Japanese Whisky: A Unique Style
07-07-2017 By Nokulunga Msibi

Until recently, few people outside of Japan knew about the existence of Japanese whisky. Brands such as Nikka, Yamazaki, Hibiki are now frequent in whisky speak, even with celebrities. American superstar Beyoncé (2016) makes mention of Yamazaki in her song titled 6 Inch with the lyrics “...her Yamazaki straight from Tokyo”, signalling the popularity that Japanese whisky enjoys.

The land of the rising sun and cherry blossoms has enjoyed several international whisky awards including the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 being named the World Whisky of the Year by Jim Murray in 2015. The Hibiki 21 Year Old has also taken the award for Best Blended Whisky, 5 years in a row at the World Whisky Awards.

A Brief History

Japanese whisky owes its global popularity to 2 Japanese whisky pioneers Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torii who founded the most recognized Japanese whisky brands: Suntory and Nikka.

Masataka Takestsuru and Shinjiro Torii

(Source: Goin' Japaneseque. Image by Unknown)

Taketsuru studied organic chemistry in Glasglow and worked at a few Scottish distilleries including Longmorn in Campbelltown. He returned to Japan in 1920 with knowledge of whisky making and his Scottish wife Jessie Roberta (Rita) Taketsuru. Torii was a pharmaceutical wholesaler who created a successful port wine called Akadama. He had an appreciation for whisky and wanted to create a whisky for Japanese tastes. The 2 men joined forces to create Japan’s first ever whisky called Suntory Shirofuda in 1929 from the Yamazaki distillery.

Since then, Japanese distilleries litter the small country, including Nikka distillery, Chichibu distillery, Mars Shinshu and Hakushu distillery that produces the award winning Hibiki whisky.

Japanes whisky bottles suntory whisky toki pure malt yamazaki 12 year olf hakushu 12 year

Japanese whisky website Dekanta believes the reason behind the success of Japanese whisky is due to a national motto that the Japanese adopted called Wakon Yosai.

" When modernity came to Japan, the Japanese adopted a strategy to deal with it: Wakon Yosai, or in English “Western technology, Japanese spirit.” It meant that Japan could use the best techniques available in the world and hopefully improve on them while making them fit for Japanese circumstances."

The Japanese in their contact with the western world adopted this principle even with whisky production. Their whisky production uses the highest Scottish standards to suit the delicate Japanese palette.

(Main Photo Source: Dekanta. Image by Henry Baldvin)