Europe is lucky, it has Marcin Miller, without him there might not be much Japanese whisky on the continent. Marcin Miller is the founder and owner of Number One Drinks, a Europe-wide distributor of fine Japanese whisky such as Chichibu, Hanyu, Kawasaki and Karuizawa. He used to be an editor and published of the Whisky Magazine, then one day in 1999 he boarded a plane to Japan, he never really came back.

Japan enchanted this calm Englishman, the people, the food and the drinks were all just right. Despite being an editor of a whisky magazine, Marcin had never tried Japanese whisky when he landed in Japan in 1999. He was immediately blown away by the quality of the local variety, What a shame he thought, here was a country with whisky rivaling or even improving on the Scottish original and most people in the West had never even tried it. Someone had to change all this, and it might was well be him.

In Tokyo he met another Englishman named David Croll who currently runs a successful Scottish whisky distribution in the country. In 2003 he left the Whisky Magazine to start his own business, he contacted David again and the ball started rolling. He founded a company named Number One Drinks, David sent Marcin whisky to distribute in Europe, and Marcin sent him Scotch to distribute in Japan. Soon, he became the sole distributor worldwide of Chichibu, Hanyu and Karuizawa.

By now Marcin started to hunt down rare Japanese whiskys, and when he heard that Karuizawa had been bought by Kirin Holdings and that it had a large stock of whisky with no clear idea on what to do with it he had a mission; he flew back to Japan to taste about 70 different single casks, and decided he wanted to buy it. Kirin wasn’t easily prepared to sell, but Marcin was smitten, here was the best whisky standing right in front of him and he wasn’t about to let it slip away. He was prepared to sit through lengthy negotiations to get his hands on it. These negotiations would end up taking four years but they were worth it.

“I love the broad-shouldered, hairy assed nature of Karuizawa” Marcin said “every time you crack open one of these, you’re drinking Japanese liquid history.”

Another brand Marcin distributes it Chichibu whisky, and what he especially admires about it is its owner Ichiro Akuto, Ichiro obviously isn’t your average type settled businessman, he spends a great deal of his time traveling around the world, inspecting casks, keeping updated on the latest developments in the business and so on. “He is an extraordinary character.” Marcin says “I saw him in a pub in Norwich last week, because he and his team were over to hand malt the barley that they use. This is in between his travels around the world inspecting and buying casks. He is pretty much the direct opposite of an armchair distiller! He is very, very active.”
On top of that Ichiro also uses a unique, one of a kind Japanese oak for his washbacks, he even dreams of growing barley on the spot (as opposed to just importing it from Scotland) According to Marcin his whisky tastes “ as if it’s been hand-crafted.”.

So whats next for this adventurous Englishman with his love of Japan, its people, food and drinks? Quite obviously it will be related to Japan. In 2013 the whisky specialist started distributing Japanese craft beers, selling brands such as Brimmer, Baird and Minoh all over Europe. For lovers of Japanese alcoholic beverages, Marcin is definitely a man worth keeping an eye on.


Henry Baldvin