Demand for Japanese whiskies in North America has seen unprecedented of growth over the last five years. Although a recent phenomenon in Canada, the Japanese have been enjoying their whiskies for decades as part of their after work izakaya (Japanese pub) tradition. Japan has been producing whisky in their country since the late 1800s with Suntory opening the first commercial distillery in Kyoto in 1923. Japanese whisky consistently impresses, receiving accolades around the world including Nikka From The Barrel being named number 1 on the Whisky Advocate Top 20 Whiskies of 2018.
Photo Credit: Suntory
With its growing popularity, distilleries in Japan have not been able to keep up with the demand of having aged whiskies to bring to market. Many factors have attributed to this, including a decrease of production in the 1980’s when there was a decline in demand and sales. Aged Japanese whisky continues to be allocated in all markets, and releases are limited and highly anticipated. With the limited amount of available aged Japanese whiskies, the prices have doubled in the last few years and we anticipate that this trend will continue for the foreseeable future. Younger Japanese whiskies without an age statement have become a popular choice among whisky aficionados, giving them the opportunity to sample what Japanese whisky has to offer without the higher price tag of the sought after aged whiskies. Some excellent options are the Suntory Hibiki Japanese Harmony, Suntory Toki, Nikka Pure Malt Black, and the Nikka Pure Malt Red.
For fans and collectors of the rare and limited aged statement Japanese whiskies, the new releases arriving Friday, April 26 from Nikka and Chichibu will be intriguing. Here’s a list of what is coming.
The ‘Father of Japanese Whisky’ Masataka Taketsuru died in 1979 having changed the industry indelibly. One of the very last expressions he personally worked on was the Tsuru 17 year old blend. Whilst you might think that the bottle name derives from Masataka’s name, it actually has its own meaning, that of ‘Crane’ in Japanese.
Taketsuru 21 was crowned World’s Best Blended Malt Whisky at the 2010 World Whiskies Awards. It really is a fabulous whisky, and for those of you who enjoyed the brilliant 17 year old this offers just a bit more richness, a little hint more chocolate and coffee.
The pot stills of the Yoichi distillery are still directly heated, proffering hot spots in the stills, which in turn gives the whisky some wonderful sweet, rich notes. This is one of the richest 12 year old drams we’ve ever had! The nose is crisp and fresh. Gentle, weaving smoke whirls above apple peels and crisp pears. The palate is of medium-body and very crisp. There are notes of peels and cut orchard fruits, a little floral note and a subdued peat smoke. The finish is of good length with a little spicy sweetness and smoke. – Master of Malts
The Yoichi 10 Years Old is produced at Nikka’s Yoichi distillery located on Japan’s northernmost island, Hokkaido. The location of the distillery was chosen for its elevation and cool climate, proximity to a forest for access to wood for barrels, and a high quality water source nearby. This distillery still employs direct coal-fired pot stills, something even the Scots rarely still do. This whisky is discontinued, as stocks are currently too low for Yoichi to release age statement whiskies.
The most refined and least peaty of Nikka’s single malts comes from the Miyagikyo distillery in the north of Honshu island. Its whisky, also known as Sendai for export, rivals single malts from Speyside with this superb-tasting 10 year old.
Ichiro’s Malt Chichibu ‘The Peated’ 2015 Cask Strength. A 3 year old heavily peated whisky from Japan, this is as interesting as it is unusual. Bottled at 62.5% this whisky has a fantastic nose full of smoke and vanilla, and those elements hold up on the palate too. It’s packs an ingenious range of flavours with smoke and citrus and a great malt backbone. This is a fantastic whisky worthy of any collection.
The second release of peated whisky from Ichiro Akuto’s Chichibu distillery. Distilled in 2010 from heavily peated, 59.6pmm malt, it’s bottled at a higher strength than the first batch, giving a bolder and more intensely smoky flavour, with spice and sweetness. – Whisky Exchange
Are you a fan of Japanese whisky? What is your favourite Japanese whisky? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.