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Issue 138 - Japanese Zen

Whisky Magazine Issue 138
September 2016

 

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Japanese Zen

Creating a blending palette

Don't call it Scotch! Japanese blended whisky may have looked towards Scotland for a long time, but like a plant moved to a different habitat, the idea of ‘blended whisky' was adapted to the reality of a very different environment right from the start.

Strange as it may seem, there was ‘blended whisky' ‘made' in Japan – note the quotation marks – decades before the first malt distillery was set up. Pre-1964, the way blended whisky was made in Japan was by pragmatic approximation. In other words, if it smelled and tasted like ‘Scotch whisky', then it was ‘whisky'. There were of course approximations that were better than others. Some blends contained malt whisky, others very little or none at all. In fact, up until 1968, it was entirely within the legal realm of possibilities to make blended whisky in Japan that didn't contain a single drop of malt whisky. What's more, even the blended whiskies that did contain a portion of malt whisky could not be said to be made ‘in the Scottish way'.

Up until the mid-60s, all Japanese blended whiskies were made not with grain whisky (as defined in Scotland) but with so-called ‘blending alcohol', i.e. neutral spirits, which could be made from anything really. Most of this ‘blending alcohol' never touched any wood. In 1964, Masataka Taketsuru brought a Coffey still over from Scotland and started making proper grain whisky. The first ‘genuine' blended whisky in Japan – i.e. made following Scottish practice, a blend...

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