Japan’s whisky history began less than a 100 years ago with the founding of its first single malt distillery called Yamazaki by Shinjiro Torii in the 1920’s. Today owned by Suntori, Yamazaki is Japans best-selling single malt: Sweet, accessible, with cinnamon spice characteristic of mizunara (Japanese oak) maturation.
Japan has no history of blending new-make spirit, instead, producers have to be self-sufficient by making different styles of single malt. Every Japanese distillery has its very own character which gives personality to the quickly growing network of whisky distillers in Japan.
As with the Japanese culture in general, subtleties and implications, which are normally overlooked in the production process of scottish whiskies, are quietly examined and modified in Japan through a carefully considered production process. This is not very surprising, as this attention to detail and pride in their work is also present in many historical aspects of Japanese culture.
Furthermore, Japanese whiskies are not bound by the strict rules that apply for Scottish whiskies. Experimenting is therefore much easier in Japan.
Today, Japan has 6 distilleries, but the distillery of Karuizawa has closed production in 2000, which make this whisky a real collectors item. Chichibu is the smallest producing distillery with a capacity of 120.000 liter but is still an independent distillery. Kirin is Japan’s largest distillery, but this whisky is very rare on the European market, since most of the production is destined for the Japanese market. Other well-known distilleries are Nikka, with its Myagikyo and Yoichi distilleries. Suntory has three brands: Yamazaki, Hakushu and Nikka.