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Issue 13 - The whisky set to self-destruct

Whisky Magazine Issue 13
December 2000


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The whisky set to self-destruct

Jim Murray fears for the Japanese whisky industry which he believes could implode before whisky lovers sample all that it has to offer.

It is the land of the Rising Sun, home to sumo wrestling, Geisha girls, tremors, trains boasting extraordinary speed and punctuality, raw fish and, contrary to popular myth, some of the very best whisky in the world. Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Japan.

And yes, you did read me right. In case you didn't get me first time let me spell it out: s-o-m-e o-f t-h-e b-e-s-t
w-h-i-s-k-y i-n t-h-e w-o-r-l-d ...

The trouble is, it's not just western cultures which find that hard to believe. Those with perhaps the biggest inferiority complex of them all are the Japanese. And thereby hangs a problem of Mount Fuji-esque proportions. If the Japanese believe bourbon and Scotch to be so far ahead of their home made whisky, then what chance have they in raising sufficient funds within their own companies to mount a serious bid for expansion into the export markets?

And there is another problem. Neither of the big distillers out there speak to the other unless it cannot be avoided. This has much to do with a work ethic peculiar to the Japanese. Once a soul joins a company, they tend to be there for life. Or at least until made redundant. Cross fertilisation between companies is small and battles in the market place bitter.

For that reason there is no equivalent of the whisky industry bodies as found in Kentucky, Canada and Scotland. So the understanding of Japanese whisky outside the east tends to be confined to the odd bottle of Suntory or chapters in books written by myself and Michael ...

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