Dry run: Japan forced to whisk its whiskies off the market
Drinkers of Japanese whisky in low spirits as supplies dry up
Japanese whisky has enjoyed a dramatic rise in global popularity, but has become a victim of its own success.
Distiller Suntory Spirits says it has to stop selling two premium brands due to shortages fuelled by the global thirst for its award-winning whiskies.
It is to suspend sales of Hakushu 12, a single malt, from next month, while the Hibiki 17 blend will stop in September.
The decision was taken because Suntory was unable to keep up with surging demand. Its popularity abroad has hit new heights due to a string of international awards and growing interest in Japanese restaurants and bars.
The withdrawal of the labels was an inevitable consequence of its popularity due to finite supplies, said Jim Murray, the British whisky writer.“I was not at all surprised,” the author of the Whisky Bible said. “There is not enough Japanese whisky to sustain demand. Its popularity took off when I gave Yamazaki 17 a World Whisky of the Year award in 2014. Since then, everyone has tried to get hold of Japanese whisky and sales and prices have gone through the roof. Japanese companies are struggling to keep up.”Demand in Japan has also soared — young adults love the “highball” – a whisky and soda. The domestic market went from 61 million litres in 2007 to 137 million litres in 2017, equivalent to 55 Olympic size swimming pools.
Explaining the appeal, Murray said: “For years, they have very strictly followed scotch traditions, more so than in Scotland. There is the most enormous attention to detail and the end results are very good whiskies.”
Hibiki 17, a blend aged in Japanese oak and sold in iconic 24-sided bottles, won the 2016 International Spirits Gold Award. Suntory is taking steps to bridge the gap between demand and supply by expanding its ageing production facilities, but it will take time.
“The problem is that you cannot just knock out a 17-year-old whisky,” said Murray. “But they are investing to increase production, even if it does take a while to produce a good whisky.”
© The Daily Telegraph