Despite its cult status amongst collectors and investors, Japanese whisky has only been produced commercially since 1923 when the first distillery was founded by Shinjiro Torii. The origins of the Japanese whisky industry, though, date back further than that to a banquet held onboard the USS Powhatan following the signing of the Treaty of Peace and Amity between Japan and the U.S. in 1854.
As the story goes during the event Commodore Matthew Perry, who had been sent by President Millard Fillmore to open up new trade opportunities in Japan, treated his high-ranking Japanese guests to some top-notch whisky. The Japanese elite were enchanted and expensive whisky exports soon commenced.
It wasn’t long before some enterprising Japanese businessmen realised they could make their own domestic whisky and secure themselves a slice of this lucrative market. The Settsu Sake Company even sent Masataka Taketsuru, then a chemistry student, to Glasgow to discover all the secrets of making Scotch. In the 1920s Taketsuru teamed up with Shinjiro Torii, founder of Torii Shoten as Suntory was then known, and they began to produce Japan’s first authentic whiskies.
After working with Torii for a decade, Taketsuru parted ways and founded Nikka in the town of Yoichi where he felt the climate closely resembled that of Scotland’s great whisky regions. Taketsuru released his first Nikka whisky in 1940, the Nikka Whisky Rare Old, in a style heavily influenced by his studies in Scotland. From this moment Suntory and Nikka would become great rivals, each producing a distinctive style of whisky but with a clear influence from the unique Japanese climate and rich mineral waters.
Over the past decade the Japanese whisky scene has truly blossomed, appearing on the radar of more and more connoisseurs and investors. Key moments along the way have included the awarding of the title “World’s Best Whisky” to the Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015, a leading voice in the industry. This accolade dramatically increased demand for Japanese whisky and has driven excellent returns for investors able to get their hands on coveted bottles.
This surge in popularity has actually meant that some distilleries have had to stop production of particularly sought-after whiskies, like the Hibiki 17 Year Old. This diminishing supply will never be enough to satisfy the global appetite for fine Japanese whisky, making it an excellent option for investors looking to diversify their portfolio.