One of the lesser known exports of Japanese culture, yet one who’s influence on western culture is not to be underestimated, Japanese whiskey certainly has echoes of the flavour combinations created at some of Scotland’s distinguished distilleries, but it has its own unique identity.
The distilleries of Honshu and Hokkaido offer a huge variety of differing production techniques that have been honed to produce multifaceted whiskies that are lauded, not only in Japan but, across the whole of the world.
Despite being less than a century old Japanese whiskey distillery has already been praised the world over for its diversity and salivating flavours. From light and precise whiskies to ones that are smoky and fat, Japanese whiskies are well-known for their honeysuckle and orange flavours juxtaposed with toffee and acetone.
It’s thanks to two men that Japanese whiskies have soared in popularity, across the country – and the world. In 1918 Masataka Taketsuru was sent to Scotland to learn about whiskey-making, acquiring intimate knowledge of the process in Speyside and Cambeltown before returning to Japan.
In 1921, Taketsuru partnered with Shinjiro Torii and intended to build a whiskey distillery on the remote northern island of Hokkaido. After some debate, it was decided that Hokkaido was too far from the principal markets of central Honshu and a whiskey distillery was built on the outskirts of Kyoto in 1923 – Yamazki.
Taketsuru worked at the Yamazki distillery until 1934, leaving to realise his own dream of building a whiskey distillery, which he did, constructing the Yoichi distillery on Hokkaido. More than eight years later, the scotch whiskey companies started in Japan by Torii and Taketsuru have endured to become the two biggest and best whiskey distilleries in Japan.
Today Japanese whiskies hold a prominent place amongst whiskey connoisseurs. Wood-aged in sherry casts or Mizunara oak, Japanese whisky has a distinct citrus, spice and incense blend, giving it a wholly original conspicious flavour.
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