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Where to Drink Japanese Whisky Right Now

San Francisco has some good options

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For the last decade, Japanese whisky has been gaining popularity around the world. However, the spirit has been in production in Japan since 1923, when chemist Masataka Taketsuru brought back his love of whisky from Scotland, and founded Yamazaki, the country's first distillery, with  Shinjiro Torii jut outside Kyoto. Now Japan's whisky is threatening to surpass Scotland in popularity, following the 2015 designation of Suntory's Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 as the best whisky in the world by Jim Murray's Whisky Bible. And in San Francisco, the spirit is all the rage, whether it's mixed into cocktails, on the rocks or neat.

But with so many people drinking it, some of the most beloved bottles have become rare and only a handful of bars feature a diverse selection of the smokey spirit. If you want to get in on the action, where should you go? Here are 8 of the best places to drink Japanese whisky in the Bay.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Foreign Cinema

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2534 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110
(415) 648-7600
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Bar manager Nicky Beyries spotlights a selection of somewhat unusual, but popular, bottles in a three-pour flight: Akashi White Oak Grain, Kikori (a newcomer to the market, distilled from rice), and Iwai for $25. For those who prefer sipping a cocktail, Beyries also offers the fluffy Seven Samurai, which features the light Kikori with housemade umeboshi (salted plum) gastrique, fresh lemon, egg white, and yuzu bitters. The plus? Beyries has been collecting additional rare Japanese whiskies behind the scenes for guests to try.

2. Hotel Nikko San Francisco

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222 Mason St
San Francisco, CA 94102
(415) 394-1111
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It might not surprise you that Hotel Niko maintains a modest selection of Japanese whiskies. But the real treat is the sparkle-encrusted, Hello-Kitty pink kanpai lounge, which even sometimes welcomes you to a candy bar just past the entrance.
Hotel Niko

3. Mister Jiu's

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28 Waverly Pl.
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 857-9688
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At the risk of conflating Chinese and Japanese cultures, Cantonese Californian inspired Mister Jiu's indeed hosts a well-stocked bar of Japanese whiskies at its gorgeous, dramatic black-stone bar. Though not Japanese, you can also find the world-recognized Kavalan whisky, including the Soloist, which was was named the new whisky of the year by the Whisky Bible in 2012.

4. PABU

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101 California St
San Francisco, CA 94111
(415) 668-7228
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Michael Mina's Japanese restaurant is home to one of San Francisco's largest collection of cocktails with Japanese spirits. Beyond that, their back bar of bottles runs deep. In addition to a curated three-pour flight ($30), PABU's Japanese whisky menu spans a full five pages, covers 29 different bottles of Japanese whisky, ranging from $14 a pour to $462 a pour for a 28-year-old vintage. These pair with an 88-bottle list of wide-ranging sakes and 10 shochus. Even lesser known is bar manager Nick Jones's secret "yakuza" menu. Named for Japan's age-old underground gang network, the cocktail menu surreptitiously serves out drinks that pair specific spirits with tea.

5. Ramen Shop

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5812 College Ave
Oakland, CA 94618
(510) 788-6370
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Ramen Shop not only showcases a wide selection of 16 Japanese whiskies—even more exceptional is bar manager Chris Lane's reverence and understanding of the Japanese palate and technique. Lane's interest — and even travels in Japan — have translated into a extremely detail oriented approach to bartending techniques (including a version of the famously challenging hard shake) and a taste for some of the simple pleasures like the Japanese highball, which Lane jiggers out to perfect salinity. Lane also offers on his menu St. George's local take on shochu, as well as St. George's Ramen Shop Reserve Baller Whiskey, on which Lane collaborated.

6. Roka | Bar

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801 Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA 94133
The Japanese steakhouse in the Financial District boasts a 30-bottle selection of Japanese whisky — and might even pull a few unlisted vintages for the curious. For the second or third round, the rest of the bar's menu is equally ambitious with a side selection of shochu, sake, and Japanese beer lists, happy companions to the rich cuts of wagyu beef served by the kitchen.

7. Tosca Cafe

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242 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 986-9651
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Tosca may serve Italian American food, but it also nurtures a deep back bar of rare bottles, including a wide selection of Japanese whiskies. Fans of the Asian style will swoon at their reserve of sought-after pours, like Hibiki 18, Yamazaki 18, and Hibiki 21, among others. Such rarities are even known to make appearances on Tosca's late-night menu, one of San Francisco dining's hidden treasures: Every night, the bar staff will choose a "good deal shooter" and offer a pour of a particular bottle at a fraction of the typical price, so that customers have the chance to taste something new and rare—including Japanese whisky for those lucky few.

8. Louie’s Gen-Gen Room

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871 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA 94109
(415) 440-5446
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If you are already dying to get a seat at one of the City's hottest tickets in town, you might want to stop reading now. The nationally recognized Hawaii-themed restaurant Liholiho Yacht Club surprised everyone two weeks ago by opening a 24-seat tropical basement bar. Entry is reservation only, with reservations opening a week ahead. Making this exclusive experience even more coveted: the bar's 20-bottle Japanese whisky collection boasting a particularly wide selection of Nikka and some of the favorites from the Suntory vertical.
Louie's Gen Gen

1. Foreign Cinema

2534 Mission St, San Francisco, CA 94110
Bar manager Nicky Beyries spotlights a selection of somewhat unusual, but popular, bottles in a three-pour flight: Akashi White Oak Grain, Kikori (a newcomer to the market, distilled from rice), and Iwai for $25. For those who prefer sipping a cocktail, Beyries also offers the fluffy Seven Samurai, which features the light Kikori with housemade umeboshi (salted plum) gastrique, fresh lemon, egg white, and yuzu bitters. The plus? Beyries has been collecting additional rare Japanese whiskies behind the scenes for guests to try.
2534 Mission St
San Francisco, CA 94110

2. Hotel Nikko San Francisco

222 Mason St, San Francisco, CA 94102
Hotel Niko
It might not surprise you that Hotel Niko maintains a modest selection of Japanese whiskies. But the real treat is the sparkle-encrusted, Hello-Kitty pink kanpai lounge, which even sometimes welcomes you to a candy bar just past the entrance.
222 Mason St
San Francisco, CA 94102

3. Mister Jiu's

28 Waverly Pl., San Francisco, CA 94108
At the risk of conflating Chinese and Japanese cultures, Cantonese Californian inspired Mister Jiu's indeed hosts a well-stocked bar of Japanese whiskies at its gorgeous, dramatic black-stone bar. Though not Japanese, you can also find the world-recognized Kavalan whisky, including the Soloist, which was was named the new whisky of the year by the Whisky Bible in 2012.
28 Waverly Pl.
San Francisco, CA 94108

4. PABU

101 California St, San Francisco, CA 94111
Michael Mina's Japanese restaurant is home to one of San Francisco's largest collection of cocktails with Japanese spirits. Beyond that, their back bar of bottles runs deep. In addition to a curated three-pour flight ($30), PABU's Japanese whisky menu spans a full five pages, covers 29 different bottles of Japanese whisky, ranging from $14 a pour to $462 a pour for a 28-year-old vintage. These pair with an 88-bottle list of wide-ranging sakes and 10 shochus. Even lesser known is bar manager Nick Jones's secret "yakuza" menu. Named for Japan's age-old underground gang network, the cocktail menu surreptitiously serves out drinks that pair specific spirits with tea.
101 California St
San Francisco, CA 94111

5. Ramen Shop

5812 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618
Ramen Shop not only showcases a wide selection of 16 Japanese whiskies—even more exceptional is bar manager Chris Lane's reverence and understanding of the Japanese palate and technique. Lane's interest — and even travels in Japan — have translated into a extremely detail oriented approach to bartending techniques (including a version of the famously challenging hard shake) and a taste for some of the simple pleasures like the Japanese highball, which Lane jiggers out to perfect salinity. Lane also offers on his menu St. George's local take on shochu, as well as St. George's Ramen Shop Reserve Baller Whiskey, on which Lane collaborated.
5812 College Ave
Oakland, CA 94618

6. Roka | Bar

801 Montgomery St, San Francisco, CA 94133
The Japanese steakhouse in the Financial District boasts a 30-bottle selection of Japanese whisky — and might even pull a few unlisted vintages for the curious. For the second or third round, the rest of the bar's menu is equally ambitious with a side selection of shochu, sake, and Japanese beer lists, happy companions to the rich cuts of wagyu beef served by the kitchen.
801 Montgomery St
San Francisco, CA 94133

7. Tosca Cafe

242 Columbus Ave, San Francisco, CA 94133
Tosca may serve Italian American food, but it also nurtures a deep back bar of rare bottles, including a wide selection of Japanese whiskies. Fans of the Asian style will swoon at their reserve of sought-after pours, like Hibiki 18, Yamazaki 18, and Hibiki 21, among others. Such rarities are even known to make appearances on Tosca's late-night menu, one of San Francisco dining's hidden treasures: Every night, the bar staff will choose a "good deal shooter" and offer a pour of a particular bottle at a fraction of the typical price, so that customers have the chance to taste something new and rare—including Japanese whisky for those lucky few.
242 Columbus Ave
San Francisco, CA 94133

8. Louie’s Gen-Gen Room

871 Sutter St, San Francisco, CA 94109
Louie's Gen Gen
If you are already dying to get a seat at one of the City's hottest tickets in town, you might want to stop reading now. The nationally recognized Hawaii-themed restaurant Liholiho Yacht Club surprised everyone two weeks ago by opening a 24-seat tropical basement bar. Entry is reservation only, with reservations opening a week ahead. Making this exclusive experience even more coveted: the bar's 20-bottle Japanese whisky collection boasting a particularly wide selection of Nikka and some of the favorites from the Suntory vertical.
871 Sutter St
San Francisco, CA 94109

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