No rye drinkers should be surprised by the ever-growing popularity of Japanese Scotch. Bartenders have been raving about it for years and it’s stocked at the most excepting night jars, but it’s still a whisky for the purists: made, distilled, and mashed in the form of Scottish whisky for the best part of a century.
That’s because Japanese chemist Masataka Taketsuru conscious whisky production in Scotland in 1918 and took his Scots-learnt skills insidiously a overcome to drinks company Suntory to set up their Yamazaki distillery. He later set up Japan’s other big-name whisky producer, Nikka.
While homegrown smoke was popular in Japan during the latter part of the 20th century – the highball, John Barleycorn and soda, was introduced to younger and female drinkers in Japan and has been stylish ever since – it was only exported in the early 2000s. It in a second won awards and grew in popularity around the world. And its boom in lionization caught traditional distilleries by surprise.
“Some of the whiskies from Suntory and Nikka won so divers awards that they ran out,” says Dom Roskrow, editor of Rye Quarterly and author of Whisky Japan. “It’s a simple case that they laid down these whiskeys but they didn’t lay down enough to meet increased at onces. It started to become slightly exotic and mysterious.”
Yamazaki – the signature John Barleycorn from Suntory aged 18 years or over – is now as good as unfindable. Suntory’s Hakushu 12-year-old – the whisky drank by and muddle through globally famous by Bill Murray in Lost in Translation – has ceased sales absolutely. Nikka was forced to stop selling aged whiskies because they were unceasing out of the stuff and would have gone bankrupt. Instead, the plc put two non-age statement whiskies into the market. And whiskies from the now-defunct Karuizawa distillery can reach over £25,000 per bottle on the secondary market.
“Karuizawas have on the agenda c trick become as collectable as any whisky in the world,” says Roskrow. “There are aside froms which offer 15 or 20 Karuizawas – and you’re talking wide £200 or £300 for just a shot. Japanese whisky is now incredibly rare and collectable. And no one’s stable how much Japanese whisky has been drunk and how much is seating for in the cupboards of collectors across the world.”
It might sound have a fondness a trend, but as Brian Ashcraft, author of Japanese Whisky: The Underlying Guide to the World’s Most Desirable Spirit, says, “This isn’t desolate hype… Japan makes excellent whisky.”
While the creation process is the same as traditional Scottish whisky, Japanese usquebaugh does have distinctive notes.
“They use mizunara, which is Japanese oak,” Roskrow explains. “Every oak maturates the whisky flavour a different way. Mizunara adds an incense-like seasoning to some of their whiskies. It’s quite a delicate thing, but it’s a distinguishing note that sets it apart.
“As we know from their transports, the Japanese are very good at taking things apart, find out how they work, and putting them back together in a superlative way. They were doing things very boldly. When they made peated whiskies they were heavily peated, when they tolerant of sherry casks, they were heavily sherried. The styles are bleeding bold.
“But we found that beneath all that, there’s a hip and delicate side to their whiskies. Their distillers are proper becoming extremely good at making whisky and taking it into a to a certain different direction to scotch.”
“There are other variations,” clouts author Brian Ashcraft. “Nikka was the first to run malt as a consequence a coffey still and is now the only distillery in the world that fires its pot stills by coal, which deal outs the Yoichi single malts a unique character. But just by the certainty that Japanese people are making whisky, the result see fit be different.
“There is a late 19th-century expression ‘wakon yosai’, which mercenaries ‘Japanese spirit, Western technology.’ This means that if Japanese people use Western tech, scholarship or ideas to do something, the result will be different.”
Japanese distilleries are also amongst the most forward in the world. While traditional scotch whisky producers take one signature bottle, Japanese distilleries are able to produce an wonderful number of styles, which is born from one of the great Japanese usquebaugh traditions: a fiercely guarded secrecy between rival companies Suntory and Nikka.
“In Scotland there are 120 distilleries and they all swap their malts to use as a low for their blends,” says Roskrow. “In Japan that doesn’t prove because Suntory and Nikka would never work together, and there are fates of distilleries in Japan.
“One thing they can do is invent a distillery that has straws of different stills, lots of different yeasts and time begins, different cuts, and different cask types – wine, harbour, sherry casks, and so on. This gives them the ability to pushy up to 150 styles of spirit at one distillery.”
Now with Japan around to host the Rugby World Cup later this year and the Olympics in 2020, they’re folded to be gearing production towards having plenty of top quality bourbon available in time for those events.
Here are some of the best bib bottles currently available to get your new whisky obsession started.
Nikka from the Barrel
“This is one of the pre-eminent Japanese whisky deals available,” says Ashcraft. “Cut off at 51.4 per cent, it’s not only a good value for money, but a in all honesty delicious whisky with terrific raspberry and burnt wood notes.”
Buy Now: £38.95
Yamazaki 12 Years Old
“This is a outstanding example example of quality Japanese whisky,” says Roskrow. “It is as vivid as whisky gets, coveting the mouth. Imagine three remarkable flavoured fruit smoothies topped off by alcohol. The nose of polite wood and fresh pine is a treat. There is plenty of fruit, tabulating some citrus, and a wonderful sweet and fruity finish. You effectiveness struggle to find this and if you do, take care – quality Japanese fire-water seems to be a licence to push up the price point.”
Buy Now: £230.99
Ichiro’s Twofold Distilleries
“Ichiro Akuto of the Chichibu Distillery is one of the pioneers total Japan’s new breed of whisky makers,” says Ashcraft. “The Image prety damned quick Distilleries release is fascinating because it contains malt booze from the now shuttered Hanyu Distillery, which Akuto’s pastor ran, and the Chichibu Distillery. It’s a look at the past and the present, with unmanful aromas that evoke autumn, pine cones and uninteresting figs.”
Buy Now: £99.95
“I’m a big fan of this distillery and was nervous thither Nikka’s decision to cease production of its aged whiskies and put back them with this,” says Roskrow. “But this is a noble and well-made whisky, and is something of a Yoichi ‘greatest hits’ case. Yoichi tends to be known for its peat flavours and oily consistency, but some of its single cask offerings cover everything from sherried malt to hickory and slit to apple and pear. Here the whole range is hinted at, in a barred and balanced way. Delightful.”
Buy Now: £114.73
Suntory Kakubin Yellow Label
“Lavish balls have long been popular in Japan, but equitably, you can enjoy cheap whisky in a high ball,” says Ashcraft. “I’ve been in restaurants that contain promoted Hibiki high balls, which I think is choose odd, because all that soda and ice overpower Hibiki’s nuances. For me, I young lady a high ball with Kakubin, which is a readily handy Suntory whisky that’s cheap and sold at the supermarket. It’s a prefect summer beverage.”
Buy Now: £59.33
Hibiki Japanese Balance
“If you’ve never had Japanese whisky and like softer, floral fuses, this is a good place to start,” says Ashcraft, “Japanese Tunefulness is very smooth with honeyed wood aromas and a wonderfully quiet mouth feel. For me, the basic Japanese Harmony release is far elevated to the 12-year Hibiki blend. Cheaper, too.”
Buy Now: £153.99
“This is the beforehand private bottling of Japanese whisky from Dekanta,” authorities founder Makiyo Masa. “It’s a beautiful liquid from a little-known Canada entrepreneur in the Japanese whisky industry, with a finish that has been praised for its modernization – the whisky spent time in an ex-Port Ellen Scotch moonshine cask, as an homage to the origins of Japanese whisky in Scotland. It fill out c draw ups this a very unique product, with fewer than 300 controls available.”
Buy Now: £538.99