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Explained in 3 Minutes

Japanese Whisky

 

What the heck is that?

Japanese whisky refers to whisky that has been made in Japan. Exactly how it has to be “made” in Japan is a little controversial, but that is a story for another time.

 

 

Who cares?

It is said that the Japanese are masters of taking a Western product and perfecting it for themselves. This is true for Japanese automobile industry, fashion, cuisine and animation. This is also true for whisky which has obvious Scottish roots and influences.

The first Japanese whisky distillery was opened less than a hundred years ago in 1923 by Shinjiro Tori, with the help of Masataka Taketsuru- an evident Scots-phile who apprenticed at several Scotch distilleries before marrying a Scottish lady.  

Several decades of domestic experimentation led the Japanese to develop whiskies that better suited their Asian palate. The typical Japanese person found Scotch-style whisky too smoky or heavy for their liking. This led Japanese distilleries to make more fragrant, floral and delicate-bodied whiskies that appealed to the same sense of refinement we find in Japanese foods. 

Certain Japanese single malts also demonstrate very distinctive flavours that can only be attributed to an Asian influence. Yamazaki single malts for instance tend to carry a subtle Mizunara oak aroma that reminds one of coconut flakes and burning incense at a Buddhist temple. 

 

“For relaxing times, make it Suntory time” – Bill Murray, Lost in Translation (2008)

 

Interestingly, worldwide interest in Japanese whiskies only came sometime after Bill Murray’s film Lost in Translation helped Suntory hit the silver screens. Japanese distilleries began winning international awards from the early 2010s. This culminated in a runaway surge in global demand for Japanese whiskies around 2017 onwards that acquainted Western whisky drinkers with the likes of Yamazaki, Hakushu and Nikka.

 

 

Why should I try it?

Japanese whiskies demonstrate a distinct flavour and identity that injects a refreshing Eastern perspective of elegance and minimalism into the category of whiskies. And true to Japanese culture, their whiskies are crafted with a level of respect and artistry that draws the admiration of an international audience.   

Almost a century after the founding of the first Japanese whisky distillery, the Japanese passion for whisky-making remains unabated. Craft Japanese distilleries continue to spring up sporadically across the islands, operating with quality over profit in mind. 

Considering how light-bodied and friendly most Japanese whiskies tend to be, new drinkers are very likely to enjoy any bottle. It is a concern that age-statement Japanese whiskies are facing a shortage and not easily found these days. We would therefore encourage new drinkers to seek out affordable NAS Japanese whiskies from the Yamazaki, Hakushu and Nikka brands.