The model for Japanese whiskies is the single malt Scotch, although there are also examples of Japanese blended whiskies. The base is a mash of malted barley, dried in kilns fired with a little peat (although considerably less than in Scotland), and distilled using the pot still method. For some time exports of Japanese whisky suffered from the belief in the West that whisky made in the Scotch style, but not produced in Scotland, was inferior, and until fairly recently, the market for Japanese whiskies was almost entirely domestic. In recent years, Japanese whiskies have won prestigious international awards and now enjoy a reputation as a quality product.
There are currently around ten whisky distilleries in Japan, these include:
Yamazaki: owned by Suntory, located between Osaka/Kyoto on the main island of Honshū.
Hakushu: also owned by Suntory, located in Yamanashi on the main island of Honshū.
Yoichi: owned by Nikka, located on the Northern island of Hokkaidō. Nikka is a part of Asahi Breweries.
Sendai / Miyagikyo: also Nikka, located to the North of the main island, near the city of Sendai.
Fuji-Gotemba: owned by Kirin, located at the foot of Mt Fuji in Shizuoka.
Karuizawa: owned by Mercian (a part of Kirin), located near to the town of Karuizawa in Nagano on the main island of Honshū.
Hanyu: located in Saitama prefecture near Tokyo on the main island. Sometimes also referred to as Golden Horse or Chichibu. Closed in 2004.
Chichibu: located near Chichibu in Saitama Prefecture. This is the new Chichibu distillery, founded by Ichiro Akuto, grandson of the distiller at Hanyu. It opened in 2008.
Shinshu: owned by Hombo, located in Nagano on the main island of Honshū.
White Oak: owned by Eigashima Shuzou, located in Hyogo on the main island of Honshū.
Source www.bbr.com :
Japan is the second biggest producer of single malt whisky in the world, with the first distillations dating back to 1870 and the first commercial distillery (Yamazaki) founded in 1924. In broad terms, the style of Japanese whisky has many affinities to that of Scotch Whisky, hence the spelling typically follows the Scotch and not the Bourbon convention (omitting the letter "e").
Japan boasts 10 whisky distilleries (for blends and single malts) including: Yamazaki and Hakushu - owned by Suntory and both on the main island of Honshu ; Sendai / Miyagikyo and Yoichi, owned by Nikka (part of Asahi Breweries) ; Karuizawa owned by Mercian (part of Kirin Breweries); Fuji / Gotemba, owned by Kirin, located at the foot of Mt Fuji; Shinshu owned by Hombo; and Hanyu, near Tokyo, which became silent in 2004. The two guiding lights in the local industry are probably Suntory and Nikka.
One unique aspect in the style of Japanese whisky results from the method of production of blended whisky. In Scotland, each distillery will earmark a particular style, and to make their final blended product, blenders have the liberty to source the constituent malts from a wide array of distilleries (that may or may not be part of the same group as their blended whisky brand).
In Japan however the whisky companies do not trade with their competitors. Consequently, a blended whisky in Japan will generally only contain malt whisky from the distilleries owned by that same company (sometimes supplemented with malts imported from Scottish distilleries). To counterbalance the limitations in the production of blends, distilleries in Japan concentrate on offering a broad spectrum of styles, ranging from the smokey and peaty style of a classic Islay, to oak-rich Speyside look-alikes, to the floral Highlanders.
This versatility and spirit of innovation has been a driving force for the increasing global success and recognition of Japanese whisky over the past decades. Japanese consumption of whisky also has unique characteristics, as it is often drunk with food (straight "oyuwari" or mixed with water "mizuwari").
Hibiki 17 YO