Japanese whisky

Japanese whisky

Whisky: Japan has surpassed Scotland for the world’s best whisky

Whiskey is not the first thing that comes to mind when I say Japan, is it? Yet it should be so, considering how the Land of the Rising Sun has become home to a large number of distilleries that have not only been bottling this precious distillate for decades, but have also won great international recognition.


The origins of Japanese whiskey date back about 100 years. The Japanese have ties to Scotland dating back to the mid-19th century, with students sent to learn scientific and engineering innovations as the nation sought to modernize. This practice was still going strong when, in 1918, a young chemist named Masataka Taketsuru took a job at an Osaka-based sake and shochu production company, Settsu Shuzo, which had been pursuing the goal of producing all-Japanese whiskey for years. In 1919, Masataka himself was sent to Scotland, to acquire the necessary technical background useful precisely for whiskey production. Here he became deeply passionate about the world of distilled spirits, and came to see possible what had meanwhile become a major dream: to establish his own malt whiskey distillery , made in Japan. Because of this, the young man enrolled in Glasgow University, at the same time beginning to work as an apprentice at some Scottish distilleries.
Returning two years later, he would become perhaps the most significant figure in Japanese whiskey. The company that had sponsored his trip, Settsu Shuzo, had withdrawn from making a Japanese whiskey distillery, so Taketsuru spent his time looking for an alternative. In 1924 he joined with Kotobukiya (now Suntory) to produce the country’s first single malt whiskey, Yamazaki, in Osaka.

Then in 1934, Masataka’s greatest desire began to take shape, with the founding of the “Nippo Kaju” company, which would be followed by the construction of the Yoichi distillery on the island of Hokkaido. In 1952, the “Nippo Kaju” company would change its name, acquiring the final name of “Nikka Whisky.” It was so successful that a second distillery was installed in 1969 on Honsu Island.

These are the main types:

  • SINGLE MALT It is the product of a single distillery. Most distilleries produce with the primary purpose of blending it, but many keep some of the production to sell as single whiskey.

    Single Malt Whisky is the product of a single malt whisky distillery

  • SINGLE GRAIN Single Grain Whiskey is the product of a single grain whiskey distillery.
  • BLENDED It is a blend of several distillates, each of which is individually entitled to the description “Whisky.”
  • AGEING: The aging period attributed to any blended whiskey is that of the youngest distillate contained in the blend.

Japanese whiskey collectors and dealers are certainly a niche, but if you happened to buy a Japanese Single Malt whiskey a decade ago, you might be quite surprised at the price difference. The rapid increase in demand for a drink that can take up to more than a decade to mature properly has put pressure on stock levels, with commensurate price increases, and whiskies of a particular vintage removed in favor of the No Age Statement (no age definition).

Top brands such as Nikka or Suntory can be seen in specialty stores, along with scotch, bourbon, and the endless sequel of gins.
Casual whiskey drinkers are fond of Suntori Tory’s or Super Nikka, both excellent blends for surprising, savoring, and gifting. But when you are looking for superior products, these popular variants are no longer enough.

During last year’s International Whisky Competition, a panel of judges judged whiskies from around the world in 49 different categories. The judging criterion required jury members to sip only one whiskey at a time. According to the “Highlights” of the competition, judges blind-tasted, judged and rated each whiskey individually for 8 minutes based on the following four main segments and eleven subsections:

Taste/palate sensation

Below are the characteristics of the winning whiskey qualities in recent editions:

Suntory The Chita

Established in 1972 in Aichi Prefecture, Suntory’s third distillery is dedicated to the production of high-quality grain whiskey. The Chita is a“Single Grain Whisky,” NAS (No Age Statement), with craftsmanship developed over many years at the Chita distillery in Aichi Prefecture. It has a light taste and a delicately sweet fragrance.
The label design features black calligraphy expressing the distinctive qualities of Japanese whiskey set on Japanese washi paper representing light flavor. Matured in a mix of American ex-bourbon, Spanish ex-sherry and European ex-wine oak barrels, this whiskey has a very delicate, balanced and elegant flavor, almost sensual on the palate.

Color: Straw yellow
Aroma: The nose is fresh and floral with notes of fresh grass, flowering meadow, cereal and honey with hints of vanilla, lemon and banana
Taste: Sweet and smooth on the palate with notes of vanilla, freshly baked bread, honey and ginger with hints of fragrant flowers and cereals
Finish: Medium persistent, delicate and harmonious with notes of vanilla, cereal, ginger and caramel with a light touch of pepper and cardamom.
Alcohol content: alcohol 43% vol

Super Nikka

Born back in 1894 to Masataka Taketsuru, regarded as the father of Japanese whiskey, he hails from Takehara, a small town located about sixty kilometers away from Hiroshima.
At present, the Nikka distillery is widely recognized as one of the best whiskey-producing distilleries not only in Japan, but around the world. With a range of spirits that can perfectly indulge all the tastes of the most discerning lovers of the category, those branded “Nikka” are some of the best whiskies the market can currently offer.
One of Nikka’s classics, is the Super Nikka, introduced to the market in 1962.
Its luxurious aroma, delicate hints of peat, and scent of vanilla and chocolate are all in harmony, and its flavor is smooth, round, and well balanced.
It won the 2017 International Spirits Challenge for best grain whiskey.

Aroma: Sweet and delicate scent, pleasant and inviting, with aroma of caramel, berries, fruity nuances of banana and balsa wood box (that of cigars).
Taste: Super Nikka has a rather light but not watery body, slightly fruity flavor, citrus aftertaste.
Finish: banana, spice and cherry wood.
Alcohol content: alcohol 43% vol

Note: In Japan it is used on the rocks and for Highball (diluted with tonic water)

Suntory Whisky Royal

Made to celebrate its 60th anniversary as a company, Suntory Royal Whisky is a distillate of rare goodness. Light and easy to drink, it is a superb blended whiskey without going to the crazy expense of the more aged bottles.
Suntory Royal is considered one of the best-known “Premium” class whiskies, aged in oak barrels is filtered through bamboo binchotan activated carbon. The lines of the bottle are reminiscent of the tori, gate of the Shinto temple.

Aroma: amber in color with incense, cocoa, butter and vanilla fragrance
Taste: light non-watery tending toward citrus, green apple, bell bell pepper and banana, roasted almonds.
Finish: cedar wood with a slightly alcoholic note stands out
Alcohol content: alcohol 43% vol

Kirin Fuji Whisky

Kirin Fuji Sanroku is a blended initially dedicated only to the Japanese market, the Fuji Gotemba distillery opened in 1973 in the town of Gotemba, near Mount Fuji, the name Fuji Sanroku in fact means “at the foot of Mount Fuji.” This blended whiskey is a mix of grain and single malt whiskies with some of the latter peated.
It is not cold filtered.

Color: Bright gold
Aroma: We have notes of caramel, red apples, vanilla and cereal with hints of honey
Taste: Warm and slightly spicy with notes of apple, sweet cereal, cookie, oak wood, and black pepper
Finish: Short/medium persistence with notes of vanilla, spice and fruit.
Alcohol content: alcohol 50% vol.

Torys Extra Whisky

It was first launched in April 1946 with the slogan “Good taste, good value.” Since whiskey was considered a luxury item in those days, Torys soon became very popular because it offered a refined taste at a favorable price compared to imported whiskies. In 1958, “Uncle Torys” debuted as a brand icon and can still be found on the label of this bottle. Uncle Torys became a popular presence during Japan’s period of rapid economic growth; he symbolized the typical office worker who often enjoyed a glass of whiskey while relaxing after a hard day’s work. Commercials in recent years have made Uncle Torys among the most popular gift ideas at the Japanese correspondent of our Father’s Day.

Aroma: Floral with notes of rose, lychee, rosemary and sandalwood with hints of apricot and orange blossom.
Taste: Soft and sweet with notes of honey, candied orange peel, apricots and white chocolate.
Finish: Subtle and long with hints of spice and Mizunara oak.

Alcohol content: alcohol 40% vol

Suntory Whisky Old

It is made by Japan’s oldest whiskey producer, Suntory. It is a blend of malt whiskey and grain whiskey aged for 7-9 years. First produced in the 1940s, it remained one of the most prestigious whiskies in Japan only to leave the country in the 1980s, when Japanese blended whiskies increased in popularity.

Antique gold, amber highlights
Intense, cereal, with notes of peat and spice.
Medium-bodied with spicy notes. Pleasant and balanced with hints of smoky and fruity notes.
Alcohol content: alcohol 43% vol

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