How the Japanese Took on Scottish Whisky and Won


It came as a surprise to many when Japan scored number one in the World Whisky Bible. Their rich and beautifully crafted single malt whisky blew away the judges and earned first place, beating Scotland for the first time in history. The Japanese whisky was made with expertise and “genius” as commented by many of the reviewers.

Scotland has dominated this competition for the twelve years that it has ran, and there has never been a year where they weren’t in the top five.

Until now. Scotland didn’t make the top five this year, and Japan saw it’s first victory. The country’s “Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013” was awarded 97.5 marks out of 100 in 2015’s World Whisky Bible, shocking whisky enthusiasts around the world.

According to expert Jim Murray, who sampled nearly one thousand different whiskies, was disappointed in Scottish distilleries and said that it was high time they brought something new to the table. He claimed that the nation needed a wake up call and needed to start doing something different, rather than relying on the same techniques that have been used for decades.

The Yamazaki malt features a strong and bold peak and finishes off with the perfect touch of spice, creating a powerful and award winning combination.

Twenty years ago, no one would have thought twice about Japanese whisky. It was not given any attention compared to the Scottish malt, however now the island nation in Asia has completed taken over and amazed whisky experts.

The Japanese whisky industry has been developing since 1870, but was unsuccessful commercial until 1924 when they finally opened the country’s first distillery. This single malt distillery was known as Yamazaki and is now the proud winner of World Whisky Bible 2015. Two other successful distilleries exist in Japan, Suntory and Nikka, which also produce unbeatable malts whiskies.

Right from the get go, Japanese distilleries focused on recreating the smooth style of Scotch whisky as it was known for its smooth and unbeatable taste. Taketsuru, one of the pioneers of the Japanese industry, did all he could to learn about Scotch whisky and figure out how to mimic the distilling process. He spent countless years in Scotland working at various distilleries, and even helped build the first distillery in Japan. The first distillery was even built in terrain similar to that of Scotland. The Japanese were dedicated to recreating this style and did everything they could to do so, but soon relocated to Yamazaki.

Sales began to bloom in the 1970s, and the Japanese whisky industry began to grow at a surprising pace. It began to import more and more whisky to other countries and Japan began to build more distilleries. In the 1980s, this progress began to slow down as Scotland and Ireland began to sell their whisky for cheaper prices. Japanese alcohol taxes had also begun to increase, which created problems for the industry. During the last 20 years, however, Japan has come back and is more successful than ever.

Japanese still has its own style which comes down to the way they produce blended whisky. Japan, which started out small, is now the world’s third largest producer of whisky and they have impressed the world with their rich and spicy tastes. They have beaten both the Irish and the Scots now and have created their own style that is quite similar to the scotch but is perfected and has their own special touch. Some of the main similarities between Japanese and Scotch whisky is that both are distilled twice using pot stills. Japan also imports malted barley from Scotland and sometimes uses Japanese oak (mizunara) in order to mature their whisky. This gives each whisky a distinct flavor and makes it unique and yet similar to the way Scotland has made their whisky for decades.

Over the last decade, Japan has definitely made a name for itself in the whisky industry and now they are known on a global scale. They definitely will not be forgotten any time soon since winning the World Whisky Bible 2015, where their amazing creation won first place. It is quite a wake up call for the world and for Scotland and Ireland, which are two countries that have always prided themselves in their ability to distill the finest whisky in the world.

Photo source Rollofunk

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