Marcin Miller knows a thing a two about whisky. So much so he was made a Master of the Quaich. He has now gone from writing and even publishing magazines about whisky to running his own whisky import business, with increasingly rare stocks of Japanese whisky. Here he gives you the insider’s view of what you need to know about what to buy from Japan.
In 2001 I signed, as editor and publisher, a certificate announced Nikka’s Yoichi 10 Year Old Single Malt as the ‘Best of the Best’, the overall highest scoring whisky from a series of tastings held internationally by Whisky Magazine. Did the earth shift? Not as such. However, it may have set in motion a chain of events leading to the current frenzy surrounding the category.
Hosting tastings of Japanese whiskies a decade ago would invariably bring the response; “I didn’t know they made whisky”. Those were the days of innocence…
In 10 years the investment vehicle previously known as Karuizawa, underappreciated in Japan and unknown in Europe, has become (according to the same Whisky Magazine) the world’s number one collectable single malt, overtaking The Macallan, holder of that accolade since records began.
So what now? In short, that ship has sailed; there is a genuine shortage of mature stock. As with Scotch whisky, the Japanese industry is entering a Non Age Statement period. Don’t get me wrong; the majority of whiskies from Suntory and Nikka will continue to be very, very good, age statement or none, malt, grain or blend. The precocious Chichibu continues to impress with its perfectly-nurtured youthful releases. Mars is the phoenix, returning to production after two decades in mothballs.
The bad news is, I fear, we are in the caveat emptor phase; Hanyu Card Series and, especially, Karuizawa single cask bottlings attract such fervour at auction that the ugly taint of fakery is perhaps inevitable.
In addition, there are some Japanese ‘whiskies’ being touted around from obscure distilleries that really do not bear close scrutiny, let alone tasting.
What the next big thing in Japanese spirits? I’m rather hoping it will be the gin from the distillery I’m building in Kyoto…