Fancy some whisky from some far flung islands?
With some of the world’s finest whiskies under their belt Japan is certainly not a lightweight when it comes to a quality dram. Whilst there is less than a century behind even the finest Japanese whiskies, their flavours cannot be argued with and their small handful of exquisite distilleries produce bottle after bottle of seriously smooth and stylish whiskies. There are a wide range of unique styles amongst the Japanese whisky world and they are continuing to grow in popularity in the West.
The early years of Japanese whisky were dominated by two main pioneers. Taketsuru and Torii were the leading innovators in whisky in Japan, with Taketsuru famous for his visit to Scotland in 1918 to learn about the art of whisky making. Taketsuru joined forced with Torii in the early 1920s but differed in their opinions of the perfect site for a distillery so they first opened their first distillery Yamazaki near Kyoto in 1923. By 1934 Taketsuru broke off on his own and built the Yoichi Distillery on Hokkaido. This split gave us both the Suntory Company and the Nikka Company, who dominate the Japanese whisky industry.
As Suntory and Nikka don’t trade with each other, in the way that Scottish distilleries do to create different blends, they used unique and new methods to create different flavours. Their model of distillation is distinctly different to the ones used in Scotland. The utilisation of a wide range of different shaped and sized stills and a range of different barleys and yeast strains, allows the whiskies produced by each Japanese distillery to still offer an exceptional range of different styles of whisky.
There are specific styles and bottlings which have almost a cult following, such as the Karuizawa’s unique style and new distilleries such as the Ichiro Akuto Chichibu is equally interesting and popular with Japanese whisky fans.
Japanese blended whiskies, like those of Scotland, are the most popular, outselling their single malt brothers with ease and in Japan, the traditional way of serving whiskey in a mizuwari highball serve with lots of ice and water, further pushes the blends to the top of the pile.
Japanese whiskies are more expensive to the UK and other foreign markets than Scottish or Irish or even American alternatives but they have a unique and interesting style that makes them worth it. See here The Drinks Cabinet’s full range of International Whiskies.