Does anyone see anything strange about this pic?

Yes, your eyes are not deceiving you.  A Japanese whisky just won the “world’s best” award — a Japanese single malt, withal.

Those of you who consider me to be a diehard traditionalist — and there may be a smidgen of evidence here or there to support your judgment — might expect me to start fulminating about such an occurrence, much as the French freaked out about a Californian wine winning best of show (as seen in the outstanding movie Bottle Rocket).

Well, forget that stuff.  Excellence is excellence, and it’s clear (from this account anyway), that the Japanese have worked out how to make fine whisky:

The essential difference between the classic whiskies of Scotland and those of Suntory is the type of barrels used for the ageing process. Single malts from Scotland are aged in a wide array of barrels, mostly made of French or American oak that were previously used to age sherry or Kentucky bourbon. The single malts picked up the residual essence and flavourings from the barrels, which added character to their respective flavour profiles.
The whiskies of Suntory have a distinctively Japanese touch, as only mizunara oak is used to age them and the resulting Japanese whiskies are a harmonious reflection of the place they’re from, with a purity of the sum of the ingredients and the skill of the artisans at Suntory.

The story behind Nikka whisky is equally fascinating (see the link above), and I have to tell y’all, I’m going to sample some as soon as Ye Olde Booze Allowance permits it.  The Nikka Yoichi single runs over $80 / bottle, from what I can see, and the low-end Suntory Hakushu just over $60.  Both seem worth a shot, so to speak.  (The “world’s best” stuff costs about the same as 25-year-old Macallan — i.e. way too spendy, so forget that.)


If they taste like drain cleaner, well, at least I tried.  If I like either of them, however, you may want to short the stock of Glenmorangie…

Japanese whisky:  who’d a thunk it?


  1. “… a harmonious reflection of the place they’re from, with a purity of the sum of the ingredients and the skill of the artisans…”

    Wherever it’s made, isn’t this what it’s all about?

  2. I think you’re referring to the movie Bottle Shock starring the late Alan Rickman as Steven Spurrier who upended the wine world in 1976 by introducing California wines in a blind taste test in France and won. A wonderful movie.
    On a personal note while spending her Junior year of college in Paris in 1974, my wife took his wine course at the “Academie du Vin.” We still have the certificate of completion. My wife reports that the music appreciation class that followed immediately after the wine tasting didn’t go as well.

  3. I have read that current technology now makes it posssible not merely to analyze but to synthesize, those complex compounds that make up the bouquet of a beverage – a kind of 3D printing of flavors. What that means in the market is a blurring of the boundary between good stuff and bellywash.

    Bring it on.

    1. And then there’s the recipe for Johnny Walker Red, as disclosed in ‘Mr Roberts’; grain alcohol, coca cola and iodine. Salute.

      1. I do like me some Laphroiag but since I’m a cheap bastage Glenfiddich or Glenmorangie will have to suffice.

  4. Japan has been making exceptional whiskies for a good while now. Like REALLY exceptional. I still prefer certain Scottish brands/years on the 15+ year spectrum, but one avoids Japanese whiskey at the peril of their tastebuds.

  5. I’ve had a couple of Japanese whiskeys; they’ve all been good, some have been exceptional. My favorite is the Suntory Toki. Smooth, sweet, and damned hard to keep the wife from bogarting the bottle. Plus, it won’t break the bank.

  6. It should surprise no one that the Japanese can take something that requires attention to detail and consistent processes and make a world class example of it.

  7. Due to a weird exchange rate thing in PNG a few years back, I could get the 16 yo Yamazaki for about $40 a bottle for a short while- it usually retails for $200.
    Good, good, good stuff- a bit like Oban 16, with a very nice and very subtle hint of apple.

  8. Whiskey is Whiskey even the Irish variety but Whisky is the proprietary beverage of Scotland. This is Cultural Appropriation writ large! Shame on these presumed to be talented distillers.
    Years ago when the Japanese taste for Scotch was gaining reputation, I read of an attempt to produce “instant” Scotch. Just add water to crystallized “whatever”. Target audience was traveling Japanese businessmen. Using a process perhaps similar to Maxwell House, the prepared libation was worse. If that’s possible. Never heard anything more of product development.

  9. Not surprised. In the early to mid Aughts I was making annual pilgrimages to a whisky expo held in San Francisco in the latter part of March. It was a way to learn about whiskies and bourbons after being introduced to the eponymous JW Black Label and a smidgen of the core single malts used in making that blend.

    It was either the 2nd or 3rd year of attending where I was able to sample a 21 year old Yamazaki (I think, it was not normally available outside of Japan) which was AMAZING!

    The gentleman from Japan, Masataka Taketsuru, studied at the University of Glasgow from 1919 to 1920, interning at Longmorn, Bo’ness, and Hazelburn distilleries before returning to Japan with his Scottish wife and later started the Nikka distillery.

    1. Ken, if you’re going back to the expo next March, see if you can swing me an invitation — I’d love to do it with you.

      1. Kim, I would love to do so, and you don’t need an invitation as tickets are available for purchase online.

        That said, since getting married 3 years ago (anniversary is next month!) I’ve let somethings go from my life, attending whiskey expos being one of them. And I moved from Silicon Valley in 2003 to the San Joaquin Central Valley, making it a 3 hour trip by car for me…not that I wouldn’t be willing to make such a trip.

        There is better news for you in that the expo I used to attend was sold around 2008 and that allowed for expansion into other states, such as your own Texas. The expo in Dallas is in September Sept 21, 2018 6:00 PM – 10:00 PM Frontiers of Flight Museum,

        Send me a private message if you need any more information. : )

  10. Some years back we visited our in laws who wintered over in Yuma AZ. Some of dad’s friends introduced me to booze “flavors” that they’d bought in Mexico. The idea was to add the particular liquid flavor – bourbon, scotch, gin, rum etc – to straight grain alcohol (also imported by the gallons from Mexico in those days when the customs guys couldn’t care less what was in your car). The resulting drink was very nasty. I tried some of the alleged bourbon one time and reached the conclusion that drinking paint remover cut with jet fuel would have tasted lots better and would have been better for my liver as well. A bunch of those old timers down on the border were pretty much permanently pickled on that kind of stuff. When they passed they didn’t need embalming.

    This doesn’t say much to Japanese whiskey which apparently is quite good, but does illustrate what can happen when people who have drunk too much of their product try to get into the booze business.

  11. I was introduced to Nikka over a decade ago, and have been singing its praises ever since. I can’t speak to the single malts; I’ve enjoyed the blends. If I had to pick one adjective, it would be “smooth”. Not too peaty, with no burn–just taste.

    Enjoy yourself, Kim.

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