Monday, February 2, 2015

WWA2015 Best Japanese Whiskies

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.
Without further ado, here are the winning drams:

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"

Blended Whisky
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"

Grain Whisky
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.


Anonymous said...

Was there any kind of feeling that any of the consistently available Blended Malts from Chichibu (Ichiro's Double Distilleries, MWR for example) would've competed well against say Taketsuru 17 year?

Stefan Van Eycken said...

Well, I strongly assume (and I have to be deliberately vague here) they were part of the competition so that answers your question.

Christoffer Pettersson said...

I'm happy you're back to posting again :) It's been too long since we last heard from you and this is really THE blog for Japanese whisky.
Are there any updates that you know are coming soon? Special releases or events that we can look forward to?

Stefan Van Eycken said...

Thanks very much for your kind words, Christoffer. I was doing quite a bit of writing for publication (in Japan and abroad) and that, combined with the fact that there was very little news to report, resulted in a bit of a dry spell. Now, we're up to speed again... and there are many exciting things ahead that we will post about: 7 recent Karuizawa reviews, upcoming releases (that I can't say anything about yet, as I am sworn to secrecy), events and festivals. So there will be much more regular updates on our site from now on. Thanks again for your support!

Tony said...

Can't wait to read the Karuizawa reviews! And I second Christoffer's comments. Keep up the good work!

Peter Dixon said...

Good to see the blog active again Stefan, I would like to support the other posters comments - your blog is a must-read! Warm Regards from London

Christoffer Pettersson said...

I'm happy to hear that you'll be updating more shortly, 7 different Karuizawa reviews will definitely be something to look forward to.
I'm really hoping that the reviews will be about something new that Akuto-san is cooking up in the Saitama mountains but I suspect it'll be from the big players of the Japanese whisky industry. In any case I'm looking forward to the new updates, I'll need them when I go back to Fukuoka and Tokyo in April (sadly enough I'll be going there after the price-hike but still, compared to Sweden Japan is whisky heaven)

Stefan Van Eycken said...

Thanks, folks. It feels good to hear that once in a while, when you are - as we are - dealing with a mostly invisible audience. We don't take it for granted, and it's kind words like those above that keep us going.