'Whisky, like a beautiful woman, demands appreciation. You gaze first, then drink it".
Let us take you through:
● A brief history of Japanese whisky
● How Japanese whisky is made
● 6 fascinating facts you cannot miss!
● Japanese whiskies to try
History of Japanese whisky
In 1919 Masataka Taketsuru went to Scotland to study chemistry, and there he met Rita Cowan, a Scottish woman. He learned the secrets of Scottish whisky passport scotch making from her.
In 1923 he shook hands with another Japanese man, Shinjiro Torii. Together the two opened the largest distillery in Japan and have undoubtedly shaped the current Japanese whisky style.
However, the ideas of the two men were quite different.
● Taketsuru wanted to create intense, robust whisky. Therefore, he tried to move the distillery to the northern regions of Japan, where the climate was most similar to Scotland.
● On the other hand, Torii desired a smoother, more polished product to cater to the Japanese appetite, which does not use such intense flavors. He wanted his distillery near Osaka and Kyoto, close to the import and export vessels.
Torii's company, Suntory, first started producing apple products named “Dai Nippon Kaju".
Finally, the first whisky from Nikka, the company of Taketsuru, was launched in 1940 named "Nippon Kaju".
An intense rivalry happened over the years between Suntory and Nikka, which continues even today. If one company launches a new product, the other isn’t far behind with a product of its own.
How Japanese whisky is made?
Technically Scottish but Traditionally Japanese
Main ingredient: It relies heavily on malted barley for its production. The malted barley is mashed and distilled twice in pot stills.
Ageing Process: Japanese whisky is aged in wood barrels like Japanese Mizunara oak, American oak, or sherry casks. All of the spicy, sweet, and woody notes come from the ageing process.
Blending: Each company owns a few distilleries scattered over various micro-climates all over Japan. So they can blend their whiskies.
Reason for the high price: This Japanese whisky does not have a single style. The unique taste comes from the blending of whiskies from distilleries spread over the country. This is why the prices are on the higher end.
The 6 fascinating facts
We now see that Japanese whisky is growing in popularity around the world. So, in honour of its popularity, here are 6 fascinating facts about Japanese whisky.
Whiskey without the “E” — Japanese whisky is similar to Scottish whisky, rather than American or Irish whiskey. Hence, its name reflects the Scotch tradition and is spelled without the “e.”
Pop Culture Moment — “For relaxing times, make it Suntory time.” Japanese scotch whisky makes a noticeable impression in Lost in Translation in 2003. In the film, Bob Harris played the role of Bill Murray. He travels to Japan to promote Suntory whisky.
It’s a Winner — Japanese whisky has been recognized with an international award from the World Whisky Bible coup. Yoichi whisky of Nikki was elected as the “Best of the Best” by Whisky Magazine in 2001. Then, 30-year-old Hibiki of Suntory won the topmost award at the International Spirits Challenge in 2003 and went on getting fame for the next 11 years.
Way of Drinking: Fine Japanese whisky is consumed on the rock or straight. In contrast, blended ones are drunk in cocktails. In winter, Japanese whisky is consumed by mixing hot water called o-yu-wari and in summer, with cold water called Mizu-wari.
No Barrels exchange: The Japanese industry denies sharing their whisky barrels or stocks with other people or distilleries. Due to the competing nature of the industry, each brand has its secret recipes and is unwilling to share this information. This means they usually make whisky using different techniques and have many distilleries to formulate new flavours.
Bamboo Filtration & High-Altitude Distillation: Japanese whisky has a distinguished flavour because of the perfect blend that comes from various distilleries situated in the mountains. Instead of traditional charcoal filtration, distilleries use bamboo filtration, giving the whisky a fruitier profile. Due to Japan’s mountainous region, most distilleries are situated 500 and 800 meters above sea level. This helps in producing a clean textured whisky with a rich aroma.
There you have it—your complete guide to Japanese whisky scotch.
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