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Japanese Whisky: A Crisis of Supply and Demand

If, like me, you’re a lover of fine international whiskies, I’ve got some worrying news for you. Fans of Japanese whisky, in particular, may want to brace themselves. I’d suggest you hold onto any aged Japanese whisky you have, as it’s going to get a lot harder to come across.

Suntory, the Japanese distillery that’s widely known for producing prize-winning whiskies, is discontinuing two of its most acclaimed lines, the Hakushu 12, and Hibiki 17, due to a lack of supply in the face of fast-growing demand. This is part of an ongoing trend of Japanese distilleries not having enough product to keep up with the surge in popularity. In 2015, Nikka Whisky was forced to discontinue its popular Miyagikyo and Yoichi lines, along with the rest of its entire single-malt line-up. It’s clear that the Japanese whisky industry is facing a supply crisis, but how did this happen?

Whisky aficionados and business analysts both point to a slowdown in Japanese whisky sales during the 80’s as the main source of today’s scarcity. With limited international demand for fine Japanese whisky, distillers began cutting back on production. What no analyst could predict, however, was the sudden rise in popularity that was to come. Today, with the appreciation for fine international whiskies steadily on the rise, the Japanese whisky business is booming. Due to the necessarily long maturation process of high-quality whiskies, Japanese distilleries just can’t keep up with the demand.

What’s the Future of Japanese Whisky?

According to a representative from Suntory, it will be “quite a long time” before the brand is able to restart sales, Japanese newspaper, Nikkei, reported. The representative also stated that Suntory was focusing on giving “top priority to quality” and “emphasizing quality over quantity.”

Currently, Japanese whisky represents 5% of global whisky sales, according to trade publication The Spirits Business. Suntory has already invested 1 billion yen into its Hibiki distillery and has seen a 30% increase in its productions.

Although the world has been gifted with some of the best whiskies from Scotland or Kentucky, Japanese whisky has become quite popular in recent years. In 2013, Jim Murray’s influential Whisky Bible named Suntory’s Yamazaki Sherry Cask 13 “the best in the world”, calling it a “near indescribable genius”. There’s no telling what’s to come for the Japanese whisky industry but one thing is for sure, quality whisky can’t be rushed.

What’s my verdict? I say savour it while you can, as you never know when sales will begin again.

Luckily, there’s still hope for you to relish in some of these timeless Japanese whiskies right here, at The House of Whisky.