Japanese whisky is often expertly distilled at the foothills of mountains, utilising the water that trickles down from the frozen peaks above. It’s not only the quality of spirit this produces, but also the remoteness of these locations – scattered from Mount Fuji to the north island of Hokkaidō – that makes these distilleries comparable to Scotland’s rocky island retreats.
The look and feel of Japan’s sophisticated shelf candy doesn’t hurt either. “It has a sleek appeal. The Japanese have a reputation for ceremony and refinement,” says Albert Chan of pan-Asian bar and eatery, The Brunswick Mess Hall. “You can see it in their culture from tea ceremonies and food presentation to the rigorous long steps you have to take to even become a bartender in Japan.”
Since winning numerous awards – including Yamazaki’s trumping of established Scottish distilleries for Jim Murray’s Best in The World title – demand has grown exponentially. When they first started really kicking into gear last century, it was almost impossible for Japanese whisky makers to have the foresight required to meet today’s demand for their premium product.
“Distilleries are finding it hard to keep up with the demand of the consumer – there is simply not enough liquid,” says Daniel Lemura of Collingwood’s The Noble Experiment. Remote and high in tax levies, Australia’s access to single malts from the Asian powerhouse is particularly diminishing. Perusing the range at newly opened Boilermaker House in Melbourne’s CBD, the bar staff will tell you the same thing. Any Japanese whisky with an age statement has doubled in price and halved in availability.
Japanese distillers are now going to have to turn their beautiful mountside distilleries into hardworking factories, creating whisky they don’t have time to age. So what’s really running thin, is whiskies sprinkled with maturation. Age statements such as 15 and 18 years are already a thing of the past. Lemura’s Smith Street bar is one of two venues to obtain the only Australian shipment of Yamazaki 18. “Whisky drinkers from novices to experts alike need to seize the opportunity to try these drams before they are gone forever,” he says.
Here are our picks for trying the last Nipponese nips: