Rice wine and shochu are often the first things that come into mind upon the mention of Japan. However, the Land of the Rising Sun has a thriving whisky industry that can rival Scottish, American, and Canadian productions. Japanese whisky’s rise started during World War II when sales reports from Nikka and Suntory indicated a significant increase in domestic consumption.
Both companies also provided whisky to the Japanese forces that were colonizing parts of Asia. The demand for whisky was so high during this period that both companies did not spend money on promotions. While the war caused massive damages around the world, it remained one of the most profitable periods of Japanese whisky makers in history.
The sensei and the apprentice
Suntory founder Shinjiro Torii hired Masataka Taketsuru because of his knowledge of producing Scottish whisky. Taketsuru oversaw Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery for ten years before creating his company Nikka and its original Yoichi distillery in 1934. They separated because of their differing philosophies in whisky production. Torii wanted a blend that will appeal to Japanese preferences, while Taketsuru hoped to develop a spirit that was comparable to Scottish whisky. Despite the differences, it is said that Taketsuru left Suntory in good terms with Torii.
Identifying Japanese whisky is vague
While Japanese whisky is a popular blend nowadays, it may taste like Scottish or American whisky because of lax production rules. Some local distilleries import whisky from Scotland and other whisky-producing countries to let it mature in Japan before branding them as Japanese Whisky. While these brands are gaining more patrons, it pays to look at their origins. If you wish to know more, you can demand these companies to tell the truth about their whisky’s origin.
The mix that resuscitated Japanese whisky
Just like in any industry, Japanese whisky suffered a downfall during the majority of the early 2000s. However, consumption came back to life when Suntory launched the Highball campaign in 2008 with their Kakubin Whisky at the forefront. The Kaku-Highball movement took off via famous Japanese endorsers and partnerships with bars across the country. These ingenious marketing strategies paid off as it revived Japanese whisky consumption, as proven by the sales figures.
Meant for blending
Distillers knew that Karuizawa Single Cask Whisky was ideal for blending when it was still in their casks. As a result, the filling strength is very high, while some barrels even have a distillate that reduces its intoxicating effect. Despite the reduction, this whisky retains its robust and heavy flavour when mixed with other whiskies.
Rare Japanese whiskies
Karuizawa bottles sell out instantly even though this aged Japanese whisky is expensive. What a peculiar twist of fate because these bottles would have gone unnoticed and gathered dust on liquor store shelves a decade ago. The success of Karuizawa also gave rise to other blends like the Hanyu bottles and the Yamazaki aged range. In the past, no one cared about Japanese Whisky, and these bottles were sold at low prices. Nowadays, the same bottles fetch a high price and are now some of the most sought-after whiskies in the world.
Like you, we at Whisky Quarterly Ontario are always looking to grow our spirits collection. And, your WQO membership makes it so much easier to expand yours. Forget the lineups. As a member, you just log on, go through our world of whisky selection that you won’t find anywhere else, then pick and click. The whisky shows up at your door, ready to pour.