Japanese Whisky – History and a few Interesting Facts

When you think of nations that are famous for their Whisky production, which examples immediately spring to mind? You’ve obviously got the Scottish, the Irish are up there too, as are the Americans with their Bourbon whiskies. How about Japan? If we asked you to name a Japanese alcoholic beverage, you’d probably immediately think of sake (sar – key). In reality however, the Japanese are the third largest producers of whisky in the entire world, behind only the Scots and the Americans. So yes, that means that they have indeed beaten the Irish, and are currently taking the whisky markets by storm. Whisky has become extremely popular in Japan, with the Japanese making a number of their own unique single malt and blended varieties of whisky, which are now proving popular all over the world. Here’s a look at a brief history of Japanese whisky, plus a few interesting facts about it that you may not have realised.

A brief history lesson on Japanese whisky – If we compare the whisky production history of Japan to that of America, which goes back at least 200 years if not more, or the Scottish, which dates way back to the 5th century, then Japan has an extremely short history of whisky production, but that’s not to say it isn’t storied and extremely interesting. The first single malt distillery in Japan is over 90 years old now, located at Yamazaki and having been opened in the year 1923. Its founder, Shinjiro Torri, actually sent a student of his over to Scotland just after WW1 to find out as much about the whisky making process as possible. Torri’s student, a man named Masetsaka Taketsuru, spent near 3 years in Scotland, working in numerous distilleries and finding out as much info about the distilling processes as possible. He returned to Japan after 3 years, and put all of his knowledge to good use in opening the Yamazaki distillery. In the 1930’s he formed Japan’s second distillery in Yoichi. Sales were steady but in the 70’s and 80’s Japanese whisky sales and popularity boomed. Many new distilleries were built and many unfortunately had to close in the late 80’s as cheap imported Scottish, Irish, and US whisky was severely damaging sales, as were hikes in taxes. However, recently, Japanese whisky has once again found fame, with several brands winning numerous awards in the last 10 -12 years, which really helped boost sales. It is from over sea sales that Japanese whiskey benefits the most however, with sales here making up around 5% of all whisky sales in the world.

Interesting facts about Japanese whisky – Here’s a quick look at a few interesting facts about Japanese whisky.

Competitive – Whereas Scottish and Irish distilleries often trade barrels and even resources with each other, Japanese whisky makers are highly competitive and are bitter rivals.

Europe popularity – The UK and France are now huge fans of Japanese whisky and purchase huge quantities every single day.

Highballing – Highballing is hugely popular in Japan as they prefer their whisky mixed with soda water in a highball glass with ice.

Love what you make – The Japanese absolutely love their whisky and consume more malt whisky than Scotland.