“Otsukaresama deshita!” - The words aren’t scrambled, this is simply a Japanese cheering another to drink up and keep the stress at bay.
Drinking culture in Japan has evolved over the years, although in terms of Japanese whisky, the country only started producing it a little over a century ago in 1870. However, owing to the Japanese perseverance and pursuit of perfection, they have quickly risen to a level of expertise that has won them many accolades.
Japanese whisky is heavily inspired from the classic Scotch whisky as they share the same undertones.
Two people who are considered to be the founding fathers of Japanese whisky are Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru. Torii established the first distillery in Yamazaki, a suburb best known for its superior water. Taketsuru was an expert who had trained in Scotland and together they were successful in launching the country’s first whisky brand, Kotobukiya which is now popular as Suntory. Eventually, Taketsuru formed his own Japanese scotch, Dainipponkaju, which is now popularly known as Nikka. Even though there are a lot more brands out there, these 2 have stood the test of time and are considered the best produced by the country. Both produce single malt and blended malt whiskies.
As of now there are about 8 popular and commercial distilleries in Japan.
The first ever Japanese whisky brand, owned by Suntory, on the island of Honshū
Another Suntory distillery, in Yamanashi Prefecture
Dainipponkaju/Nikka’s first, on the island of Hokkaidō.
Nikka’s second one, near the city of Sendai
Hombo’s distillery in Nagano Prefecture
Established in 1984, Eigashima Shuzou’s distillery is located in Akashi, Hyogo
Founded by Ichiro Akuto, this is a relatively new distillery established in 2008 in Saitama Prefecture.
Owned by Kirin, and as the name suggests, is at the foot of Mount Fuji
Since most people would prefer to have scotch made in Scotland, initially there was some scepticism around Japanese scotch brands.
Things changed when Nikka was awarded the “Best of the best Whisky” prize in 2001. Japanese whisky brands have consistently bagged the top spots in international competitions. Suntory, one of Japan’s largest alcoholic beverage conglomerates, have produced some of the finest Japanese whisky expressions for years. The Suntory Yamazaki is a single malt that has won multiple awards and is considered a drink to be reckoned with. In some competitions, Japanese whisky brands like Yamazaki and Nikka’s Yoichi have scored higher than their Scottish contemporaries during several blind tastings.
Aside from the obvious geographical distinction, Japanese whisky and Scotch whisky are not very different from each other.
Scotch whiskies have been known to blend whiskies from various brands and distilleries to create their expressions, however, Japanese blended whiskies do not follow this practice.
So how do the Japanese make blended whiskies? They do it with a smart mix of various fermentation techniques, yeast strains, cask types and their own brand of challenging the traditional notion of brewing. Even though they are winning accolades for quality and tradition, Japanese blends are especially lauded for their bold techniques and innovation.
Some of the best Japanese whisky brands one ought to try include,
Suntory Yamazaki 10-Year-Old- Mild single malt, ideal for those who are trying Japanese malt for the first time.
Japanese whisky is generally consumed the same way others are, neat or on the rocks. Blended whisky is used in cocktails or as whisky highballs. Highballs are more common to beat the hot and humid Japanese summer.
So, there you go. Kanpai!