Japanese whisky is fantastic. This is just an easy and simple fact:
- The Japanese spell whisky without the ‘e’, just like pretty much everyone else in the world (except in a few cases for North America).
- Japanese whisky generally speaking is Single Malt, in the Scottish Whisky tradition.
- Japan has been producing whisky for around 80years.
- There are around 12 distilleries in Japan.
When people think of Japan, they think…Samurai. They think…rice fields. They think…technology. They think about some of the oddest teenagers ever…
But, whisky? Single malt whisky? Well, yes. Single malt whisky. In fact, last year, the single malt whisky chosen as the best single malt of the year was the Nikka Yoichi 20yr – to the incredible shock of those who of course could never imagine that a non-Scottish whisky would EVER win this coveted award. Then, just as Scotland finished reeling from that shock, they then had to deal with the reality that the Suntory Hibiki 30yr won the World’s Best Blended Whisky. Ouch.
How did this happen? I’m sure that as the news spread throughout Scotland, there were a lot of men and women stopping in their tracks for a moment thinking, ‘Wha? A Japanese whisky…? How did that happen?‘
Yes. How DID this happen?
Well, one has to go back a few years to put the pieces of that puzzle together. Actually, as mentioned earlier – around 80 years. What was happening 80 years ago…? Well, it was the mid-20’s, the Roaring 20’s. The Jazz Age was turning a lot of people into better human beings, the Commies were making a lot of people unhappy human beings, and the Nazis were just getting into their training pants.
But, outside of all of this, there was a fellow named Shinjiro Torii, who thought that it was about time for Japan to have whisky. Wisely, Torii-san chose another great gentleman named Masataka Taketsuru to be his distiller.
As I recall, the story is that this fellow had been in Scotland studying and had written down EXACTLY what the Scotts were doing with their whisky, and then…well, a’ la the American Automobile, the cartoon and the steak…they together opened what would end up being called Suntory, creating two dynasties that would change history.
Fairly quickly, Taketsuru-san would leave Suntory to form what would become Nikka Distillery…and 80-some years later, the Nikka Yoishi 20yr would win the coveted World’s Best Single Malt Whisky award from Whisky Magazine.
Now, you want to try some Japanese whisky, ‘eh? You’re imagining what this whisky may taste like. It’s single malt, right? So, that means that this is barley whisky. It’s Scottish’esque? That means that maybe it tastes like smoke? Like a salty peat-bog? Perhaps? Well, unfortunately, probably you will have to just wonder. Here in America, we do not get to taste much Japanese whisky. If you’re REALLY lucky, you may be able to find a bottle of the Yamazaki 18yr Suntory. Is the 18yr is really an good whisky? Let me see…Here’s the bottle…I’m pouring a bit into a nice, 6.5oz old fashioned glass…beautiful brown color…aroma of toasted barley and smoke…86proof…mmm. Sweet at first, a tad oaky from sitting in barrel for shy of two decades…just right. The taste lasts and lasts and rings all around the palate. THIS is good whisky.
Sadly, the rest of the many bottles made every year are pretty much unavailable here in the US of A. I’m not exactly sure why, to tell you the truth, but it’s a terrible crime. You may be able to find some in England, but besides that, to keep all that great whisky across the ocean…? A shame. A real shame. Looks like I need to take another trip to Japan. But, this time – I am drinking some whisky.
If the Japanse ever start making haggis, the Scotts are in big, big trouble.