Due to its rapidly growing popularity and increasing success, Japanese Whisky is given a standing ovation by the experts, professionals and enthusiasts all around the world. We wanted to share some information about this new art form we call Japanese Whisky.
While The Scots and The Irish are fighting over who discovered it first and Americans busy over creating their own versions, Japanese whisky makers quietly perfected their version of the “liquid gold”. Japan chose to follow the rules of Scottish whisky production. Even to the point that, instead of calling their product “Whiskey”, the way American and Irish producers are, they chose to go with “Whisky” used by Scottish brands.
The origins of whisky production in Japan dates back to the start of 1870’s. The first commercial distillery started production in 1923.
The most important figures in the birth of the Japanese Whisky are Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru. Shinjiro is the founder of the Kotobukiya distillery which will be named Suntory later. He hired Taketsuru as the distillery executive. Taketsuru was a pharmacist and he made extensive studies regarding distillation and whisky production in Scotland till his return to Japan in 1920. He helped Torii in establishing the Yamazaki distillery. In 1934 Taketsuru left Kotobukiya to establish his own company, Dainipponkaju which will then transform into Nikka of today.
Japanese whisky shows a lot of similarities with the Scottish whiskies in production methodologies but also they have distinguishable features of their own. For example whiskies produced in the isle region which is south west of Scotland present high peated and smoky expressions whereas the Japanese whiskies provide a lighter and sweeter taste profile. Notes and aromas of whiskies produced in different distilleries scattered around Japan also differs.
The first commercial distillery of Japan, Yamazaki, is in Shimamato region located between Osaka and Kyoto. Hakushu, another distillery, is located in the Chubu region which is on South Alps. Chita, which is founded in 1932 and meaning “Sun Grain” is in Aichi.
The most famous line of products for Suntory is their blended whisky series called “Hibiki”. Hibiki is produced from malt whiskies coming from both distilleries, grain whisky from Chita and partially matures in Japanese Oak Casks. With Teak colour, Hibiki promises to take you to a flavour ride with its peach, orange and fruit cake infused sherry flavours.
Suntory owes its well-deserved reputation to Yamazaki, its simple single malt product. Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013, which is a NAS whisky, named “The whisky of the World” by Jim Murray in 2015 and fame followed. Yamazaki offers honey and dry fruit aromas accompanied by fruit and oaky tastes with long lasting finish.
“Kakubin”, meaning square bottle, is a whisky that has been in production since 1937. With its unique square shaped bottle and turtle shell texture, Kakubin is one of the most famous whisky brand in Japan. Produced from malts coming from both distilleries, Kakubin presents rich malt sweetness with a long finish.
Nikka is another Japanese Whisky powerhouse with two distilleries. Yoichi is located in the mountains near Sapporro. Coal burning direct fire heated stills provide content rich whisky. Other distillery, Miyagikyo, is in the heavily forested area of Sendai. With clean water sources all around, Sendai is where you can feel yourself closest to Scotland.
Nikka offers different styles of whisky to the enthusiasts similar to its competitor Suntory. “Yoichi” and “Miyagikyo”, names of the distillery houses, are brand`s single malt series.
“Nikka from the Barrel” is a commercially successful blended cask strength whisky with golden sunshine color. It offers flowery notes along with buttery pastry and roasted walnut in the palate. It has a long satisfying and sweet finish.
“Nikka Taketsuru Pure Malt Whisky” is a pure malt whisky highly regarded by the whisky lovers around the world. It presents a deep and complex structure with sweet but sharp flavours. Although it is a blend of malt only whiskies, it cannot be categorized as a proper single malt.
Besides these, Nikka experiments with different production methods to create unique products. “Nikka Coffey Malt Whisky” is the result of this research. Produced in coffey stills which are normally used for grain whiskies, gives this whisky its unique character.
Japanese people has taken the art of food and tea to new heights. It is no surprise that they are doing the same for their whisky.