Japanese whiskey

The story of Japanese whisky goes back about 90 years and owes its existence largely to two people – Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru, who founded the distilleries behind the two largest producers – Suntory and Nikka.

Taketsuru travelled to Scotland to study organic chemistry at the University of Glasgow before working at the Hazelburn distillery in Campbelltown. It comes as no surprise, then, that the whiskies produced at the Yamazaki and Yoichi distilleries established by Taketsuru are modelled strongly on the Scotch style, with other Japanese whisky following suit over the years.

Japanese whisky, now globally recognised for its quality by awards and honours earned in international spirit competitions, only comes from nine distilleries – coincidentally the same number as Tasmania.

Fyfe says the continued rise in popularity of Scotch whisky has had a flow-on effect – no pun intended.

The Age.

As an aside my good friend vr has invested in a bottle of Yamazaki Distiller’s Reserve and highly recommends it. She reports, however, that the whiskey tends to evaporate in the glass. Reminds me of the time I told Mrs D that my suit had shrunk at the dry cleaner.

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54 Responses to Japanese whiskey

  1. Robert Blair

    Well, what is your favorite whiskey Sinc?

    And what is favorite whisky (single malt I guess)?

  2. Craig Mc

    I’ve been hankering after a bottle of Suntory’s Hibiki for some time. Nick’s in Doncaster (bless them) have it. I might have to drop in there this week.

  3. Sinclair Davidson

    My usual single malt is Glenfiddich and blend is Chivas. For a treat I have been drinking Laphroaig but since Helen Dale introduced me to Talisker I drink that too.

  4. brc

    I just boughten duty free bottle of laguvulin. It’s a good drop, very smoky.

  5. Nic

    I’m surprised Japanese whiskey is of such a surprise .

  6. nerblnob

    I don’t suppose it’s of earth-shattering importance, but the Japanese follow the Scottish tradition in spelling as well as distilling. In English their whisky is spelt without any e, regardless of what your spellchecker thinks.

    Chivas for a blend, Talisker for a peaty island malt – that’s a pretty good whisky cabinet.
    I’d add GlenFarclas/-Livet/-Fiddich/Balvenie for a Speyside, and Springbank 18yo for a special treat, and one of the top level Japanese or Tasmanians for a really special treat.

  7. nerblnob

    And try the Talisker with a bit of that Lindt chili chocolate for a good match, or if that’s too sweet, some smoked kangaroo or venison.

  8. Tator

    Reminds me of an old episode of the Minder, where Arfur Daly gets a shipment of Scotch only to find out it was Japanese, Terry said it was from clan McKamikaze

  9. incoherent rambler

    Yamazaki – not only evaporates from the glass, it leaks from the bottle.
    There was 3/4 of a bottle when dozed off last night, now there remains less than 1/4 of a bottle.

  10. VR

    Sinc. It was reducing in volume in front of my eyes and I wasn’t drunk.

    I was looking for the hibiki and settled on the Yamazaki when I couldn’t find it.

    The WSJ Magazine has a nice article on Japasese whiskeys

  11. Sinclair Davidson

    Captain Jack Sparrow – “Why is the rum always finished?”

  12. Sinclair Davidson

    VR – can you link the WSJ piece please?

  13. incoherent rambler

    Add Glen Rothes to the list.

  14. incoherent rambler

    So many whiskies, so little time.

  15. ChrisPer

    A single malt is lovely, just neat in a small tumbler.

    I depend on gifts for mine, and eke a bottle of Glenfiddich out over a year six months a short while.

    As I was coming through Duty Free I picked up a couple of litres of Jamieson to try – on account of being a tightarse and the Glenfiddich running out. Tried it neat… mmm, just like… bug spray. A few experiments later, exercising courage, perseverance and low cunning, I discovered that poured over ice it is possible to drink the stuff.

  16. Robert Blair

    Incoherent rambler:

    it leaks from the bottle.

    That happens to my Glenmorangie as well.

    Perhaps the Japanese have followed the Scots in that as well?
    Normally they are very thorough little chaps y’know.

  17. Robert Blair


    just like… bug spray

    I once asked my Grandfather (a Scot) why Irish whiskey was triple-distilled.

    He said: “Because they canna ge’ it right the furrst time laddie”.

  18. incoherent rambler

    Robert Blair – Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or

  19. vr

    This is the article that had me besotted with Japanese whisky.

  20. lotocoti

    Thank Thomas Blake Glover.

  21. Dr.Sir Fred Lenin

    It might be the radioactive water that gives Japanese Whisky its distinctive flavour.when you drink a lot of it do you glow in the dark? As for Tasmanian Whisky ,you can all thank Bob Brown and his husband? Wifeman? They saved the Frankenstein River m Bobbie drank a lot of its water when he was protesting there,that accounts for his looks. bob Hawk gave in to the crusties ,”what the F do I want with water? “he is reported to have said as he opened another tinnie of VB!

  22. .

    Big fan of Sullivan’s Cove, Hellyars Road and Highland Park.

    Will have to see “Uncle Dan” about this Japanese Whiskey.

    I must be a bit soft, I prefer blends and Irish to single malt scotch. What heresy.

  23. Robert Blair


    OK, some blends are pretty good. A good blend is better than a poor single malt.

    However, your preference for Irish marks you out sir. It will make you susceptible to challenge sir, and to blackballing and ostracism.
    Drop this jacobinical, jesuitical, intemperance now Dot.

    Read your scripture:
    Revelation 21:6 – “And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment'”.

    And Whisky is indeed “uisce beatha” – the water of life.

  24. Robert Blair


    Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or

    A very nice drop. However, the ultimate Glenmorangie (AFAIK – I can’t afford the more expensive ones that you can get) is the 18 year old.

    Not as “flavoured” as the Nect D’Or, or the Quinta Ruban etc, but (even though it seems unlikely) smoother and just as sweet.

  25. Chris M

    …before working at the Hazelburn distillery in Campbelltown….. distilleries established by Taketsuru are modelled strongly on the Scotch style

    Lol, Asians will copy the pattern of your socks if you stand still for a minute.

  26. ChrisPer

    Lol, Asians will copy the pattern of your socks if you stand still for a minute.

    LOL. What exactly started Art Nouveau?

  27. Asians will copy the pattern of your socks if you stand still for a minute.

    That’s why the Greeks never liked the Medes and Persians.

  28. incoherent rambler

    the ultimate Glenmorangie … is the 18 year old

    I have tasted many, including a wonderful 25yo. But the 18 was my choice.

  29. My doc put me on the dry, the bastard.
    …and youse can all get stuffed with your fancy talk and your fancy distilled metho.

  30. incoherent rambler

    My doc put me on the dry, the bastard.

    Mine did too. Fortunately, I saw through the devious attempt to get his hands on my whisky stash.

  31. Robert Blair



    However I do suggest you get a second opinion. My own GP needs firm handling from time to time y’know.

  32. Piett

    34 comments and no one has put in a good word for bourbon? You must all be communists.

    Elijah Craig 12 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey for me, thank you.

    I will concede that the best single malt Scotch is unmatched by any other type of whisk(e)y. But I think mid- and lower-priced bourbons are far nicer than equivalently priced Scotch.

  33. Robert Blair


    no one has put in a good word for bourbon

    Bourbon is completely different stuff Piett.

    For your regular run-of-the-mill Bourbons I have plenty of good words – good, short, four letter Anglo Saxon words.

    But I will acknowledge one true love of mine, an illicit pleasure I indulge from time to time: Wild Turkey Rare Breed. A bourbon that I like very much (but I don’t tell my wife).

  34. oldsalt

    The hippies at Portland Roads used to make an ok Japanese rice brandy, well worth a cartoonie of coral prawns in exchange, though it tended to go cloudy and sour.

    The best hooch in the North was what we called ‘Three Ottos.’ Distilled by the three Ottos at the old Frances bay pontoon in Darwin, their Mango whisky/brandy rocket fuel, as clear as the Pope’s conscience, helped Barra fishermen make it through the Wet when their money to drink at the Workers had run out.

    The three Ottos had apparently learned the art of hooch in post war detention camps, though one of them was in the Foreign Legion before jumping on a boat here; croc shooters who became the first Barra fishermen.

    ‘Three Ottos’ Mango hooch also served to distract from what went into the communal cooking pot, which was big enough to feed the whole Pontoon community and boil a missionary.

    If anybody knows of a better Northern hooch during the 70-80s please revert to me.

  35. ChrisPer

    I tried a hooch a few months ago, very well distilled; somewhere around the 92% ethanol. I think the 92 was also how many cents the maker found it cost him to make a litre of it. He says his secret is a really really good thermometer.

    He brought out a box of scents and essences, and followed a little recipe to make it taste like whiskey. I have to say it was better – a lot better – than the bug spray. And I am sure a lot stronger too!

  36. nerblnob

    Thank Thomas Blake Glover

    His house is not far from mine but wasn’t much known by locals until they noticed the number of Japanese tourists looking for the place.

    During a recent concert, a friend was passing a flask around and everyone was commenting on how nice it was. Turned out it was Bells, which they would all normally turn up their noses at. Stands to reason, he’s a known tightarse, but so much for whisky snobbery.

  37. oldsalt

    The Portland Roads mob, as you’d expect, experimented with sinsemilla additives. Kalgoorlie Grapa is another good hooch, though not really Northern and definitely not victimless.

  38. Sinclair Davidson

    Irish whiskey is good for making coffee.

    Piett – Not sure what you mean by a mid-priced or lower priced scotch. Bells or White Horse or those sorts of whiskies are 3 year olds, but I haven’t drunk that since I was a student. My cheap pleasure is J&B.

  39. .

    Revelation 21:6 – “And he said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment’”.

    And Whisky is indeed “uisce beatha” – the water of life.

    Yaweh’s laws are good enough in this instance. Will chip away at some friend’s Scotch later.

  40. nerblnob

    Old salt, the only grappa I ever knew was drunk in the back shed of Italian gardeners and farmers in places like Altona and Traralgon. I never even knew there was a legal version until I went to Italy.

    They also used to air dry ham on the rafters of the sheds. It was …. chewy.

    Sinclair, while a scotch whisky must be matured in a cask for at least three years, I understand most of the popular blends are between five and eight years old. Bells is advertised as eight years old, which seems to be the standard for that type.

  41. oldsalt

    Came across a distillation not too far north of our north, which was the founding myth of the local community. A green python, trapped by their hunters, bought its life in exchange for teaching them the secret of clear hooch. The clarity of their new hooch aroused jealousies near and far leading to war for possession of its secrets. With the traditional addition of a deer foetus, its strength is said to keep wives happy and only the most miserable dump their husbands in the pigpen behind the house til morn. Drinking it mediates the Spirits of departed warriors and no self respecting warrior would ever go into battle without first getting them onside.

  42. Sinclair Davidson

    nerblnob – you’re right. I seem to remember it as being a 3 year old.

  43. nerblnob

    The Caol Ila components of Bells are probably older than that again.

  44. oldsalt

    Hey does anybody, particularly from WA, remember Blackbui?

    Modeled on Drambui, it was one of the finest hoaxes ever perpetrated.

    Notable whiskey enthusiast and [soon to be ex] ABC anchorman Duncan Graham advertised it on TV and fooled half the planet. Said to be distilled from the sticky-sweet inner parts of the Blackboy plant, which we now have to call a Grasstree, it fooled so many people even my dad may have asked his mates where the new product could be purchased.

  45. nerblnob

    The half of the planet that lives in WA?

  46. Robert. The advice was given by a Professor of Cardiac Surgery, a Cardiothoracic Surgeon, a Cardioelectrophysiologist* 3 GPs, and my wife. I think I’ve done the second opinion bit.
    Thank God my barman knows more than them all combined.
    *not sure I got that right.

  47. oldsalt

    Of course Nerblnob. Everybody in WA knows that WA is the centre of the Universe.

  48. PeterPetrum

    Dear, dear. Whiskey is the Irish and US spelling and Whisky is the only correct (and Scottish!) spelling (guess my country of birth). Mixing both spellings up in the same article shows a lack of understanding of the subject. Slainthe!

  49. Sinclair Davidson

    No – when discussing Scotch one uses the spelling whisky and when discussing the pale imitations one uses the term whiskey.

  50. nerblnob

    when discussing Scotch one uses the spelling whisky and when discussing the pale imitations one uses the term whiskey

    “One” alright. You’re on your own there. Japanese, Tasmanian, NZ, Canadian and Makers Mark in the US all spell it whisky. It designates nothing except convention or preference. There are people in NE Scotland who call it “fusky” in the common dialect of a large distilling area.

  51. incoherent rambler

    There are people in NE Scotland who call it “fusky” in the common dialect of a large distilling area.

    Wrong. That is a speech impediment caused by the local distillate.

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