It may be less than a century old commercially, but Japanese Whisky has come a long way in such a short time indeed, becoming equally comparable against the world’s leading Scotch and Bourbon in fact.
In this edition of #WhiskyWednesdays, we’ll take a closer look at the fine whiskies churned out by leading distillers from the Land of the Rising Sun.
What is Japanese Whisky?
Japanese whisky is a style of whisky developed and produced in Japan. Whisky production in Japan began around 1870, but the first commercial production only took off in 1924 when the country’s first distillery was established in Yamazaki.
How did it all start?
Shinjiro Torii (pictured, left) and Masataka Taketsuru (pictured, right) were the key pioneers of Japanese Whisky. Initially working as a pharmaceutical wholesaler, Torii began importing western liquor and later created a brand called “Akadama Port Wine” that’s based on a Portuguese wine, which made him a successful merchant.
However, being Japanese, Torii wasn’t satisfied and later embarked on his dream of making Japanese whisky for the people of Japan. This led towards opening the first Japanese whisky distillery in Yamazaki, a suburb of Kyoto – an area famous for its excellent water – that was called Kotobukiya (which became Suntory later).
Torii then hired Taketsuru as his distillery executive where his five-day crash course study of whisky production in Longmorn, Scotland came in handy. Taketsuru then left Kotobukiya in 1934 to form his own company—Dainipponkaju (which later change its became Nikka). This new venture led to the established the Yoichi distillery in Hokkaido.
Beyond this, as the saying goes, is history, with both Suntory and Nikka standing as he two best-known and most widely available Japanese Whisky brands today.
How many distilleries are there in Japan?
Over the years, the count of distilleries in Japan has grown from the humble two that started it all. Some have come and gone, leaving just a handful in existence today. Besides the Suntory-owned Yamazaki and Nikka-owned Yoichi distilleries, here are the other distilleries that are active in Japan today:
What Japanese Whisky ‘styles’ are there?
Like scotch, Japanese Whisky is produced in several variations that includes blended whisky, blended malt whisky, single malt whisky and grain whisky types. Typically though, Japanese Whiskies are known to have heavy emphasis on honeysuckle, acetone, toffee and orange flavours in their taste.
What makes Japanese Whisky so good?
Until their mainstream arrival into the international market at the turn of the new millennium, many believed that whiskies made in the Scottish style, but not made in Scotland, couldn’t possibly match up against the standards of the traditional Scotch whisky distilleries.
All that changed when the Japanese Whisky industry decided to break out of its domestic exclusivity. This resulted in plenty of acclaim, with the most notable and the first of many coming in 2001 where Nikka’s 10-year Yoichi single malt won “Best of the Best” at Whisky Magazine’s awards.
In recent times, single malt offerings from both Nikka’s Yoichi and Suntory’s Yamazaki distilleries in particular have scored higher than their Scottish counterparts in a number of acclaimed international blind tastings.
What truly deserves special mention here is Japanese Whisky’s truly astounding quality despite the fact that the nation only has a handful of distilleries.
How do you drink Japanese Whisky?
Like good scotch, you can consume Japanese Whisky in cocktails such as whisky highballs. With the finer single malt and long-aged ones, it’s best drank neat or on rocks.
Try some for yourself this month!
Now that you know Japanese Whisky a little better, you’d probably want to try some out for yourself. Fortunately, Boozeat is hosting an exclusive Premium Japanese Whisky Tasting evening this month on Thursday, 22 June @ Vineria.it, Bangsar ( Waze / Google Maps ).
Tickets are priced from RM179 and guests will get to sample up to five different premium whisky offerings made in the Land of the Rising Sun. Alternatively, you could view our vast selection of Japanese whiskies on sale now and have it delivered to your doorstep instead.
About Editor 2.0
An avid boozer and word-stringer who's paid to drink and write for the revamped Boozeat Blog 2.0
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