Ever heard of ji-whisky? Ji-whisky is a name the Japanese give to whiskies produced by small local breweries and distilleries. They differ in the sense that they are not distributed nationwide and are often not well known outside their local areas. The producers often specialize in brewing sake or shochu and only brew whisky on the side.

Why whisky? Well, the truth of the matter is that sake sales have been going down since the 1970s and Western drinks such as beers, cocktails and whiskies are becoming more and more popular. Many producers like to diversify their production and brew something other than just the traditional Japanese drinks.

Whisky was especially popular in the 1980s when more or less everyone was making and drinking it; however, the boom only lasted a few years. By the 1990s, shochu, the traditional distilled Japanese drink, had become more popular, and many of those small ji-whisky distilleries closed down or stopped making whisky.

Today, whisky is popular again in Japan, and Japanese whiskies are becoming popular overseas as well. Ji-whiskies are therefore attracting more attention, and more and more distilleries are experimenting with them.

Sometimes the quantity these distillers make is so small that they do not even own the equipment for whisky making, and have to borrow it instead. These local whiskies tend to have their own peculiar character and some are in fact quite different from anything else you will ever try. An example of this is the Sunshine whisky from the Wakatsuru brewery, which is sold in sake bottles.

Ji-whiskies are definitely worth a try. Their quality might not always match up to the giants like Suntory and Nikka, but they can nevertheless prove surprisingly good.

Henry Baldvin