What the Whisky World thinks about the Japanese Whisky Boom

20. January 2016 | 6.2K Views
Please note that this article is based on the old Whiskystats database.
Some numbers and figures may not match what you find in the Whiskystats 2.0 database.

By analysing the whisky auction prices of the last decade, we identified a massive price explosion of japanese whiskies over the past three years. As our figures tell only half the story, we asked some true whisky enthusiasts for their opinions on our observations.  

In the last three years, japanese whiskies took the secondary whisky market by storm. Figures show that in terms of historic price evolution and current price level, Japan does not need to shy away from the classic whisky regions from Scotland. Actually, the bottlings from the already mothballed Karuizawa distillery belong to the most expensive whiskies money can buy. You can find the introduction of japanese whiskies to our whiskystats database in our previous article on the japanese whisky boom.
Based on these latest market movements, we asked some of our fellow whisky bloggers to join the discussion. What is their personal connection to Japanese whiskies? What do they think caused this boom and where is it heading to? Here are their answers and we highly recommend to visit their entertaining and informative blogs as they all belong to our trusted resources of knowledge.
First off is Mike who runs the blog Maltman Mike. He recently started a most interesting Video Log “dedicated to all things whisky”, so make sure to also visit his new youtube channel.
Mike, Whisky & Spirits Journalist
Maltman Mike
Maltman Mike
»It’s been really interesting to see Japanese whisky rise to be a global leader in the market. We all know that the Yamazaki Single Malt is now one of the world’s best selling whiskies and quite rightly so! I myself have purchased my fair share of this Japanese nectar including the Yamazaki 12,18 and the tremendous 25 year old expressions. I had the pleasure of sampling a dram or two of the Nikka Pure Malt Black last Christmas which is an excellent blend.
The quality and popularity of Japanese whisky is owed to Suntory’s first master distiller Masataka Taketsuru who studied in Scotland and wanted to bring the drink home. so they are produced in much the same way, distilled twice using pot stills. Many distilleries even use malted and sometimes peated barley imported from Scotland. I believe the only way is up for the future of Japanese whisky as they spread their wings even further afield securing the traditions and quality of whisky world wide. The most recent major investment being Suntory’s acquisition of Beam Inc in January 2014.
I do however heed a warning to collectors of the Japanese nectar. We’d not wish to see with their whisky as what has happened with Ardbeg when there are so many collectible releases with so many collectors collecting they eventually lose some credibility and begin to become less collectible. But for now drink and enjoy their quality drams!«
The second comment comes from Mark, the founder of Malt Review. In addition to his blog, Mark’s written about whiskey for Whisky Magazine and The Scottish Sporting Gazette and obviously met “The Nose” Richard Paterson himself.
Mark, Whisky Addict
Malt Review
Malt Review
»I’m sure I’m one of the (many, many) people responsible for this terrible situation. Bloggers and whisky writers have been shouting about the quality of Japanese whisky when it wasn’t really that cool to do so. People would give you funny looks. “Japanese. Whisky? Whisky from Japan?!”
It was never really that cheap in the first place to drink Japanese whisky in Europe, as the import duties were horrendous. Still, you could quite easily get some brilliant little Yoichi for less than £60. It was a golden age for drinkers – to sample some delicious, excotic whiskies for a good price. Those days are now long gone. The prices went beyond the reach of average punters very quickly. Hanyu whiskies were already on the steep side, but now sell for silly money. Not to mention some little distillery called Karuizawa. I’m just lucky enough to have drunk a bottle or two or both (rather than have them gather dust on some poor collector’s shelf, like they do today). Still, it’s not all doom and gloom. Nikka From The Barrel, which is probably the world’s best blended whisky, is a little firecracker and available for less than £35. That distilling genius, Ichiro Akuto, has released many fine Chichibu whiskies for just under £100, and hopefully that will remain the same – he remains the beacon of light for me.
We know that Japanese stocks are very low. Secondary markets are releasing bottles for eye-watering prices. Part of me wonders if this will, in the long run, have a negative impact on Japanese whisky, particularly now other regions in the world – Taiwan and Tasmania in particular – are achieving incredible things at (relatively) more reasonable costs. It’s the locals I feel sorry for, as they must have seen ridiculous price rises thanks to international demand and collectors.«
Last, but certainly not least, is Andy from The Amateur Drammer. Join Andy on Twitter as he participates in the Peated Malts Twitter tasting on January 25th (#PeatedMalts).
Andy, Whisky Blogger
The Amateur Drammer
The Amateur Drammer
»Japanese whisky has truly had a meteoric rise in popularity over the last few years. It was in the early 1920’s when Masataka Taketsuru brought back the knowledge, skills and experience to help found Yamazaki distillery under Shinjiro Torii and thus began the ‘overnight’ success of Japanese whisky which, in fact, has taken nearly 100 years.
For those whisky drinkers outside of Scotland it is normal for the whisky they drink to be a product of another country. In Scotland however it has taken some time to really start taking ‘foreign’ whisky seriously.
The more recent developments of Welsh and (much to many peoples disapproval) English whisky are still perhaps several years behind Japanese whisky in changing the attitudes of Scottish drinkers. These new drams are still met with a slight element of suspicion and surprise.
Just look at the attitudes within the wine industry. It has taken many, many years for markets to open up to the idea of non French or Italian wines being anything other than second best to these traditional old world wines. Amongst the biggest critics in the wine world there still are the old guard who can not and will not be convinced of the quality of ‘foreign’ wines.
The current generation of whisky drinkers here in Scotland seem to be quite taken with ‘world whiskies’ however there is still an older generation who are yet to embrace the phenomenon of non-Scottish scotch.
Jim Murray proclaiming Yamazaki Sherry Cask as the ‘worlds best whisky’ several years ago really did put world whisky and especially Japanese whisky into the headlines and it is slowly assimilating itself into the whisky collections, drinks cabinets and bars of Scotland.
Where does the Japanese whisky boom lead? In my opinion more than anything it has and still is opening the doors for other nations to ‘boom’ also. You name a country and you are pretty much guaranteed to find a whisky distillery somewhere within its borders.
It will only be a matter of time, now that the ‘foreign’ whisky door has been propped open by Japan, that slowly but surely whisky from other counties starts to make an increased impact here too.«
Obviously, there is no question about the quality of japanese whiskies. Credits for this belong to Masataka Taketsuru and the long japanese whisky tradition which is closely related to the scotch one. Japanese whiskies made their way to the big stage of the secondary whisky market in a most impressive manner and they definitely came to stay. There is no reason to beliefe that prices for the high quality japanese whiskies will ever go back to the levels where they once been. Since they are now on everybody’s screen, the whiskystats’ best guess is that prices settle in at a very high but market conform level. On the other hand, it will be highly interesting to see if Japan indeed acted like a door opener for other non-scotch whiskies. Maybe, in the not to distant future, we will all meet up again and talk about another boom.