All over Japan, farmers and wine producers take the production of alcoholic beverages including plum wine and sake very seriously. It is an industry which dates back well over a thousand years, and is held in high esteem in this far east country, where plum wines and sake often accompany meals and are used for ceremonial purposes. Whilst plum wine is produced in a relatively similar way to grape based wines, sake requires a complex process more akin to the brewing of beer, except using a rice mash instead of other grains. The rising popularity of both of these drinks in the west has seen the drinks industry in Japan increase dramatically over recent years, and both quality and quantity has risen alongside demand, and is expected to rise further.
Whisky might not be the first thing that springs to mind when we think of Japanese fine produce, but over the past one hundred years, this fascinating and multi-faceted country has diligently forged a unique whisky identity which is growing in popularity, and which is entirely its own.
The story of Japanese whisky begins in 1918, when Masataka Taketsuru was sent to Scotland to undertake a tour of single malt distilleries in the Highlands, and bring home a knowledge of whisky and distillation skills. He returned full of inspiration, helped no doubt by his new Scottish wife, and alongside his friend, Shinjiro Torii, set up what would become a successful whisky industry.
Today, the Japanese whisky industry is spread over a relatively small handful of distilleries, which continue to use Scottish techniques and recipes, but with a hefty dose of distinctly Japanese experimentalism. This is displayed most obviously in the barrelling techniques the Japanese use - to create a distinctly Oriental set of tasting notes, native Japanese oakwood casks are used for ageing, alongside casks taken from plum wine producers, which impart a beautiful set of floral flavors to the whisky.
While some distilleries produce some excellent single malts, the majority of Japanese whiskies are blended, which reveals a unique set of flavors and aromas ranging from honeysuckle and orange blossom, to toffee and acetone.