Five things you need to know about Japanese whisky.

While Japan was traditionally best known for its sake and shochu, today, it also has a thriving whisky industry that’s lauded by spirit connoisseurs.

Anyone who’s seen the 2003 comedy-drama “Lost in Translation” will fondly remember the scene in which actor Bob Harris (Bill Murray) is filming a commercial for Suntory whisky. This cameo propelled the then relatively obscure whisky into pop culture.

Wildly popular Japanese whisky needs no introduction
It’s whisky, not whiskey.

Japanese whisky is modelled after the Scotch tradition—double distilling malted and/or peated barley—before it’s aged in wood barrels. As opposed to the sweeter American bourbons and ryes, they tend to be drier, smokier, and peatier, and come as single malts or blends.

It uses Scotch ingredients.

Most of the major distilleries in Japan actually import most of their ingredients from Scotland, using malted, and sometimes, even peated barley from the Isles. The individuality in taste comes from the minute details in the Japanese distilling process—the water source, the shape of the distilling stills, and the type of wood the aging barrels are made of. Some distillers use imported bourbon barrels, but others make theirs out of mizunara, a tree only found in Japan that lends its own distinct flavour.

Japanese distillers aim for refinement, not consistency.

When stacked up against each other, even the experts would find it difficult to tell the difference between Scotch and Japanese whisky in a quality blind taste test.

Scotch is made to taste like it has always tasted for centuries—Scottish distillers focus on consistency and pack in a smokier flavour.

Japanese distillers, on the other hand, look to constantly refine and perfect, leaning toward more delicate-tasting whisky.

It’s a rising star.

More and more Japanese whiskies are edging out the West’s dominance on the big stage, picking up more and more prestigious awards.

It’s (unfortunately) hard to get. 

Demand outstrips supply, so your best bet are boutique Japanese whiskies such as Kaicho Blended Malt WhiskyKaicho Pure Malt Whisky and Tenjaku Blended Whisky.

Kaicho Whisky was developed on the slopes of Japan’s tallest and most iconic mountain – Mount Fuji. The magnificently smooth whisky is created by using the pristine waters from the south alps of the snow-capped mountain ranges.

Have a bit of a lark with Tenjaku Blended Whisky. A fun fact is the Japanese characters on its label – they translate to “hibari”, more commonly known as the skylark.

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