When speaking of superior quality whiskies, the Scotch and Irish varieties invariably come to mind. Not far behind, however, are an equally worthy candidate-- those produced in the Land of the Rising Sun. Japanese whiskies have safely established themselves as a force majeure in the realm of spirits, having taken the world by storm for decades now. Over the last few years, moreover, sales of Japanese whiskies have surged so tremendously that a bottle of Japanese whisky is akin to a diamond in the rough.
Several distinguished brands of Japanese whisky have bagged a spate of prestigious accolades, resulting in market demand for these to shoot up enormously. The Yoichi 10 Single Cask from Nikka won the “Best of the Best” award from Whisky Magazine and in 2003, Suntory’s 30 year old Hibiki received the top award at the International Spirits Challenge. Interestingly, the 2003 Hollywood film, Lost in Translation, featured actor Bill Murray enjoying pegs of fine Suntory whisky. This also helped catapult the brand to phenomenal success, especially among American consumers.
More recently, in 2015, the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 claimed the title of “World Whisky of the Year” in none other than Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
All in all, this has propelled the fame of Japanese whiskies to soaring heights, driving up prices exorbitantly and creating shortages. Although the majority of consumers exist within Japan, the country exported a record 95 million USD worth of Japanese whisky overseas in 2015-- an 1100 percent jump over the last ten years. Sales have continued its upward spiral since.
A 2015 auction in Hong Kong’s Bonhams saw a 1960 Karuizawa bottle selling for a whopping 117,396 USD. One of 40 casks to ever be made, this rare specimen is the ultimate acquisition for a collector. In comparison, a regular Yamazaki 12-year old goes for 155 USD a bottle-- still an expensive deal.
In India, Suntory Holdings acquired the American giant, Beam Inc. in a transaction worth 16 billion USD in 2014. This is no small matter, considering this gave Suntory control over the Teacher’s, a brand wildly popular among Scotch whisky lovers in the country. This effectively made Suntory a worthy competitor of both Pernod Ricard and Diageo—the two major spirits moguls.
The UK has also experienced a massive surge in sales of fine liquors. Spirits merchant BI enjoyed a 232 percent increase in sales since the beginning of 2017. Prices of both Yamazaki and Karuizawa have grown by 30 percent. Even a Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 now sells for more than an astonishing 3,000 GBP (almost 4000 USD). No surprise then, that the Karuizawa Thousand Arrows Set of three different whiskies, recently fetched over 28,000 GBP (36,203 USD).
What sets Japanese whisky apart from all other kinds of quality whisky is its unique woody flavour that is clean and delightfully light on the palate. Lacking the heavy peat and smokiness of many Scotch whiskies, Japanese whiskies are refreshingly fruity without being cloyingly so— just ask any aficionado. This, coupled with the most superior quality mineral water from the mountainous region and conducive climatic conditions, makes for one of the most delicious and sophisticated whiskies in the world. Add to that, the extremely Japanese characteristic of paying close attention to the minutest detail, and you have in your hands a variety of liquors that is as nuanced in flavour as it is rare.