Despite the on-going whisky shortage, 2019 was a rather successful year for Japanese whisky. A number of huge milestones were celebrated, some great new expressions hit the market and Japanese whiskies scooped yet more awards on the international stage. Looking back, it was actually better than just “rather successful” and it was a privilege to be a part of it.
However, 2019 is now behind us and that means we should now be looking forward to the year ahead, setting our goals, making our plans and deciding what whiskies we want to try. Let’s hope it’s a year to remember.
For Japan and Japanese whisky, it looks like it will be! In July, Tokyo is set to play host to one of the world’s biggest sporting festivals, with millions from around the world set to descend on the capital to cheer on their respective nation’s athletes. All eyes will be on Japan and that provides a big opportunity for Japanese culture, and indeed Japanese whisky, to showcase itself to new markets around the world.
The events in July will no doubt be the main highlight of the year for Japan, however for the country’s whisky distilleries there will be a lot more going on than just that.
Japanese Whisky Association
Some of the biggest and most exciting news for the Japanese whisky industry in 2020 is that The Japan Whisky Research Centre is aiming to create a Japanese Whisky Association, similar to the SWA in Scotland. This is brilliant and long-awaited news as it will hopefully mean we finally see the back of one of the most controversial issues to plague Japanese whisky over the past decade – the distinct lack of regulation.
As it currently stands, distillers and blenders in Japan can create their expressions in almost any way they like. This goes as far as mixing tiny amounts of Japanese produced whisky with spirit distilled in other countries, such as Scotland, Canada, Ireland and USA, and labelling it as Japanese whisky.
This has obviously caused some customers to become frustrated with the transparency in the industry, or lack thereof, as it is not always clear what exactly is in the products that the whisky distilleries and brands are selling.
There has been a lot of conversation around this issue in recent years and the fact that we will finally see a Japanese Whisky Association allows many of us to breath a great sigh of relief, while also further highlighting the continued growth and development of the Japanese whisky industry.
New Distilleries, New Whisky
Since the Japanese whisky boom, an impressive number of new distilleries have been built around the country and 2020 could see some of these release their first whisky expressions, as their resting casks reach maturity.
The likes of Shizuoka, Mars Tsunuki, Kanosuke and Akkeshi are a few that we could see exciting whiskies coming from, with the latter already announcing their first single malt – the Sarorunkamuy Limited Release – to be released on February 27th.
Another that’s worth keeping an eye on is the Niigata Kameda Distillery, situated in the Niigata prefecture. This distillery appears to have a focus on drawing on local terroir and plans to launch in April 2020, bringing something new and unique to the industry.
As if that wasn’t enough to get you excited, we’ve also heard murmurings of a new distillery to be built on Hokkaido’s Rishiri Island this year, which will be Japan’s most Northerly distillery. Distillation is due to start in 2021, so it’ll be at least 2024 before we taste the whisky, though it may be possible to get your hands on new-make spirit sooner.
What’s To Come From Nikka and Suntory?
While we’re not likely to see any new age-statement expressions from Nikka and Suntory this year, thanks to the on-going whisky shortage, we do expect to see some new limited edition or NAS whiskies.
The shortage has now taken a significant toll on Japanese age-statement expressions, with the latest victims announced earlier this week. Following on from the discontinuations of the Hibiki 12 and 17 Year Olds and the Nikka 12 Year Old and Coffey Malt and Grain expressions, Nikka this week announced that they would be halting the production of their excellent Taketsuru Pure Malt age-statement range. Sadly, this might not be the only discontinuations we see from ‘the big two’ this year.
Despite that, we have our fingers crossed that we’ll also see some unique new whiskies, perhaps the fourth Essence of Suntory Collection or a new version of the delicious Nikka Date limited edition.
Major dekanta Release
2020 is as important a year for us here at dekanta as it is for everyone else in the Japanese whisky industry and we already have our plans in motion for a unique, rare and exquisite release that will leave you wide-eyed and open-mouthed.
Unfortunately I’m not able to disclose any specifics just yet, however what I can say is this is one for the collectors out there and it will bring together a number of important aspects of Japanese culture to create an expression that combines quality whisky with stunning visuals, playing on all of your senses simultaneously.
Keep your eyes peeled or sign up for our newsletter for more updates in the coming months.
An Exciting Year To Come
Today, I’ve covered some of the more interesting points to look out for in Japanese whisky in 2020, however there is likely to be a whole lot more going on and we’ll keep you updated with events and releases around the country as they happen.
What’s clear is that, despite issues surrounding transparency and a shortage of maturing stocks, the Japanese whisky industry continues to grow at a rapid rate, and in 2020 it will be looking to cement itself (if it has not already) as a leading producer of top quality whisky, while reassuring fans that it does indeed have real staying power.