Japanese whisky sales are soaring like never before. Even though Japan has been producing whisky for over 100 years, it is only in the last eight years or so that Japanese whisky has seen unprecedented growth in popularity in the global whisky market, becoming a worthy challenger to the dominance of Scotland.
It was Jim Murray who kickstarted the craze for Japanese whisky in 2014 when he named Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013, made by beverage giant Suntory, as the best whisky in the world in his influential Whisky Bible. Since then whisky from Japan has been winning awards and accolades, gaining the status of world-beater.
The fact that Japanese whisky is in extremely short supply makes this premium liquid very sought-after and also very expensive. It is nearly impossible to get hold of a bottle of age-statement Japanese whisky these days.
What is more easily available, however, is the non-age variant, two of which were launched last year in India by Beam Suntory. These are the Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve Single Malt and Hibiki Japanese Harmony Blended Whisky from the House of Suntory, the most recognizable and quintessential Japanese whisky brands in the world that any whisky aficionado will swear by.
The House of Suntory is Japan’s oldest malt whisky distillery and also the most highly-awarded, having won “Distiller of the Year” award four times. Built in 1923 by Shinjiro Torii, the founding father of Japanese Whisky, its portfolio includes two single malt whiskies: Yamazaki– the pioneer of Japanese Single Malts and Hakushu; a single grain whisky: Chita and two blends: Hibiki and Suntory Whisky Toki.
Hibiki, meaning echo in Japanese is a premium blended whisky brand that was introduced in 1989, to commemorate Suntory’s 90th anniversary. The one launched in India is the no-age-statement Japanese Harmony, a blend of Japanese malt and grain whiskies from Yamazaki, Hakushu and Chita. Presented in the brand’s 24-faceted bottle representing the Japanese seasons, it will hopefully redefine your concept of blended whisky. It is approachable, floral and fruity with notes of orange peel, a touch of peach and a hint of white chocolate.
Yamazaki is Suntory’s best-selling single malt. Their core bottles include the 12 and 18- year-old, along with special releases such as sherry cask and bourbon cask finishes. Yamazaki is aged in sherry casks made of Spanish oak and Japanese Mizunara oak, which gives it a cherry nose. The Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve launched in India is mild with fresh fruit and Mizunara (Japanese oak) aroma.
It is the Japanese pursuit for perfection which makes their whisky so special. Japanese value nature and this is reflected in the whisky-making process. The four things that stand out are the richness of Japanese nature, the unique climate, distinctive seasons and soft water.
The water used in the making of most Japanese whiskies comes from the melting snow from Mt. Fuji. This purity of water and the warmth of the Japanese summers creates a different flavour profile for Japanese whisky, compared to Scottish whisky and also imbues it with a lot of complexity. The fact that it is warmer in Japan in summers than it is in Scotland leads to a difference in taste.
People like Shinji Fukuyo, the legendary master blender at House of Suntory, have spent their entire lives perfecting the art of crafting the perfect whisky. For them, it is more than a career. In the words of Shinji Fukoyo, who was in India for the launch, “Every creation is a new journey to achieve the exquisite balance of subtlety, refinement and complexity that is the hallmark of all Suntory whiskies“.
Japanese whisky is rich in character. At the same time, it is lighter, delicate and mellower in style than other whiskies, making it an exotic alternative to single malt scotch. It is approachable to newcomers and is food-friendly because in Japan whisky is often consumed with meals with water or soda.
Next time you go whisky shopping look for Hibiki and Yamazaki because these are some of the finest drams in the world.
By: Lavina Kharkwal
This article was first published in Vol-6 Issue 3 of The Luxury Collection Magazine (Digital Edition)