The future looks bright for Japanese whisky. While domestic consumption is still considerably lower than in the heyday of the 1980s whisky boom, sales of whisky made in Japan are surging in both domestic and international markets. Just last month, the heavyweight beverage company Suntory announced that it has run out of two of their popular whiskies, the Hakushu 12 Years and the Hibiki 17 Years, and will discontinue sales. While older Hibikis and Hakushus will stay on the market, they are often auctioned at astronomical prices due to immense demand.
How did Japanese whisky come to be so popular? What is the secret to its success? Why is whisky being made in Japan in the first place? Brian Ashcraft explores the story behind the whisky frenzy in his latest book “Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Desirable Spirit”.
Beginning with the introduction of whisky to Japan in the Edo period, Ashcraft weaves together the stories of pioneering whisky makers in the late 19th and early 20th century such as Masataka Taketsuru and Scottish wife Rita Cowan (whom he met whilst studying at the University of Glasgow), describing his inspirational journey from humble chemistry student to founder of Nikka Whisky, along with today’s major brands experimenting with uniquely Japanese whisky and new up-and-coming distilleries to illustrate how the century-old industry has evolved from concocting sloppy imitations of Western whisky to producing award-winning liquor. The book describes in great detail how culinary customs, religious practices and cultural trends have made Japanese whisky uniquely Japanese.
Ashcraft, who has authored several books about Japanese culture such as Japanese Tattoos and Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential, is no stranger to explaining Japanese phrases and cultural references to non-Japanese readers. He masterfully bridges the gap between the readers and the niche genre, most notably in his description of the trends and customs of drinkers in Japan.
Also in the book are tasting notes of the major whisky brands in Japan. The reviews are written by the renowned Japanese whisky reviewer Yuji Kawasaki, and feature everything from whiskies one can find in convenience stores to those that win international awards. Each whisky is given extensive descriptions of their flavor profiles and a score out of 100 to compare with other whiskies. The reviews are grouped by distilleries, presenting readers the unique opportunity of reading about a distillery’s history and unique practices before choosing which brand of whisky to buy.
The book presents an organized, comprehensive view of Japanese whisky, with all the details you need to choose the best whisky for your taste or to impress the crowd at a tasting party.
Japanese Whisky: The Ultimate Guide to the World’s Most Desirable Spirit is published by Tuttle Publishing