Whisky Magazine Issue 124
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Where spirits rule and tastes asunder
The reach for perfection is all encompassing in Japan. There, it feels realised. For those of us who travel to bars and distilleries around the world, it can be tough to be wowed. But then you visit Japan. In countless Tokyo bars – and around the country – obsessive collections of rare and discontinued bottles exist alongside hand-cut ice and impeccable vintage glassware. Not content to merely serve great spirits, Japan creates spectacular whiskies, routinely winning awards for best in the world, over and alongside Scotch. As with Japanese taste in general, a sense of balance upholds whiskies from the most well known producers, starting with the distilleries under Suntory (now Beam Suntory) and Nikka.
As a whisky lover, it wasn't difficult for me to fall in love with Japanese whiskies over the past decade as they made their way to the United States, though I initially bemoaned how few were imported. Thankfully, as more imports trickled in, friends brought back rare bottles only available in Japan so I was able to taste a range of producers and get hooked on cult favourites like Chichibu. Visiting Japan's bars and distilleries, it's impossible not to be impressed by their precision and mastery. And for Scotch aficionados, the collections of whiskies found in many of Tokyo and Kyoto's top whisky bars is astounding, beyond what I saw in even the most extensive bars in Scotland.
Japan's first commercial distillery, Yamazaki, was founded in 1923 by Suntory founder Shinji...