The first questions we ask of Japanese whisky is…………..are we experiencing something bigger and better than Scotch?
It certainly seems so with a huge global boom in the whisky market and so many single malts being sought after by whisky beginners, connoisseurs and collectors. Japanese whisky is trying it’s hardest to keep up and it’s losing the battle, well on age statement whiskies anyway. Japan is the third largest producer of whisky behind the Scots and the Americans and they are certainly beating the Irish on production volumes.
Over the past 4 years Japanese whiskies have made heads turn on the global stage after a string of awards for its most popular distilleries. It can boast of being the home of some of the world’s best single malt whiskies. Renowned whisky writer “http://whiskybible.com/”>Jim Murray even thought so last year when in the 2015 Whisky Bible he named a Japanese whisky his number one in the world. The release of the book and the announcement sent sales of Japanese whisky skyrocketing. The awards started in 2001 and then followed with World Whisky Awards in 2008 where the Yoichi 20 Year Old won best single malt and the Hibiki 30 Year Old won best blended whisky, the first time anyone outside of Scotland had won these prestigious awards. In 2012 we saw the Yamazaki 25 Year Old take out best whisky in the world in the whisky magazines annual awards, Japanese whisky took it’s place firmly on the world stage.
So why is Japanese whisky taking the Scottish whisky industry head on?
The Scottish and the Irish have for many years produced the best crafted whiskies in the world and they are whiskies we have grown to love and write about, perhaps even boast to our friends about and collect, but the Scottish whisky industry has perhaps given away too many secrets to overseas enthusiasts and future master distillers. This has allowed Japan to create a unique spirit which is full of innovation, creativity and inspiration.
Even though Japan follows all the similar steps to making whisky as the Scots they create something very different, coupled the industriousness we’ve come to expect from the East.
The first commercial distillery in Japan was opened in 1923 however the first production was thought to have been in the 1870.Each Japanese distillery has its own unique style and methods for producing its single malt whiskies. Most however follow traditional Scottish methods.Most of the malted barley is imported from Scotland to make the mash before distillation and both unpeated and peated barley is used. Australia will also contribute barley to Japan’s whisky industry.
The barrels which are used in maturation are imported mainly from America but also from Scotland, Spain and Portugal. The Japanese do have their own Japanese oak named Mizunara and this oak gives off very unique aromas and tastes to give Japan its own unique finished product.The whisky in Japan is normally distilled twice, very like the Scottish methods whereas the Irish usually distil three times.The Japanese distilleries have very unique stills and they vary in size and thickness. They are created by high tech designers and use of state of the art technology.They use alternate yeasts to Scotland and they experiment more than the Scottish whisky industry with different, hard to find casks and finishes.
The Japanese climate is also different to Scotland meaning the casks mature at a faster rate with warm summers and cold winters.
Japanese whisky companies do not share their stocks of whisky when producing a blend, unlike in Scotland or Ireland. Therefore, blends will only consist of whisky produced at a maximum of two distilleries.
The list of Japanese distilleries keeps getting longer