While Japan has made whisky since the early part of the twentieth century, it remained, to a great extent, a world secret. As recently as the beginning of the new millennium, whisky writers started to get excited about the innovative whiskies coming out of Japan and, very soon after that those whiskies began winning awards. Now Japan has not only been elevated to the whisky world's premier league (Japan is the second biggest producer of single malt whisky in the world), but also arguably moved above Canada and is challenging Ireland for third place as the most productive and exciting whisky maker on the planet.
The Nonjatta blog is an excellent source of information on Japanese whisky.
Suntory have two distilleries producing very different malt whiskies: The Yamazaki distillery which produces the bright and fruity Yamazaki single malt and the Hibiki blends and the Hakushu distillery located in the Southern Japanese Alps which makes the Hakushu single malts. The Hibiki 21 year-old won the World's Best Blended Whisky title at the 2010 World Whisky awards.
Suntory also own the Islay distillery Bowmore and the highland distillery Glen Garioch.
Nikka also own two Japanese distilleries. They make Yoichi single malt at the Yoichi distillery (where the distillation process is fired by coal) and Miyagikyo single malt at the Miyagikyo distillery. They also produce a range of vatted and blended malts under the Nikka label, such as the blended Nikka from the Barrel which is in our World Beaters tasting.
Better known in the UK for their beer, in 2007 drinks conglomerate Kirin added the Karuizawa distillery to their portfolio, which already included the Fuji Gotemba distillery. The Karuizawa distillery is a small-scale operation that uses 100% Golden Promise barley, wooden washbacks, small stills and sherry casks sourced from Spain. They are imported into the UK by Norwich company Number One Drinks Company. Fuji Gotemba is at the foot of mount Fuji. They sell malts called both Fuji Gotemba and Fujisanroku, although you will struggle to find them in the UK.
The distillery was closed in 2000 but a small amount of these fine and rare single malts maybe still available. Some are marketed as Ichiro's Malt.
A new distillery set up by Ichiro Akuto in 2007, following in the footsteps of his grandfater who built the Hanyu distillery in 1941 (closed in 2000). Sold by Number One Drinks Company.