Amidst all the craze around Japanese whisky, with many expressions dropping age statements or going out of production, there are a few great whiskies which appear to becoming more widely available (for now….) – including this one. This is a grain whisky, which, in short, means a whisky not made from malted barley as the definition arises from Scotland where the malts reign and this is part of the “other” whisky. Japanese whisky arose out of students of whisky who journeyed to Scotland to learn and take back what they learned – and, especially at the beginning (and still now) grains and stills were imported from Scotland to Japan – as in 1963 was the continuous coffey still used to make this whisky. The whisky is made in Miyagikyo. There aren’t many coffey stills currently in use, but they are around a few places, like here, or Crown Royal.
Yamazaki is between Osaka and Kyoto, Japan’s first whisky distillery built by Shinjiro Torii. It has 6 different stills all of different shapes and sizes. There are different estimates around how many different styles of malts produced here puts them around 120 – but no one knows for certain. The distillery is owned by Suntory – one of the world whisky giants.
Miyagikyo is located in the foothills of the miyagi prefecture near the town of Sendai. It was built in 1969, the second distillery made by Nikka, after Yoichi. The distillery encounters very high humidity and still uses a coffey still dating back to 19th century. It took the meticulous Masataku Taketsuru 3 years to find the site, his second one.
The worldwide whisky boom has certainly affected multiple countries, Japan not withstanding. Earlier this year, Nikka decided to stop bottling the revered Yoichi single malt in order to meet demands for their blends – of which this is one. It is made by the Yoichi distillery, which lies in southern hokkaido and was founded by Masataka Taketsuru – the legendary pioneer of Japanese whisky who studied in Scotland and even had a Scottish wife.
In Scotch blended whisky, single malt and grain whiskies are sourced from a number of different distilleries in order to create the blends. As in Scotland, blends are bigger sellers than single malts in Japan. In Japan, however, whisky producers do not collaborate with one another, resulting in the need for Japanese whisky producers to produce a large variety of different styles of whisky on their own. They do this using different stills, yeast strains, and casks. Hibiki includes whisky from Yamazaki, Hakashu, and small bit from Chita. Different, perhaps, to single malts we are usually accustomed to – this is partially matured in plum wine casks, and the whiskies are filtered through bamboo charcoal. Hibiki is produced by Suntory, one of the world’s largest drinks companies who own all of the aforementioned Japanese distilleries (they also own Jim Beam, Alberta Distillery, Canadian Club, among others).