This month itís Japanese single malt whiskies, Nikka brands single malt Yoichi and Suntory Yamazaki Single malt

Japanese whisky owes much of its development and growth to one particular Japanese distiller traveling to Scotland to study and work at various distilleries. Masataka Taketsuru came from a sake brewing family. His family sent him to Scotland to study at the University of Scotland, along the way, he worked at various distilleries, such as Longmorn, (Excellent whisky) Ben Nevis, (Hard to find but well worth looking) and Hazelburn (Gone but not forgotten). Along the way, despite opposition from both families, he married a Scotswoman named Jessie Cowen. They lived in Campbelton while he worked at Hazelburn. This is one of the most overlooked areas of Scotch production and in my opinion, produces some of the finest whiskies in Scotland.

At one point in time over 30 distilleries operated in the region. Today only three distilleries remain in Campbelton. Springbank, Glen Scotia. (Can be outstanding, but the distillery had a few bad years economics forcing it to close, but it has been reopened recently), and the refurbished Glen Gyle distillery, closed in 1920ís but recently bought by Springbankís owners and restored to production.

Upon Taketsuruís return to Japan, he worked for Shinjiru Torii, whose Yamazaki distillery company would eventually become known as Suntory. He later left Yamazaki and relocated to Yoichi, Hokkaido since it was closest to Scotland in weather and resources for whisky distillation to Taketsuruís point of view. His knowledge is probably what helped both Suntory and his own company develop and succeed. He continued making and promoting whisky in Japan until his death in the 1970ís.

For years, Japanese whisky had a bad reputation as inferior product. As did Japanese televisions, electronics, cars, kitchen appliances. Over time, all those things slowly come to be regarded as superior in quality. Is Japanese whisky superior to whisky made in other parts of the world? Nope, itís was just a different style that was not appreciated. Most Japanese whiskies were blends and were meant to be lighter in flavors and aroma, and were drunk with lots of water and ice, in the Japanese style known as Mizu wari. Totally contrary to most Scotch aficionadoís preferred method of neat in a nosing glass or with a small splash of water.

But think of making a vodka or a bourbon drink on a very hot day, meant to go with food and company. You make a drink with lots of ice, a good amount of a mixer, add a sprig of mint, citrus, and slowly sip. Think along those lines and thatís how most, not all, Japanese whiskies were meant to be imbibed.

These whiskies were meant to compliment food and snacks, and in that regard they were good whiskies. But contrasted to the single malt scotches and many of the blended scotches which were of higher quality, the Japanese offerings were severely lacking in flavor and aroma.

Of course, several distilleries in Scotland are owned in part or entirely by Japanese companies. Macallan (partial ownership by Suntory), Glen Garioch, Bowmore, and Auchentoshen are fully owned by Suntory, Tomatin is owned by Takara Shuzo & Okura, and Ben Nevis is owned by Nikka, one of the distilleries where Masataka Taketsuru worked while in Scotland. The influence of those relationships has impacted the whisky produced in Scotland and that produced in Japan as well.

Now, as the popularity of single malts has developed, the ability of the Japanese distillers to produce a high quality whisky has been recognized. In 2001, Yoichi won the Whisky Magazine competition and was chosen as ďBest of the BestĒ among whiskies from around the world. These Japanese single malts are on par with the top whiskies offered by Scots and Irish distillers in terms of quality. In a blind tasting, some of the Japanese made whiskies will stand up to most top brands of Scotch whiskies in aroma, taste, and quality and fool even an experienced taster as to the whiskyís origins.

So, if you have not tried any of the Japanese offerings, here are two to get you started.

Tasting Notes

Yoichi Single Malt, 10 year old, 86.5 proof version
Color: Light golden brown
Nose: Nuts, malt, some grass, peat,
Mouth: Medium to full bodied
Taste: Crisp, clean, some smoke, peat bursts out suddenly with oak and caramel toffee, fruit.
Finish: Long, the flavors and a creamy smoothness lingers on your tongue, and more peat emerges, with some more floral fruit notes.
Note: This is an example of a great whisky, proof the Japanese make a whisky as good as anyone in the world.

Suntory Yamazaki 12 year old Single Malt
Color: Light gold
Nose: Malty, some smoke and light peat, a hint of oak and a dry fruity sweetness
Mouth: Medium to full bodied
Taste: Honey sweet, some smoke, toffee, oak and citrus.
Finish: Long, the flavors linger and more peat and wood emerging at the end
Note: Yamazaki whisky is about as close as you can get to Scots highland whisky without it being from Scotland. This will probably fool people as to where it came from when they taste it if you give it to them without letting them see the bottle.

Kampai and S'lainte Mohr!