Here at Whisky Foundation, we’re often a little guilty of focusing on all things Scottish (and, on occasion, American), but the international independent scene is vibrant and innovative, and deserves attention.
So, this week, we’re going to start a new series of blog posts that look at independent bottling scenes from around the world. (We’ll be looking at Japanese independent bottlings to start, and then travelling around the world.)
(We’ve started a lot of series lately, haven’t we? There’s the independent bottling of the month, the independent bottler of the month and Women and Whisky. Oh, and we’re starting another in a couple of weeks about whisky and words, keep your eyes peeled for that and the half-a-dozen other series of blog posts we come up with in the meantime…)
But why are we doing this series?
For a start, there’s a whole world of incredible whisky that we’re just not talking about on the blog. And, as the home of all things independent bottling, that’s a bit of a faux pas.
Not to mention the fact that there are some really exciting things going on in the world of independent bottling right now, and they’re not all happening north of Hadrian’s Wall. (As loathe as we are to admit that.)
And finally, we thought that you, dear reader, might like to read about whiskies outside of your comfort zone. (And perhaps even try a few.)
So, without further ado, let’s kick the series off with a deep dive into Japanese independent bottlings.
The Whisky Foundation guide to Japanese independent bottlings
We’re sure that you whisky buffs already know a fair bit about Japanese whisky (even if you don’t all that much about Japanese independent bottlings) but if you don’t, here’s a whistle stop tour:
Since 2008, whisky drinking in Japan has gone through the roof. Between 2014 and 2015, whisky consumption increased over 25 million litres (and a fair whack of this was Scotch, because the Japanese are people of incredible taste, of course).
The reason behind it, like a lot of things to do with whisky, is rather odd. In 2013, a Japanese TV show called Massan aired. It told the story of Masataka Taketsuru, who studied whisky in Scotland and then founded the Japanese whisky industry in the early 20th Century.
And then: boom.
Scotch became hugely popular in Japan, and a fair amount of this came from independent bottlers who were excited to give their expressions to a completely new audience. (To be precise, in 2016, Japan imported £82 million worth of whisky.)
But of course, that’s not the full story. Of course, the UK independent bottlers (remember we wrote about Kingsbury a little while ago?) have been bottling exclusive bottles for the Japanese market ever since the opportunity arose. (We have a few available in our store, if you’re interested.)
The really exciting part is the Japanese independent bottlings – the IBs produced by Japanese bottlers.
And there’s one bottler that really catches our eye:
Acorn isn’t a giant of the industry, by any means. But it’s a very well-known independent bottler based in Sadako City that focuses on producing single cask whiskies for the Japanese market.
And, although they started bottling the classics (Glenlivet, Lagavulin, Laprhoaig) they’ve now moved onto bottling slightly more obscure Scotches from distilleries like Tamdhu and Glenturret and aging them in sherry barrels.
They’re pretty incredible.
Hold on though, what about independent bottlings of Japanese whisky?
Unfortunately, we don’t speak Japanese or read Kanji, which means finding out information about Japanese independent bottlings incredible difficult.
But, because nothing is ever too much for our dear readers, we dug deep on this one to find out about a pretty exciting Japanese independent bottling: Akashi 5-year-old cask strength bottling of an Eigashima whisky.
Just listen to this:
On the nose, there’s subtle hints of smoke and then a hit of fudge. Then, on the palette (as a cask-strength bottling, this whisky benefits from a splash of water) a huge flood of caramel flavours followed by a hint of aniseed, with notes of wood and lime.
Has that piqued your interest?
Japanese whisky is incredibly exciting – not only because they age whisky in their own native wood (mizunara), but because of the sheer degree of experimentation that goes on.
Did you know?
In Japan, the whisky wash is often distilled through a tonne of different still shapes and sizes, which create a cornucopia of different flavours, notes and characters. Crazy, huh?
Which means that it’s not just the Japanese independent bottlings that are exciting, innovative and bold – it’s everything about Japanese whisky. It really is something special.
We’ll be honest – we don’t stock much Japanese whisky here at Whisky Foundation. We have some independent bottlings made for the Japanese market (although, you’d be hard pushed to call them Japanese independent bottlings).