The Story Behind Japanese Whiskys | Whisky 101

Japanese whiskys were a world on their own. That was perhaps until a decade or so ago when Japanese whiskys gained recognition with several nods in the whisky awards world, which propelled the Japanese delicacy to fame around the world.

Now, Japanese whiskys are incredibly valuable, especially discontinued ones, and have a unique niche in the whisky market, differentiating them from Scotch whisky. In fact, if you haven’t heard, the Japan Spirits and Liqueurs Makers Association (JSLMA) has implemented strict laws since April 2020 to strip all “fake” Japanese whisky of its label and only allowing whiskys made produced and bottled in Japan to be labelled “Japanese whisky”.

So, how did the Japanese start making their own unique blend of whisky and successfully pitting themselves against the big names producing Scotch whisky?

The History Behind Japanese Whisky

Japanese whisky was said to be produced in Japan since the 1800s but only available commercially in the 1920s when the Yamazaki distillery was started by Shinkiro Torii and Masataka Taketsuru, the forefathers of Japanese whisky.

However, the partners soon fell out, and each went on to start their own companies and distilleries in Japan. Taketsuru started Dai Nippon Kaju, which is now known as Nikka and Torii started Kotobukiya, which is now known as Suntory or Beam Suntory (as of 2014) both of which produce own the top whisky brands such as Yamazaki and Nikka in Japan.

The Japanese whisky industry continued to grow through the 1900s thanks to the two key players leading the industry but only went international in the 2000s after winning some key awards in the Whisky Magazine Award, National Spirits Challenge and Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.

Key Differences Between Japanese and Scotch Whisky


While most major distilleries in Japan still import most of their ingredients such as malted and peated barley from the Isles in Scotland, the unique taste in Japanese whisky comes from the minute details of the Japanese distillation process, such as the water source and the materials their ageing barrels are made of.

Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery uses the water from mountains near Tokyo, and a number of other distillers make ageing barrels out of Mizunara, a tree only found in Japan that gives the whisky its own distinctive flavour.

However, it is important to take note that Japanese whisky distillers are no longer allowed to import malted grains or any other cereal grains if they wish to label their whisky as “made in Japan”. Japanese whiskys distillers will be limited to malted grains, other cereal grains and water extracted in Japan during the distillation process, and malted grains must always be used during production according to the latest regulations by JSLMA.

Refinement Over Consistency

While even whisky experts might not be able to differentiate the quality between Scotch and Japanese whisky, it is agreed that both diverge philosophically. Japanese whisky focus on making the most delicate-tasting whiskies - constantly refining to perfect a bottle. The Japanese whisky-making craft is one with elegance and a high amount of technical attention to details.

On the other hand, Scotch whisky-makers focus on delivering a consistent smoky flavour and taste that has existed for centuries, every bottle a homage to the history of Scotch whisky.

Start Enjoying Japanese Whisky With JARBALAR Today

If you have never tasted an authentic glass of Japanese whisky, it is not too late to start. A few great bottles to start with include the Hibiki Harmony and Yamazaki 12, which are both available for purchase on our JARBARLAR. Order your Japanese whisky online today and be eligible for free delivery within Singapore with a minimum spend of $50.

Check out our full selection of Japanese whisky online today.