How An Asian Country Beat Scotland To Become The World’s Best Whisky Maker


by Sonali Kohli

Famed international whiskey connoisseur Jim Murray releases his annual Whiskey Bible this month, and there’s something missing from the top five: a Scottish whiskey.

Instead, Japan’s Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 took title of World Whiskey of the Year, making it the first Japanese whiskey to earn the accolade. Yamazaki is the flagship single malt for Suntory, the company that bought Beam, Inc. earlier this year for $13.6 billion to become the world’s third-largest distiller.

Murray, who gave the whiskey 97.5 out of 100 points, wrote that the Yamazaki has a “‘nose of exquisite boldness’ and finish of ‘light, teasing spice.”

A brief history of Yamazaki Distillery explains its rapid ascent among whiskey connoisseurs: It was the first whisky distillery in Japan, built in 1923 after World War I and headed by Masataka Taketsuru (who later went on to found competitor Nikka Whisky). Taketsuru, who brought Scottish whisky making to Japan, was a student of the Scottish brew. He studied the University of Glasglow and visited distilleries around the country to learn how the Scottish make the drink.

 How did Japan learn the Scottish craft better than, for instance, American distilleries that have spent centuries trying to make a name in the business?
 

New York Magazine’s Jordana Rothman points to the youth of Japan’s whiskey industry, which she says makes it “less shacked to tradition.” Yamazaki also has the benefit of its mineral water which “is treasured enough to be bottled and sold on its own.” Its wood barrels, meanwhile, are made of a native oak, Mizunara, which Rothman writes “impart an almost ecclesiastic perfume you won’t find in any Scotch.”

Bill Murray’s character in the movie Lost in Translation would approve.

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