Dive deeper into the rich world of Nippon Whiskies.
Two guys named Masataka Taketsuru and Shinjiro Torri took everything they knew about Scotch and established Nikka and Suntory. Seventy years later, these two behemoths are the mainstream of Japanese Whisky. But there’s also a rich world of lesser known amber Spirits in Nippon. If those two are The Beatles, these bad boys are The Sex Pistols. Let’s celebrate the new kids on the block!
The Japanese booze landscape is teeming with extravagantly different, under-the-radar, rare and straight up bonkers Spirits: a lovely Whisky finished in Mizunara oak casks and bottled at 43%ABV; a delicious 8 Year Old dram aged in new oak and finished in first-fill ex-Sherry casks, whose water was filtered through a goddamn volcano; or a rare 11 Year Old gem from a small village located near the Kuma River. It sounds like we’re making this up, but these are real Spirits and they jubilate the Japanese ingenuity and imagination.
Also, they demand your attention. See, the Japanese took a great tune from Scotland, covered it for a while, then invented a whole new genre with crazy melodies, twists and remixes – and, just like that, they created a new hit! They used to be apprentices, the Japanese, but now they’re kicking ass – even with their lesser known expressions. Put on your leather jacket and hang out with the cool kids.
1) Shorthand for Japanese craft Whisky is "Ji-Whisky", which appropriately sounds like "gee wizz", as most of the Whiskies coming from the Land of the Rising Sun are pure poetry.
2) World War II was great for Japanese Whisky, since the armed forces guzzled every drop available. It's still considered the most profitable era.
3) Japanese Whisky has so much in common with Scotch (it was modeled on it, after all), it kept the Scottish spelling without an "e", rather than following the American or Irish tradition.
4) One of the not-so-secret reasons for the unique flavor of the Japanese Whisky is the Mizunara Oak, an ancient tree that's also used for fancy furniture.
5) Japanese laws are quite loose when it comes to Whiskies, and they permit blends of imported and domestic Whisky to be sold as "Japanese Whisky". On the other hand, aged rice and barley Shochu can be legally exported as "Whisky" to the US market - but since the process uses koji fungi to convert starches into sugars, it's illegal to call it Whisky in Japan and EU.
6) In Japan, you can buy travel-sized Whisky bottles from vending machines like a bag of Skittles! The most popular Whisky drink in Japan is the Highball, a mix of Japanese Whisky and club soda. (Also Winston Churchill's favorite drink, except he drank Red Label.)
7) Japan is the second biggest producer of Single Malt Whisky and Japanese Whisky even got better ratings than Scotch in blind tastings.
8) The Japanese drink more Whisky than the Scots and they produce more than the United States.
What's in the box
3 Japanese Whiskys
Dog Dogson'sSmartass corner
Japanese Single Malts, like Scotch, are double-distilled in pot stills. Grain Whiskies, on the other hand, are distilled in column stills.
The two biggest Whisky producers in Japan are Nikka and Suntory, major rivals.
The Highball brought Japanese Whisky back to life. Aside from some attention from overseas, Japanese Whisky consumption domestically was very low during the better part of the early 2000s. It wasn’t until 2008, when Suntory launched the Highball campaign featuring their Kakubin Whisky that things kicked off.
In recent years, Japanese Whiskies have won several top prizes at the World Whisky Awards and have consistently scored higher than Scotch Whiskies in blind tastings. Talk about a student surpassing the master!
Whisky or Whiskey? The spelling differs geographically. In Scotland, Japan, and some other parts of the world, distilleries usually spell it Whisky; in Ireland and the USA, they spell it Whiskey.
It's not uncommon for Japanese Whisky to be aged in mizunara (Japanese oak) casks. Suntory conducted a research on how mizunara oak influences Whisky flavor and found out it adds coconut notes to it.