’s color and very slight nutty and oak notes. The finish does nothing, but provide a burn much the same way cheap vodka does.
Adding ice and or water helps a lot. It doesn’t make it good by any means, just palatable. Sometimes ice can bring out flavors, dilute others, smoothen it, etc. Here, it dilutes the rubbing alcohol and cheap floral notes, which is much better than bringing more of its flavor out. Unless you love a floral whiskey or Deerhammer Gin, I’d recommend staying away from this.
Sensei Whiskey Price
Normally, price is a big factor in how I review a whiskey. If a $25 bottle is a little thin but flavorful, then it’s good in my book. If it’s a little thin or cheap and costs $50, I’m not going to recommend it. However, I don’t care how much a bottle of Sensei Whiskey costs, I don’t recommend it. This isn’t to say no one out there enjoys it, I just don’t see how or why they do. Regardless, though, let’s get to the price.
A 750ml bottle of Sensei Japanese Whiskey costs about $45-52.
This price is absurd. Now is this higher quality whiskey than Kentucky Deluxe? Yeah, probably. I’d still rather drink Kentucky Deluxe because of the taste – and Kentucky Deluxe doesn’t taste very good.
Okay, you can probably guess what I’m going to say here. I think the taste is horrendous, the price is egregious, the quality is that of cheap vodka – I don’t think there’s any value to a bottle of Sensei Whiskey outside of recommending it to your sworn enemy.
If you are new to the Japanese Whisky scene, I highly recommend you start some place else. If you love floral spirits, then maybe it’s worth a try, but I’d recommend you try it before you buy it.
How to Drink Sensei Whiskey and Japanese Whisky
There are an endless amount of ways you can drink Japanese whiskey or any spirit for that matter. However, there are better and/or more traditional ways to enjoy a mixed drink depending on what whiskey you are using. For example, it’s very normal to mix bourbon with a splash of coke, not so much with Scotch. If you want a proper Old-Fashioned, rye whiskey is the way to go.
So, what’s the best way to drink Sensei Whiskey? In a highball, for sure. Simply add soda water, sparkling water, and a lemon squeeze to a glass and enjoy. You can also go for options such as Sprite or 7-Up as well. When it comes to good Japanese Whisky, you can certainly enjoy it neat or on-the-rocks, but with Sensei, I’ll be drinking it in a highball.
Sensei Whiskey Summary
Japanese Whisky has been widely praised over the last decade, but Sensei Whiskey falls short of such expectations. For one, much of the whiskey in the bottle isn’t produced in Japan at all. However, this is about to change in the next 2 years as whiskey labeled Japanese Whisky must be produced in Japan, according to the new regulations.
Now, I may have been a little harsh on Sensei Japanese Whiskey. If this were a $25 bottle, I’d say the quality isn’t great, but that it’s flavorful – just not my kind of flavor. However, at the $45+ price point, there is little I can praise or even forgive.
All in all, Sensei Whiskey is okay in a highball, so if you find yourself with a bottle, try mixing it. While my experience wasn’t a good one, I’m not going to let it impact my overall view of Japanese Whisky and you shouldn’t either.