Food & Beverage

Japanese whisky: What's your drinking style?

Reporting by Martin Soong | Written by Aza Wee Sile
Whisky tips from Suntory's chief blender
Whisky tips from Suntory's chief blender

Think whisky and the misty glens of Scotland come to mind. It is, afterall, Scotland's national drink. But you may need to think again - Japan's Suntory has grabbed the attention of whisky connoisseurs with its Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, which was named the Best Whisky in the World in Jim Murray's Whisky Bible 2015.

It's not the first gong snared by Suntory Whisky - the business won an International Spirits Challenge gold award in 2003 and picked up several other trophies in the following years.

Inspired by the traditional brewing methods of Scottish whisky, Suntory founder Torri Shinjiro wanted to create a delicate and aromatic whisky specifically for the Japanese palate. He built Japan's first malt whisky distillery, Yamazaki Distillery, in 1923, and subsequently sold the first made-in-Japan single malt whisky.

The unique flavor of Suntory's drink is attributed to Yamazaki's pure spring water and climate.

Akio Kon | Bloomberg | Getty Images


But with the distillation process taking between 10 to 15 years, Suntory whisky enthusiasts have to be extremely patient or deep-pocketed, as the Japanese distillery has been running short on supply in recent times.

"To be honest, 10 years ago, we didn't realize such a good trend [was] coming ... We supply the suitable volume, but the demand [is] much more," Suntory chief blender Shinji Fukuyo told CNBC in an exclusive interview.

The art of drinking whisky

According to Fukuyo, there is no single best way to drink Japanese whisky. It is all about the individual's preference. He told CNBC the four key styles for enjoying the drink.

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Whiskey Neat for the purist

Drinking whisky 'neat' involves drinking it poured straight from the bottle. Keeping the bottle at room temperature helps the drinker capture the so-called top note, or key taste characteristic, and concentrate fully on the aroma and taste. Fukuyo says this style is for purists.

On the Rocks to cool off

To cool off in warmer climates, a whisky 'on the rocks' - poured over ice cubes - does the trick.

Crushed ice for extra refreshment

Pouring whisky onto crushed ice chills it much faster, making for a more refreshing tipple. Some whisky drinkers argue against drinking whisky diluted with water but Suntory encouraged a taste for it in Japan in the 1970s by applying the concept of 'mizuwari' - which means mixed with water, as Japanese liquor Shochu is often drunk - to whisky.

Highball for a lighter drink

A highball - a combination of whiskey, soda and ice - has a lower alcohol percentage so is seen as better complementing other activities, because as the drinker does not have to concentrate on the flavor of the whisky alone.

And what is chief blender Fukuyo's preferred style of drink?

"Highball, [it's] quite relaxing for me," he says.