Dan Saladino goes on a journey through the history, culture and flavours of Japanese whisky. Why and how has this nation taken a drink so strongly associated with Scotland and made it their own?
In 2001, the drinks world started to pay attention to Japanese whisky after one of its distillers scored top marks in an international whisky completion. In the years that followed, the awards and the global attention for Japanese whiskies continued to grow. Critics have described some Japanese whiskies as the "work of genius" and, just last year, one whisky produced by a small, new-wave distillery in the north of the country was voted the world’s "Best Single Cask Whisky".
With the help of whisky writer and author of the award-winning ‘Way of Whisky: A Journey Round Japanese Whisky’, Dave Broom, Dan asks: what lies behind the rise and rise of Japanese whisky and who are the people who helped make all this global recognition possible?
The story has its origins in the 1860s when a recently opened up Japan started to forge close trading links with Scotland, paving the way for whisky imports. Once the taste for the spirit developed, distillers and chemists within Japan started to work on ways of producing a home-grown version of the drink.
A breakthrough came in 1919 when a young student called Masataka Taketsuru travelled to Scotland, worked inside some renowned distilleries, married a Scottish woman and returned home with the secrets behind Scotch. Another pioneer, Shinjeero Torri, would put that know-how to good use and create the Suntory distilling empire and brands such as Yamasaki and Hakushu. Taketsuru would go on to found another respected and award winning whisky brand, Nikka.
After record whisky sales in Japan throughout the 1960s and 1970s, the industry fell into decline for the next quarter of a century, with drinkers switching to other spirits and beer.
A range of factors lie behind the recent whisky revival and boom, ranging from Japanese innovations in fermentation, distillation and barrel aging as well as the drink that brought whisky to the attention of a younger generation - the High Ball, a mix of whisky and soda.
As Dave Broom also explains, the resurgence has encouraged a new generation of distillers to enter the whisky world, including Chichibu, an operation run mostly by people in their twenties, now winning awards.
To explore the unique flavours on offer in Japanese whisky, Dan travels to the Highlander pub in Craigellachie, Scotland, where he meets landlord Masataka Takettsuru and samples a "next to impossible" to find bottle of whisky.
Recommended reading: Dave Broom: The Way of Whisky - A Journey Through Japanese Whisky. Dominic Roskrow: Whisky Japan - The Essential Guide To The World’s Most Exotic Whisky Brian Ashcraft: Japanese Whisky - The Ultimate Guide to The World’s Most Desirable Spirit Stefan Van Eycken: Whisky Rising
Produced and presented by Dan Saladino.