Exploring Japanese Whisky: Types and History

Although Japanese whisky is a type of whisky in every right, its ambiguous history has made it a subject of debate among the liquor community, despite no one being able to trace the exact beginnings of any beloved liquor. However, don’t let this create a prejudice against this delicious drink. Japanese whisky comes with its own uniqueness, differentiating itself from its western counterparts. Let’s take some time to figure out just what makes the Japanese whisky different, and why it’s such a controversy.


What is Japanese whisky?

If you were to guess, you’d probably define Japanese whisky as whisky that originated in or is produced in Japan. Well, you wouldn’t be wrong, but there is so much more to this liquor than just that.

Whisky connoisseurs have drawn similarities between Japanese whisky and Scotch whisky. However, they are not the same. For one thing, these two types of whisky are produced using different kinds of stills. Japanese whisky is distilled in continuous stills, as opposed to Scotch whisky which is distilled in pot stills.

The stills aren’t the only things that affect the final product of the whisky. Both Japanese whisky and Scotch are aged in ex-sherry and ex-bourbon barrels. However, the Japanese are not as fixated on the condition of aging. The cellar’s humidity and temperature will reflect in the final taste and nose of the whisky.

Japanese whisky is also considered to be much sweeter than other types of whisky and other types of liquor as well. This is because some Japanese whisky distillers will opt to add flavors and smells into the bottle. This includes rose petals, cherry blossoms, and honey, which are reminiscent of Japanese botanics.


What is the history of Japanese whisky?

Now we move on to the part that makes Japanese whisky the hot topic of debates. How did Japanese whisky come about? 

Well, while its origins are unclear, it’s believed that this whisky didn’t actually come from Japan, therefore making the name “Japanese whisky” inaccurate. For many, Japanese whisky is just whisky that was imported into the country from Canada and Scotland. Despite this popular belief, world history attempts to refute.

Many years prior to World War II, in 1923, Japan began distilling their own whisky. This was thanks to Shinjiro Torii, who founded the Yamazaki Distillery, otherwise known as the first distillery in Japan. Yamazaki is fully functional until today, and is still one of the most renowned distilleries in Japan. The country only began to retail whisky seven years after the distillery opened.


The uniqueness of Japanese whisky

Despite its rocky history, the flavours and aromas of Japanese whisky has redeemed the drink, and this is all thanks to the production philosophy that the Japanese bring to their whisky.

Although differing slightly in taste and visuals, Scotch whisky is produced consistently, keeping the elements of production exactly the same each time in order to maintain quality. This is the reason Scotch is so premium–it’s been the same throughout generations. On the contrary, distillers of whisky in Japan continuously seek to improve the beloved drink.

In line with Japanese culture, the Japanese attempt to keep refining their liquor through continuous adjustments, restraint, and attention to detail. Japanese distillers prefer creating more elegant and delicate flavors, compared to flavors of Scotch that are more robust.