Japanese whisky ジャパニーズ・ウイスキー
Yamazaki single malt whisky by Suntory
Credit: Jonas Zuberbuehler
Yoichi Distillery, in Hokkaido island
Old advert for Suntory whisky
Think of Lost in Translation (2003) in which Bill Murray films a commercial for a famous Japanese whisky. It's the result of almost a century of history.
In 1919, Masakata Taketsuru left for Glasgow to study chemistry. It was there in Scotland, the home of whisky, that the young Taketsuru completed apprenticeships in some of the big distilleries and discovered the trade secrets of this classic liquor.At the end of the 19th century, Japan didn't know about American whisky (bourbon, made with over 50% corn). At the time, the Japanese apprehensively tried - with a certain naivety - to produce quality whisky. On Taketsuru's return, things changed completely. The chemistry graduate initially worked with Suntory and used his expertise to help found Yamazaki, Japan's oldest distillery, in 1923. In 1934 he created his own distillery, Yoichi, thus founding the famous Nikka whisky distilling company.
Japanese Whisky: a major player
Today, there are seven distilleries active in Japan.They all produce renowned single malts (whisky from only one distillery): Yamazaki (Suntory group), Yoichi (Nikka), Chichibu (Ichiro's Malt), Hakushu (Suntory), Miyagikyo (Nikka), Fuji Gotenba (Kirin) and White Oak (Eigashima Shuzo).
Today, the Scottish influence on Japanese production can still be seen, with barley imported from the region and the double distillation method, typically Scottish touches.
In 2010, Japanese whisky accounted for 5% of the whisky consumed in the world. Nikka has multiplied its exports by 20 since 2006, and Suntory exported around 4 million bottles in 2016.
Japan has become the world's third largest whisky producer after Scotland and the United States, ahead of Ireland. Japanese single and blended malts continue to win medals in international contests. Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 was voted whisky of the year in 2015!