What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the word ‘Japanese’? Katana? Martial arts? Sushi? Electronics? There is no doubt that Japanese technology, food and martial arts have become popular over the world, but have you ever heard of Japanese whisky?, I bet not. We usually associated high quality scotch and whisky with Scotland, but the fact is that Japanese whiskies are equally good and have great taste that people have started enjoying lately. Surprisingly, Japanese whisky industry is not a recent phenomenon. In 1924, Shinjiro Torii opened up the first Japanese whisky distillery in Yamazaki, an area between Osaka and Kyoto. This was the time when most Japanese only drank sake, but Torii went on with his vision to start Kotobukiya company which later was renamed Suntory. So, what really makes Japanese whisky stands out from the regular Scotch and Irish blends which are already considered to be the best in the world?
While the technique is nearly the same, Japanese whisky is not as peaty as Scotch or Irish whisky. Japanese whisky producers also use peated barley, but in small quantities. Another major factor that makes Japanese whisky taste different is the use of water. Most Japanese distilleries are built in an unspoilt natural area where water is pure giving it a unique taste to the final product.
Scotch whiskies on the other hand, derive their variety and richness through exchange of spirits among various distilleries. Japanese whisky producers work the opposite way as they have less number of whisky producers. Hence, they produce more single malt whisky than the number of single malts available in Scotland. Suntory and Nikka, the two top competing brands today have their own way of whisky production and they both use different strains of yeasts. They also have stills of different shapes and sizes that allow them to produce single malts with distinct characters. The distillation process happens at a low pressure allowing them to keep variety of aroma while keeping the texture of the whisky thinner and lighter.
Japanese whisky producers normally import barley from Scotland, while many Scottish and Irish whisky producers import barley from Germany, United States and Poland which adds to the subtle differences. During the filtration process, many American whisky producers make use of charcoal, while Japanese producers have stuck to the traditional method of using bamboo to filter their whisky.
Surprisingly, in the last decade the demand for Japanese whisky has grown exponentially winning some of the coveted whisky awards across the world vanquishing some of the top Scottish and Irish brands. Experts believe that the reason why Japanese whiskies have made it to the top is because Japanese producers are releasing top quality malt whiskies. These whiskies possess clarity of aroma and absence of a cereal background that makes it unique from a regular Scotch. Today, some of the top Japanese whisky brands like Suntory Yamazaki, Suntory Hakushu, Nikka Miyagikyo, Nikka Taketsuru, and Suntory Hibiki are in great demand across the globe for their strong, distinctive and smoky characteristics diverting the world’s attention to Japan.