In many places, the Japanese whisky is described as « full-bodied » and « strong », certainly it’s true in some points but it is not as simple. Since Japanese Malt Whisky is permanently present at the prize winners at international competitions (since the 2000s) and « Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 » even was awarded in 2014 to the world’s best in his profession, the whisky culture in Japan is taken very seriously. Also blended malts such as « Hibiki » currently earn much recognition outside the country of « the rising sun ». Japanese Whisky undergoes an absolute boom, which is unfortunately also reflected in the price for inclined consumers. So it is no surprise that at Whisky Auctions sometimes even up to 100,000 EURO will be called for a bottle of rare Japanese Malt.
The tradition of Japanese Whsiky has been developed through the long SAKE culture. There were two former cooperating Japanese and their pioneering spirit which were responsible for founding of two international Whsiky companys: Shinjiro Torii (founder of Suntory in 1899) and Masataka Taketsuru (founder of NIKKA in 1934), who has been formed in Scotland. Japanese Whisky – foremost Malt Whisky – is based on Scottish models. Some of the Japanes Distilleries (as Karuizawa) have even imported all their ingredients from Scotland and Europe, to create the perfect handcrafted whisky – modeled after the great malts from Scotland. For sure Japanese meticulousness and irrepressible quality consciousness of the Japanese was very helpfull to reach that target.
But also a look on the Japanese drinking culture explains why this Whsikies are created so intense and aromatic. In Japan they like to drink their Whisky as a accompaniment to a meal and not as aperitif or digestive like in a lot of areas of the rest of the world. Japanese like to have their drinks well cooled or with ice cubes (as „High Ball“ – a well known whisky cocktail). To save aroma against the « cold » it is necessary that the whisky flavors are strong and vigorous, because we know that ice cubes are indeed as « aroma killer ». So we can explain that aroma is so strong in Japanese Whisky compared to European Whisky. A lot of aroma bombs originate from the leading Japanese distilleries as Yamazaki, Hakushu (both Suntory) or Yoichi, Miyagikyo (both NIKKA) or Kariuzawa (no longer active) or Chichibu (Venture Whisky) – just to name the best known.
Since some years Japan seems to be too small for the big Japanese companies. Suntory is owner of Beam Suntory (Laphroaig, Bowmore…) and NIKKA is owner of the Scottish Ben Nevis Distillery and some more. Finally the growing consumption in Japan has to be satisfied – Whisky is also in Japan so popular!