Yamazaki single malt: Japan takes the crown as world’s best whisky-maker

When Japanese application produces results this fabulous, all one can do is raise a glass in admiration - Kampai!

They call it uisuki, and in Tokyo’s bars what they do to Scotland’s national drink is, to the foreign eye, an abomination. The tipple of choice of the Japanese salaryman is mizuwari (literally “cut with water”) and consists of a finger or two of Suntory or Nikka whisky – good, bad or indifferent, it hardly matters – drowned in five times the quantity of ice and water, and accompanied by a saccharine smile.

Yet, despite this cruel and unusual treatment, Japanese whisky has come of age. In fact, that is an understatement: the best Yamazaki single malt, from Suntory, the oldest Japanese whisky house, is now regarded as the best whisky in the world. 

The 2016 version will soon hit Harvey Nichols and other selected stores, priced at £200 for a 70-centilitre bottle. “Highly fragrant,” writes one expert who has sampled it, “the sherry influence [it is aged in sherry casks] spreading outwards from a tight core of cocoa nibs, cardamom, barks and spices with just a tiny bite of iodine.” 

If genius is indeed an infinite capacity for taking pains, the Japanese are in a class of their own. They identify the most brilliant products of other cultures, whether cars or motorcycles or beef or whisky, then reduce them to their component parts and processes and painstakingly make them anew with a degree of attention to every detail that is beyond the dreams of elsewhere. So the man behind Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask does not merely choose the barrels in which the whisky is aged, but the oak from which the barrels are made. 

When Japanese application produces results this fabulous, all one can do is raise a glass in admiration: Kampai!

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