The Japanese Whisky Market

For most, the word whisky is immediately reminiscent of Scotland. Of course, Scotland is the world’s largest producer of whisky, where many of the distilleries found across the country have been producing whisky for generations. However, as the desire for premium whisky expands worldwide, markets in other countries are making a name for themselves. Japan is one such country, where there has been considerable growth over the past decade.

Export shipments from Japan in 2017 amounted to 160,000 kilolitres, almost double the amount exported in 2008, as organisations like Suntory, Asahi and Kirin make a global name for themselves. Suntory is the most successful whisky-producing company in Japan, with consolidated revenue of $20.4bn in 2018. They are also the most decorated Japanese whisky company, with their Hibiki 21-year-old blended whisky winning the highest award at the International Spirits Challenge in 2018.

Although Japanese whisky is enjoying a huge level of success, none of it would have been possible without the Scotch tradition. Masataka Taketsuru, the ‘father of Japanese whisky’, studied Scottish methods of whisky production while studying in Glasgow and eventually helped Suntory begin their first distillery in Yamazaki, near Osaka. To this day, this distillery holds worldwide recognition and the record for the most expensive bottle of Japanese whisky sold – a 50-year-old expression sold for $343,000.

Not only are Scottish distilling methods at the heart of the Japanese tradition, Japan also imports four-fifths of all Scotch whisky under 3 years old to be used in their blends, meaning the Japanese whisky industry would be almost completely non-existent without the contributions of Scotland.

While the powerhouses of Scottish whisky production still dominate the market, where last year a bottle of Macallan 60-year-old sold for £1m, the Japanese market strengthens year-on-year. For whisky enthusiasts, bottles of fine whisky made in Japan are the perfect addition to any collection and bring with them distinct qualities drawn from the environment, ingredients and nature of their home country.

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