Mark Twain said, ‘Too much of anything is bad, but too much good whiskey is barely enough.’ Turns out Mr Twain is not alone in this sentiment. According to a report by Forbes, Japan’s major whisky producers are discontinuing or ‘temporarily suspending’ (as in ten-year suspensions) several beloved product lines, due to unprecedented local and global demand. This follows the shocking news last year when Suntory announced that it is suspending the sales of its critically acclaimed Hakushu 12 Years Old single malt and Hibiki 17 Years Old blended whiskies.
So far, the fallen soldiers include: Suntory Shirokaku, Nikka 12, Nikka Coffey Grain and Coffey Malt, Kirin Fuji Sanroku Tarujuku 50°, and Suntory’s cute little 350ml bottles of Chita and Kakubin. Meanwhile, Nikka’s range of aged single malts will be replaced with NAS (no-age statements). If you haven’t heard of some of these, it’s because they were made for the Japanese market. So chances are, unless you’re traveling to Japan shortly, it might be a long wait until you have another chance to see or taste them.
It was only a few years ago when the world discovered Japanese whiskey; indeed, it wasn’t long ago that Japan discovered Japanese whiskey. Although the first distillery was established in 1923, its wasn’t until the ‘70s and ‘80s that it began to really get traction in the Japanese market. Subsequent international accolades have contributed to Japanese whisky’s meteoric global boom. In 2001, Whisky Magazine picked Nikka’s 10-Year Yoichi as its ‘Best of the Best’ blended whisky, while in 2015, Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible hailed Suntory’s Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 as the ‘World Whisky of the Year’.
Rather than bemoan the losses of these discontinued/suspended varieties, here’s what you can do. One: try out the new releases by big name breweries, such as Suntory’s Toki or Hibiki Japanese Harmony. Or, broaden your horizon by exploring the rest of Japan’s 23 whiskey distilleries, such as the award-winning Ichiro’s Malt from Saitama prefecture. Other small-batch distilleries to look out for include: Akkeshi Distillery (Hokkaido), Yuza Distillery (Yamagata), Nagahama Distillery (Shiga) and Mars Tsunuki Distillery (Kagoshima).