Japanese Whiskey has become a real heavy-weight in the category in a relatively short space of time when compared with their Scottish counterparts.
How Japanese Whiskey came to be is a story of entrepreneurship and romance.
Two men, Shinjiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru, are renowned for the rise and rise of Japanese whiskey from the early 1900's. Torii was an importer of wines from his shop in Osaka and famous for the Akadema Port, a sweet-tasting red wine from Portugal. In 1921 he established the Kotobukiya Company which later became Suntory and built his first distillery, Yamazaki near Kyoto in 1923, fed by the areas pure water that was revered by local tea masters.
Taketsuru, whose family owned a sake brewery in Hiroshima, went to Scotland in 1918, studied chemistry at Glasgow University and began an apprenticeship in Strathspey at the Longmorn distillery before moving to the Bo'ness distillery where he met his Scottish wife and married in 1920, returning to Japan in 1921, where he helped Torii establish Yamazaki, despite Taketsuru wishes that the distillery be built in northern Japan, where the climate was more akin to that of Scotland. In 1934, he realised his dream and built the Yoichi distillery on the north island of Hokkaido and was later renamed as Nikka, where he went to great lengths to produce a Scottish style of whisky.
Since these early days, just a handful of distilleries have produced some of the most varied styles of whiskey available today, often out-gunning their Scottish rivals in blind tasting competitions around the world, including peaty whiskies, normally associated with Islay in the north-west of Scotland, together with the sweeter more floral styles like those of Speyside.
Prices for Japanese Whiskies have sky-rocketed and the availability of some has become very scarce since their infamy, propelled by their amassing ever-more awards, kick-started when Nikka's 10 year old single malt won 'Best of the Best' in the Whisky Magazine's awards in 2001.