Could Japanese whisky be replacing the good old Irish and Scottish whiskies we know and love?
Apr 25, 2018
Whisky perhaps doesn’t top the list of things that come to mind when you think of Japan. Except it lands squarely in the top 3 global whisky producers. Sure, it comes in behind Scotland and the USA but it beats Ireland! Japan has only been producing whisky since 1923. Masataku Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii were true pioneers of the craft, with the former studying the art of distilling in Scotland for several years. Together they founded Suntory, before Taketsuru went on to found what would later become Nikka. So, are Japanese whiskies just young upstarts in the liqueur game? Hardly. The quality and critical acclaim speaks for itself.
Japanese whiskies burst onto the world stage in 2001 when Nikka’s 10-year Yoichi single malt won “Best of the Best” at the Whisky Magazine’s Awards. It was a controversial win. But after that the floodgates were well and truly open. Since then, Japanese whiskies have dominated their categories. Suntory’s Hibiki 21-rear-old whisky reigns supreme in the International Spirit Competition’s World Whisky category, holding the trophy since 2013. It was also named “Supreme Champion Spirit” this year, beating thousands of entrants, including those from Scotland and Ireland. No mean feat!
While western whisky aficionados may recoil in horror at the mere thought of mixing their beloved spirit into a cocktail, the same cannot be said for Japanese whisky drinkers. Whisky highballs are a staple of Japanese drinking culture. Don’t believe us? In 2009, Suntory actually started selling whisky highballs in cans! But for the purists amongst you, enjoy a Japanese single malt in the same way you would its Scottish cousin: on its own with a splash of water to unleash the stunning, complex flavours.
Japanese whiskies aren’t necessarily replacing their western cousins. Far from it. Scottish and Irish whiskies are iconic, a cornerstone of the spirit market. But they’re finally stepping out from the shadows and gaining the recognition they deserve. So, next time you fancy a wee dram, branch out and see what the East has to offer. Kanpai!
Photo by @suntorywhisky_hibiki on Instagram