Japanese whiskeys are highly appreciated nowadays, where some say that the best whiskeys are coming out of Japan these days. In order to understand a bit more about the story of Japanese whiskeys we need to go back to the 19th century.
In 1870, Japan produced its first whisky; however, its commercialization was only in 1924 with the opening of the first distillery, Yamazaki. Yamazaki distillery owned by Suntory Holding Limited has a library of over seven thousand bottles of unblended malt whiskeys.
The style of Japanese whisky is very similar to Scotch due to its production process and the ingredients used. The pioneers of whisky in Japan studied very meticulously the process of making Scotch whisky taking in consideration the impact of the distillery’s location. The climate and the terrain influence tremendously the ingredients and production process so they had to find the perfect location that would remember Scotland.
Although there are several companies that produce whisky in Japan, Suntory Holdings Limited and Nikka Whisky Distilling are the most famous with more variety of offer.
Suntory Holdings Limited
Suntory was stablished in 1899 by Shinjiro Torii and it is one of the oldest companies in Japan producing Japanese whisky. The company was initially a store (Kotobukiya Company) that produced and sold wine focused on the Japanese palate. With this in mind, Shinjiro launched a port wine called Akadama in 1907, which became the foundation of Suntory and the spirit that allowed its growth.
In 1923, Shinjiro sets out to develop a whisky to please the Japanese society inspired by the famous scotch. He sets out to find the perfect location, which may reassemble the Scotland weather in order to have the perfect conditions. Yamazaki distillery is stablished in the same year and in 1929, the company launches its first whisky – Suntory Whisky Shirofuda.
Since then the company has grew tremendously increasing their portfolio with soft drinks, sandwich chains, health supplements and beer. Since 2014, the company has also diversified internationally and is one of the largest makers of distilled drinks worldwide.
Nowadays, their Japanese whisky offer is:
- Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky – with sweet and bright tones of flowers and fruit
- Hakushu Single Malt Whisky – with smoky yet refreshing notes
- Hibiki Whisky – a more intense flavour that speaks to the soul
Nikka Whisky Distilling
In 1918, Masataka Taketsuru, the founder of Nikka, decided to travel to Scotland to study and discover the wonders of whisky. He took a degree in organic chemistry in the University of Glasglow and learned about the wonders on whisky in the Hazelburn distillery. At the Hazelburn distillery, he learned first-hand from the artisans and was training to become a blender. He became the first Japanese ever to study the art of whisky making.
His family owned a sake brewery since 1733, which still produces fine sake today. His early contact with the production process and the spirit world led him to decide on learning everything he could about whisky and eventually dedicating his life to it.
In 1920, he returned to Japan and in 1923, he joined Kotobukiya and helped stablish the Yamazaki distillery. Only in 1934 did Masataka Taketsuru stablish the Nikka Company.
Nowadays the company has several distilleries and plants, and produces a variety of different whiskies and beverages ranging from brandy, wine and cider. With two distilleries and five plants in Japan and one distillery in Scotland, the growth of Nikka is outstanding offering high quality whiskies, very much appreciated by the whisky enthusiasts.
You can find the following whiskies within their range:
- Single Malt Yoichi
- Single Malt Miyagikyo
- From The Barrel (cask strength)
- Taketsuru Pure Malt
- Taketsuru Pure Malt 17-Years
- Coffey Malt
- Coffey Grain
- Super Nikka
- The Nikka 12-Years