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Japanese Whiskey 101

Japanese Whiskey 101

Japanese whiskeys dominate spirit competitions across the globe year in and year out. The quality in these overwhelming malts took the world of whiskey by storm, pulling the rug from under everyone’s feet, even the oldest and most prestigious distilleries in Scotland.

Japan has a strong alcoholic beverage tradition with millinery sake and shochu distilleries. Beer is well regarded too, but whisky has gained momentum. The first grain-distilling undertakings took place in the late 19th century, but it wasn't until the 1920s that a commercial whisky industry developed.

We can all thank two men, Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru, for laying the cornerstone of what soon became one of the most vibrant and prized whisky styles.

Mr. Tori, a chemist and businessman, getting bitten by the whiskey bug, traveled to Scotland to learn the secret behind the Highland’s finest malts and returned to Japan to establish the first Japanese whisky distillery, Yamazaki, in 1923 (Suntory). Mr. Torii’s assistant, Masataka Taketsuru, did the same and founded Yoichi in 1934 (Nikka).

These two companies dominate the whiskey market and offer a wide range of single malts and blended whiskey emulating Scottish styles, perfected by the Japanese discipline and obsessive perfectionism.

Japanese whiskey didn’t hit the mainstream until Nikka's 10-year Yoichi single malt won "Best of the Best" at Whisky Magazine's awards in 2001; the rest is history. Today, the finest Japanese malts are coveted by collectors and sold in auctions; talking about healthy competition!

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