Although the first Japanese whisky distillery began operations in 1923, it was not until 2014 that a Japanese whisky was named the greatest in the world, much to the dismay of Scotland as a whole. Jim Murray, a renowned whisky expert, described Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 as a work of "almost incomprehensible genius" with a flavor as "dry, thick, and rounded as snooker ball" in his highly regarded Whisky Bible. This is great praise coming from a man who has spent almost his entire life drinking whisky and has sampled over 4,000 different types. Japanese whiskies are currently among the most in-demand worldwide. Learn why Japanese whiskies are better than Scotch.
Japanese distilleries are constructed in outlying areas renowned for their beautiful rain forest environment and pure water. Yamazaki even has a water source of its own (ranked first in the 2015 Whisky Bible). For the Japanese, who have been making sake for centuries, the cleanliness of the water source is of the utmost significance.
Scotland has a large number of distilleries, most of which only make one kind of single malt. Due to the small number of distilleries in Japan, each brand annually creates a diverse range of single malts and blends.
Low Pressure, High Elevation
Let us take a quick science class. Some of the highest distilleries in the world are found in Japan. As elevation rises, pressure falls and the boiling point follows suit. Lower boiling points result in smoother, more palatable whisky that retains flavor and fragrance.
Method of Filtration
American whisky is normally filtered through charcoal, but some Japanese distilleries use bamboo to purify their whisky (you cannot get anymore Japanese than that).
It is interesting to note that while Scottish distilleries normally import barley from Poland, Germany, and the US, the barley used in Japanese whisky comes from Scotland.
During fermentation, a wide range of yeasts, each with its own distinct properties, are used in Japanese distilleries. Suntory Liquors has even developed its own strain of lactobacillus, called suntoryeus.
Japanese whisky is a masterful example of how to combine depth with nuance. Even non-whisky drinkers have been known to grow to like Japanese whisky due to its mildness and smoothness.
Rapid Mature Process
Japanese whiskey typically ages faster than Scotch because of the country's environment, giving consumers the impression that it is older and more sophisticated than it actually is.
While Scotch and American whiskies are often consumed on their own and have a harsher flavor, the Japanese enjoy drinking highballs, which are just whisky mixed with soda water, while dining. Who cares if purists disapprove of this because it tastes good?
Japanese whisky is not overly expensive, even as an import. You can get a 12-year-old Hibiki for approximately $65, but more expensive, older whisky blends can go into the thousands.
During the 2013 International Spirits Contest, which was held in the UK, nine different Suntory Liquors whiskies received honors. In 2001, Whisky Magazine named Nikka whisky one of the "Best of the Best." The best whisky in the world has been created by Yamazaki.