Although its distilleries were originally founded on knowledge and skills drawn from Scotland, it would be wrong to assume that Japanese whisky is simply Scotch made in Japan. There are certainly some similarities – like Scotch single malts, Japanese whiskies are wood-aged, and often peaty, earthy and brooding. However, factors such as the use of native oak casks, local yeast and mountain water, and many other minute details in the distilling process give rise to compelling and unique flavour profiles in Japanese whisky.
From 1923, when pioneering spirit Shinjiro Torii founded Suntory’s Yamazaki facility, to the present day, the art of whisky has flourished in Japan. There are now a significant number of iconic, globally acclaimed Japanese distilleries in operation, and whilst just ten years ago only the most well-travelled whisky aficionados were familiar with labels like Yamazaki and Hibiki, demand is now soaring in all corners of the globe. Therefore, to uncover the most special bottlings of this nuanced spirit, you must know where to look!
Made in far smaller batches than its Scottish counterparts, there is a distinct sense of craftsmanship surrounding Japanese whisky. Many large Scotch producers are typically driven by consistency and provenance, producing whiskies with the same flavour profile for centuries. However, Japanese distillers constantly seek to refine and enhance, approaching whisky more as an experimental form of art than a beverage. This passion and attentiveness creates some of the most delicate, intriguing and surprising bottles to be found anywhere in the world of fine and rare spirits.
It may be that Japanese whisky will never beat your favourite Scotch. But at Chelsea Vintners, we believe in the spirit of adventure, leading your palate to unexpected places. It might be a rare Karuizawa 35-Year Old Noh Single Cask, matured in sherry casks, that turns your head. Or a deep, dusky Yamazaki 18-Year, with that seductive Mizunara oak aroma. Regardless of your personal preferences, whiskies from the East are undeniably some of the most sophisticated and self-possessed in the world. For any lover of this time-honoured spirit, exploring Japanese whisky is bound to yield untold delights for both the drinker and the collector.