Japan; the emerging whisky superpower

let’s begin

Situated on the gorgeous Yorkshire coast, Filey Bay Whisky is a relatively new and brilliant English whisky company. Their malts are introducing news flavour profiles to areas that have never had distilleries.

Strangely enough, when you mention Japanese whisky to those not as immersed in the geeky side of whisky things as I, it is still often seen as an exotic drink and often treated with a level of eyebrow-raising ‘huh’s that subtly hide the ‘is he serious?’ question.

But in truth the Japanese whisky market is massive, over 90 years old and consists of around ten distilleries, most notably owned by Suntory and Nikka, that has strikingly similar production methods and intentionally comparable taste profiles to Scottish whisky.

Japanese whisky is smooth, really enjoyable and is quite interesting in its complexity, Hibiki 17 was actually the very first whisky I bought for my now collection of 200+ whiskies. It is specifically designed to be paired with food, you won’t find harsh flavours here, more savouring blends and single malts that is delicate whilst not lacking oomph.

Japanese whisky made headlines all over the place late last year, not just in whisky press but national and global news when Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 of Japan won World Whisky of the Year this year, the first Japanese whisky to do so.

According to the whisky industry sage that is Jim Murray, the liquid was “near incredible genius” and was awarded it 97.5% his latest book, the 2015 World Whisky Bible.

photo credit: ldrose via photopin cc

Something that did not seem to get reported however was how Karuizawa 1960, another Japanese whisky winning World’s Best Design at the annual World Whiskies Design Awards earlier this year, clearly showing that Japanese whisky means business and is ready to fight the ‘establishment’ and win.

But are Japanese whiskies really better than Scotch whiskies?

The answer is, simply, no, and yes. Why? Because all whisky enjoyment is so subjective, that’s why I personally see tasting notes as a bit of a red herring.

What this win does mean, however, is that finally there is something to give the heritage whisky brands a kick up the posterior as they have rested too long on their laurels, opting to release near-endless cash-generating limited editions that have well-crafted stories around them rather than perfecting their products to the nth degree.

Will this get them to stand up and take notice? I really hope so, but in actual fact there might be an underlying problem here that the home nation of whisky may have lost the soul of Scotch whisky to a rival that is only too happy to go the extra mile to create and release only the best. Nothing superfluous, nothing sub-standard, and nothing that does not look great.

Tags: Best DramsJapanJapanese WhiskyWorld's Best?


My name is Greg, and I’m a brand strategy consultant, writer, speaker, host and judge specialising in premium spirits. My mission is to experience, share and inspire with everything great about whisky, whiskey, gin, beer and fine dining through my writing, my brand building and my whisky tastings.

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