Japan is now the fourth biggest producer of whisky in the world (behind the U.S., Scotland and Canada) and the second biggest producer of premium single malt whisky.
Until fairly recently, the general industry attitude has been that ‘Scotch-style’ whisky that was not produced in Scotland could not be as good as traditional Scotch. And the market for Japanese whiskies has traditionally been almost entirely domestic. But this is changing.
Japanese whiskies have won several major international awards over the last 10 years. It’s been a gradual process but the status of Japanese whisky as among the world’s best was confirmed in 2008 when a Yoichi 1987 20 year old single malt whisky (produced by Nikka) won the overall prize for best single malt whisky in the world and a 30-year-old Hibiki blend (made by Suntory) won the overall prize for best blended whisky in the world. The Sun (UK newspaper) wrote at the time: “Scotland has been overtaken by Japan as the maker of the world’s best whisky .” And The Sunday Times newspaper wrote: “Like English wine, it has suffered from the taint of inauthenticity and has been the butt of condescending jokes. Now Japanese whisky has finally scotched all criticism by being voted the best in the world, ahead of its Highland rivals” .
Whisky Magazine also organised several blind tastings, including single malts from Japan and from from leading distilleries in Scotland, where Japanese single malts (particularly those of Yoichi and Yamazaki) have consistently scored high. In October 2009, Yoichi was ranked top in Whisky Magazine’s review of 47 brands around the world (involving 62 judges).
Premium Japanese brands therefore represent a significant threat to traditional Scotch, in Japan and globally.
Here are the latest Suntory press ads for their 12 Year Old whisky: