First, a few facts about Japanese whisky.
So popular has Japanese whisky (not whiskey) become in recent years and so constantly ranked in the top 5 and 10 that it is no longer the discarded cousin of Scotch whisky.
With the likes of Hibiki, Nikka, Taketsuru, Yamazaki, and many others now offering complex and innovative flavours, Japanese Single Malt Whisky is a solid contender.
As in Scotland, the whisky is normally distilled twice, using pot stills.
Malted barley, some of it peated, is mainly imported from Scotland.
Australia also supplies barley.
American oak/bourbon casks are brought in from Scotland and America, while sherry casks are imported from Spain.
Some whisky is matured in Japanese oak (called mizunara) which gives different flavours and characteristics.
The climate in Japan is more similar to that in Kentucky and Tennessee in America, than that of Scotland or Ireland. This means that the summers are warm to hot while the winters are cold, making the extremes of temperature that the whisky experiences during maturation much greater.
The different temperatures and climate result in the whisky maturing at a faster rate than in Scotland or Ireland, and as in America, the whisky shows more wood influence.
What sets Japanese whisky apart from Scotch?
In the production of the actual liquid, Japanese whisky follows the Scottish tradition and practice, but there are a few intriguing twists.
Suntory, for instance, uses casks that previously contained umeshu [a Japanese liqueur made of ume fruits steeped in alcohol and sugar] to mature a certain amount of malt whisky that goes into making some of their high-profile single malts and blends.
With a bit of Japanese innovation, each distillery can produce a wider spectrum of flavours and styles in their whisky. They achieve this by having different shapes of stills, using different types of yeast for fermentation, employing mixes of barley and other grains and experimenting with cask maturation.
Unlike in Scotland, producers in Japan do not swap stock, so every producer has to produce in-house the various types of malt (and grain) whisky needed for its products. In terms of blends, Japanese whisky producers usually aim to create products that work well, such as mizuwari (i.e. drunk long with water) and highball (i.e. with soda) style, since that is the way most whisky is enjoyed in Japan.
Making a perfect mizuwari
Kaicho Blended Malt, Kaicho Pure Malt and Tenjaku Blended Whisky make the most authentic mizuwari.
On the surface, the mizuwari looks simple enough – mix whisky with water and ice – but its proper execution is important. Ice cubes should be only made from mineral water. You’ll need only two. The water also should be mineral water. Add two parts of water to one part of whisky. Then, stir and enjoy your cool thirst quencher!