It has been a year and a half that I wrote a short article on The Whiskey Wash called ‘Let’s Revive Japanese Whisky’. That article was handling the controversy in Japanese whiskies and the incredible hype on them from different points of view and I emphasized that Japanese whisky needs regulations. A few months after that article, there were reports of some regulatory actions from Japan, which our friends at Nomunication explains clearly in their article. In this article, I want to state what actually changed since that time.
Let’s start with the good news. There has been news heard, samples tasted from new and craft distilleries from Japan, which are actually following the new intended regulations mentioned in the above article. However, there were also many questions about how these regulations will be forced, and sorry to say that, we haven’t seen much from it. But, we are still hopeful, you can make your voice heard with this survey and state your opinion about how you feel about Japanese whiskies.
I started writing this article after coming across 3 new assumedly Japanese whiskies in the US market for ‘stupid’ prices. One of them just hit the market with 10 years old statement and no information about the source of whisky, calling itself ‘Pure Malt Whisky’ and asking $150 at Costco! “Alright, that is something we got used to, just pass this isle today.” I told to myself. Then I saw a friend asking if he should buy a bottle of another fake Japanese whisky at 18 years old priced at $329!! Of course, I ran to his help and said I would cease our friendship if he bought it. Though the last one killed all the good feelings I had at that moment.
A retail account I was working with released another fake Japanese whisky called Teitessa 15 Single Grain Whisky that you can see on the bottom photo.
Japan’EASE’ whisky? What is happening here? Is it an easy drinkable Japanese whisky? Calm down, maybe it is just a typo and TTB doesn’t check the boxes. Let’s see what is inside.
My brain was just hammered with this one. 37% abv? 74 proof? Seriously? How did this label got approved by TTB in the first place? I personally know a lot of brands being refused by the agency just because of typos or signs. If you are asking if it is a big deal, yes it sure is. In the US, no distilled spirit can be called whisky if it is under 80 proof or 40% abv. Then I turn the back of the bottle for more information (of course assuming there is none)
This was like, “Surprise brother, it is 80 proof now!”. Still being a good person, everything can be explained with typos or lack of attention by TTB due to Covid, Holidays, whatever. But this ‘whisky’, coming from a sake brewery (so probably we are talking about an aged rice distillate, aged shochu considering the proof) is being sold for $200!!! It also seems that they don’t have a whisky license in Japan, but who knows they might be working on that.
US market doesn’t prohibit the use of koji like other foreign markets. That’s why we are observing shochu labeled as whisky. If you check the UK market, you won’t be finding these bottles. However, there are also some brilliant rice whiskies in the market labeled as whisky but also stating that they are made from rice openly, which is nice of them in this non-transparent market. There are many many fake whiskies and as a consumer, I can suggest you look at the following infographic Nomunication made to be a fast guide for you.
What Else Is Happening?
Not everything is that bad! When I wrote my first article, Suntory had just announced their new world whisky ‘Ao’. It was January 10th, 2019. Then on October 15th, 2020, almost two years later than the first announcement, I started to see news about the release of the same whisky again. So apparently this world blend will be hitting the global travel retail if you somehow visit airports now.
Wait, there is better news. Distilleries like Yuza, Kanosuke are making single malt whiskies. There were also new distilleries getting their licenses in during 2020, singing happy songs of making whisky in a good way.
Nikka also brought in their new blended entry-level whisky Nikka Days, with a price tag that is totally not at an entry-level.
There are also a couple brands that are developing affordable Japanese whiskies for the US market. They have sent me samples that are ‘work in progress’, and honestly, they are way exciting than expected. I can’t reveal any information about them for now, but, we will probably see them in the market soon enough.
So What Will Happen?
This is an open-ended question. Apparently, Japanese authorities should enforce if they really want there to be some regulations. I hate to see these fake whiskies or the ones creating a ‘rare’ image taking the best shelves leaving those great single malts from Scotland, Taiwan, India, Ireland behind.
Unlike, I stated in the first article, Japanese authorities are not reluctant anymore. Both JSMA (Japanese Spirits and Liqueurs Makers Association) and JWRC (Japanese Whisky Research Centre) are working towards the goal. I am honestly not expecting rainbows and unicorns, but at least definitions by law would be a great start. Also, the big brands should join the movement and leave all the loose regulations they used in the past and bring the quality to a better level.
We understand, it is hard and it will be harder to get those good old Hibiki or Hakushu bottles, and there is definitely a rising demand. But why kill it with mediocre products and put the reputation in jeopardy?