By Fredrik Uden
The history of Japanese whisky starts with Masataka Taketsuru going to Scotland in 1918. He is already a chemist and comes from a family with a long history of sake brewing. His sole purpose in visiting Scotland is to study the art of whisky making. This is the beginning of a fascinating story of love, war and whisky. He meets Jessie Roberta “Rita” Cowan, and they marry in 1920 and return to Japan together. His first distillery was built in 1934, in Yoichi, Hokkaido and is a homage to Scotland. In 2014 his fascinating story became a popular Japanese TV show, Massan. His legacy lives on today with distilleries such as Yoichi, Nikka and Miyagikyo representing the finest Japanese whisky has to offer.
Australia’s infatuation with Japanese whisky has been growing since 2001 when Yoichi was declared ‘best of the best’ in a blind test organised by Whisky Magazine. Bill Murray’s 2003 movie, Lost in Translation, threw it into the global spotlight and – over the next 15 years – the world drank up most of Japan’s supply of aged whisky! The cards series from Ichiro’s Malt sold for almost US$1.5M for 54 bottles in 2020 and who knows how much those bottles would sell for now!
Most Japanese whisky available today is non-age-statement but distinctive enough from that of other whisky-producing countries to be worth experiencing while we wait for Japan’s aged whisky stocks to replenish. It will be the mid to late 2020s before they appear on shelves and no doubt it will be well worth the wait!
Check out some of the best Japanese whisky available in Australia at Black Market Sake.