Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
The results of the Japan heats for the World Whiskies Awards 2015 have just been announced and, as always, there are some surprises.
There are four main categories (Single Malts, Blended Malts, Blended Whiskies and Grain Whiskies) and each of these – save for the Grain category – is divided in sub-categories (NAS, Under 12yo, 13-20yo, and Over 21yo). There are winners in each of those sub-categories and then, there is an overall winner, which is sent through to the final stage in London.
Single Malt Whisky
NAS: Miyagikyo (Nikka, 43%)
Under 12: Miyagikyo 12y (Nikka, 45%)
13 – 20: Yamazaki 18 (Suntory, 43%)
Over 21: Yamazaki 25 (Suntory, 43%)
Winner : Best Japanese Single Malt Whisky "Yamazaki 18"
Blended Malt Whisky
NAS: Taketsuru (Nikka, 43%)
13 - 20y: Taketsuru 17 (Nikka, 43%)
Over 21: Taketsuru 21 (Nikka, 43%)
Winner : Best Japanese Blended Malt Whisky "Taketsuru 17"
NAS: Super Nikka (Nikka, 43%)
Under 12: The Nikka 12 (Nikka, 43%)
13 – 20: Tsuru 17 (Nikka, 43%)
Over 21: Hibiki 21 (Suntory, 43%)
Winner : Best Japanese Blended Whisky "Hibiki 21"
Winner : Best Japanese Grain Whisky "Fuji-Gotemba Blender's Choice Single Grain" (Kirin, 46%)
A few things are worth highlighting:
1) the consistency of the Japanese panel (and I need to add as a disclaimer that I have had the privilege of serving on this panel for the past three years): Taketsuru 17 and Hibiki 21 have been award World’s Best Blended Malt and Blended Whisky 2 and 3 times resp. over the past 5 editions;
2) a surprising switch in preference in the single malt category from the Yamazaki 25 to the 18: whereas in previous editions the older expression was sent through, the (batch) variation in quality of the 25 may be responsible for the 18 being sent through this time;
3) a marked preference for Miyagikyo over Yoichi;
4) but most of all: the utter dominance of the big dogs, Suntory and Nikka (with Kirin in the grain category, for what is – however – a one-off release), or in other words, the complete absence of the ‘craft distillers’ in the list above (Chichibu, Mars). For those wondering, Karuizawa has never been entered in the WWA since it doesn’t satisfy one of the criteria for submission (i.e. being currently and generally available in the home market).
It will be interesting to see if the 4 Japanese whiskies sent through to the finals in London will be able to come out on top against the best from the rest of the world. Watch this space, as always.