Would a Scotsman be bold enough to step into the ring with a 250kg sumo wrestler?
Well, quite possibly (given the Scots I know), but when Japan first entered the world of whisky production under the helm of Shinjiro Tori in 1923, it seemed as inconceivable as this notion. Japanese whisky’s popularity, however, has grown at a phenomenal pace in recent years.
When the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask claimed the top spot in the Jim Murray’s 2015 Whisky Bible, it cemented Japan’s position as a leading player on the distillery scene, and deservedly so.
It's sometimes said that Scotch is a whisky of love, whereas Japanese is more a whisky of design. The latter have zero tolerance for things out of balance and therefore everything is on purpose. This means Japanese whiskies are beautifully balanced and elegant; they touch and develop on every tastebud.
“With some Japanese whiskies now a little more widely available, a lot of consumers have generally seen or heard of Japanese whisky,” explains Jason Ang, General Manager of Tokyo Bird. “When they try Japanese whiskies for the first time, they're often instant converts—even those who don't normally drink whisky… They’re very smooth, easy drinking and versatile; and they're great served neat, on a hand-carved ice ball, with soda in a highball and definitely with food too”.
So who’s actually drinking Japanese whisky? Tokyo Bird have seen all walks of life enter their hidden bar in Surry Hills and many die-hard Scotch whisky advocates are beginning to dip their toes into the world of there aromatic Japanese tipples. Their curiosity has been met with content satisfaction.
“I think the fact that Japanese whisky is so smooth, gentle and easy to drink helps for drinkers new to whisky, but also that we offer whisky cocktails and highballs which can be easier to drink than whisky neat,” says Ang.
Of course, the best way is to decide what to drink is to spark a conversation with your barman, but here’s a little guidance:
- Suntory’s Yamazaki 12 y/o is your best introduction to Japanese whisky; it’s raw, bold and a little rough around the edges.
- Nikka’s Yoichi 10 y/o provides a stark contrast thanks to its peaty and smoky characteristics.
- Suntory's Hibiki 17y/o is a deeply complex blended malt for all you whisky scientists out there.
And finally, here are the best Sydney bars to get your Japanese whisky fix:
Image credit: Lisa Brooke at Tokyo Bird