by Gavin D Smith
For many years, Japanese whisky was considered something of a joke by sophisticated Scotch whisky drinkers. But then back in the early 1970s, many people in Britain held similar views about Japanese cars - and look what's happened since.
Eventually, word began to spread that the Japanese were actually making some pretty decent whisky, and after decades of concentrating on blends, they started marketing
single malts. In 2001 the quality of the malts was confirmed in triumphant style when a Yoichi whisky from Nikka distillers was voted 'Best of the Best' by Whisky Magazine. Now it was official, not only could the Japanese make good whisky, but they could make whisky that a distinguished international panel of tasters considered the best in the world.
Subsequent endorsements came from the Scotch Malt Whisky Society, which bottled a Yoichi, followed by a Hakushu and a Yamazaki, both produced by Japan's biggest distilling company, Suntory.
Stylistically, Japanese distillers have traditionally taken Scotch as their model, and today, the UK whisky drinker can purchase around a dozen Japanese malt whiskies from specialist retailers, with ranges available from both Nikka and Suntory.
The oldest working distillery in Japan is Yamazaki, founded in 1923 by Suntory, and as well as Yamazaki, Suntory also owns Hakushu distillery, the largest malt distillery in the world. Both operate an array of Scottish-style pot stills, which are direct-fired.
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