Where whisky is concerned, Scotch and Japanese Whisky takes the world by storm with their popularity. However, what is it that makes them different?
Japanese whiskies were actually first modelled on Scotch whiskies and are produced very much in the same way - Malting, Mashing, Fermentation, Distillation & Maturation. Up till the mid-60’s, all Japanese blended whiskies were made with a neutral spirit that mostly did not have any contact with wood. Known as a ‘blending alcohol’, they replaced the single grain whisky that was used in Scotland.
That changed over time and while the use of a ‘blending alcohol’ is still possible, Japanese whisky makers have moved on to producing grain whisky, lead by Masataka Taketsuru, founder of Nikka and the man who directly imported the first coffey still from Scotland to make proper grain whisky in 1964.
Apart from climate, the local environment and resources, which we know plays a major part in the whisky making process, the Japanese distilleries are also known to use a wide variety of yeasts. These yeasts have different characteristics with some distilleries like Suntory even having their own unique strains i.e. suntoryeus lactobacillus!
Generally, the vast majority of Japanese whisky are also less peated as compared to Scotch whisky on the basis that the Scottish distilleries use natural peat for drying barley during malting. This is not to say that the Japanese distillers do not, but merely in much smaller quantities.
Another distinct feature of Japanese whisky is the fact that their locally produced spirits are distilled at low pressure, sometimes naturally induced by high altitude with a lower boiling point. Japan has three of the highest distilleries in the world - Karuizawa (now closed), Hakushu and Mars Shinshu, all located between 700 - 800 meters above sea level. Low pressure distillation helps to retain a larger variety of aromas and a thinner, lighter texture.
Some Japanese distilleries are also known to filtrate their whisky in Bamboo, mainly for purification and enrichment. Although this unusual practice may not be widely used today, it does set them apart from their Scottish counterparts.
Lastly, one of the most interesting dynamics of the art of Japanese whisky is each distillery’s ability to produce a wide variety of different single malts with distinct characteristics, whereas the richness and variety Scottish whiskies are created through the exchange and blending of productions among the distilleries.
Both Japanese and Scotch whiskies have their own unique qualities and now you'll be able to appreciate them better!