Japan

Despite the fact that some of Whisky Magazine's tasters have been plugging away that Japanese whisky is something very special and has a lot to offer the whisky lover, it probably took the 2003 film Lost in Translation to put the idea of whisky from the East in the minds of most drinkers. The Japanese whisky-making tradition is based on a love story that spans the globe, from the now defunct Hazelburn Distillery in Campbeltown to the stills of Yamazaki. The man regarded as one of the two fathers of Japanese whisky, Masataka Taketsuru, learnt his passion for the water of life during a series of distillery apprenticeships in Speyside and Campbeltown. While working he met his future bride, Rita Cowan, and so when he returned to start distilling in Japan in about 1923, Rita travelled with him. Thus Japanese whisky was born out of the tale of two lovers.

Taketsuru, while being the first master distiller at Suntory where he was hired to create whisky, also founded the other Japanese distiller Nikka. Both companies are now among some of the most influential distillers in the world and also own some Scottish distillery companies; Suntory owns Morrison Bowmore and Nikka has Ben Nevis. One slight quirk is that the two companies do not trade barrels like their Scottish counterparts, so the distilling teams need to produce a wide selection of different whiskies, everything from grain to unpeated and heavily peated whiskies. This gives the blending teams all styles under the sun to work with. Suntory deals with this by having an impressive mix of stills, whereas Nikka uses different strains of yeast and varies its fermentation times to create different flavours. In recent years we have also seen a small revival in the use of Japanese oak for maturing which gives the whisky a distinctive incense-like aroma.
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