A Japanese whisky was named best in world earlier this month. Jim Murray, author of the internationally recognized Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible, ranked the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, of which only 18,000 bottles were produced, 97.5 out of 100 in the 2015 edition of his guide to whisky.
FOUNDING FATHER: Owned by Suntory Holdings, Yamazaki is Japan’s oldest distillery, founded by Shinjiro Torii in 1924. He was aided by Masataka Taketsuru, who, having studied the fine art of distillery while working for the Campbeltown-based Hazelburn Distillery in the 1920s, is considered the godfather of the Japanese whisky industry. Now, 90 years later, it seems the Scots are being defeated at their own game. This could have consequences. In 2013, Scottish whisky exports represented a value of $6.7 billion. However, figures for first six months of this year reveal exports are down 11 percent.
TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE: Scotland, a rugged land of myth and mystery, tribes and traditions, and warriors and whisky, has made questionable headlines over the past three months. Indeed, times have been tough for many thousands of proud Scotsmen and women. The some 1.6 million Scots that voted in favor of independence from the United Kingdom in the September 2014 referendum saw their hopes and dreams dashed by a majority of their compatriots, around 2 million, who voted against Scottish independence. Earlier this month, to add insult to injury, the country’s many partisan drinkers of Scotland’s most famous product had to endure another humiliation. For the first time in the 12-year-history of the book, not a single Scottish product made Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible top five.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: The Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 sells for around $160 online. However, some of the brand’s rarer single malt whisky’s, such as the Yamazaki Mizunara 2013, the Yamazaki 25 Year Old, or the Yamazaki 50 Year Old, can set you back between $470 and $16,000, if you manage to get a hold of a bottle in the first place.
In the 1970s and 1980s, two decades during which the Japanese economy was growing by 4-5 percent on average, domestic whisky consumption was at its peak. However, it wasn’t until the 2000s that Japanese brands started making inroads in overseas markets. Around the same time, in 2003, Suntory featured prominently in the box-office hit Lost in Translation, with actor Bill Murray’s character famously immortalizing the phrase “Suntory Time!”
RECOGNITION: Whether or not by coincidence, Yamazaki and its parent company Suntory soon began collecting awards, with Yamazaki racking up gold medals in the International Wine & Sprit Competition and the International Spirits Challenge. At the 2011 World Whisky Awards, sponsored by the UK’s Whisky Magazine, the Yamazaki 1984 was named the World’s Best Single Malt Whisky. In 2014, Suntory won the International Spirits Challenge’s Distiller of the Year award for the third year in a row, one of the highest international honors that can be bestowed on a distillery. It is perhaps telling in this regard that Suntory announced in May that it had completed the multi-billion takeover of US spirits manufacturer Beam, which markets Jim Beam, Courvoisier cognac, and Laphroaig scotch. Beam Suntory is now the third-biggest premium spirits company in the world.
At the time of writing, the £12.99-Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015 was available for preorder on whiskybible.com. The new edition contains around 4,700 evaluations, including some 1,000 new entries.