Blending in Japan is artfully done. It is a craft in itself.
How do they do it?
In Scotland, blending takes place between distilleries. Most if not all blends will be made up of a variety of distilleries’ malt. The exact opposite happens in Japan. Blending is done in house using malt from the same distillery.
The aim of blending in Japan is to create something richly complex and by creating blends using only malt from one distillery, they are able to build layer upon layer of complexity.
The Japanese take whisky distilling incredibly seriously. This is not to say that other countries don’t, but the precision with which they make malt in Japan is unrivalled.
They also use “sub-blends”, which is a smaller vatting of a blended malt that is then used to create the final malt. This allows them to match flavour on a micro level before working up to the final product.
The idea of finding harmony runs throughout culture in Japan and distilleries strive to create it in their malt. Therefore, it makes sense to blend in house, where Master Blenders have total control over every aspect of the process.
Keeping blending in house means that distilleries are in charge with what happens to their malts. Typically in Scotland, malt is sold to brokers or blenders before being blended with a combination of grain and single malts.
There isn’t anything wrong with this process, and some damn fine whiskies are made from it, but the difference is that Japanese distilleries are able to produce a higher quality malt. There can be more freedom for distilleries around what they do with the malt and how to blend it.
Nothing embodies this more than Nikka Harmony. The 17 Year Old version, matured in Mizunara casks (Japanese oak) is incredibly smooth and wonderfully complex. The flavours really do create a harmony, working with each other to feed into the final flavour. It is full of floral notes, with a light body and hints of earth.
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