The End of Fake Japanese Whisky?

By February 18, 2021News

The Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association has announced a new set of industry-wide regulations, 16 February 2021.

The History

Despite the first whisky distillery opening in Japan in 1923, laws and regulations were only introduced in the 1950s, and have remained largely unchanged since then.

With demand for Japanese Whisky soaring in recent years, several producers have cut corners to meet those demands. It has long been known that a number of labels source whisky from Scotland and Canada, age it in Japan, and label it as Japanese Whisky.

The new regulations are designed to create more certainty around Japanese Whisky and bring it in line with the strict laws and regulations that other whisky-producing nations follow.

The Regulations 

Although these regulations are not binding, it is certainly a step in the right direction for the industry.

These “non-binding” regulations take effect from 1st April 2021, however, whisky brands have until 31st March 2024 to adhere to them.

  • The only raw ingredients allowed for use in production are malted grains, other cereal grains, and water extracted in Japan. Malted grains must always be used.
  • Fermentation, distillation, and saccharification must take place in a distillery located in Japan, with the alcohol volume of the distillate not allowed to go above 95% in strength.
  • Wood casks with a maximum capacity of 700 litres must be used for the maturation of the distilled product and have to be matured in Japan for a minimum of 3 years.
  • Bottling must take place in Japan, and the whisky has to have a minimum ABV of 40%.
  • Plain caramel colouring (also known as E150a) can be added; this is a common practice in whisky around the world.

Click here to see how current producers stand. The infographic shows whiskies split into four categories: Japanese Whisky, World Whisky, Fake Japanese Whisky, Shochu labelled as Whisky.

Our View

We at Webb’s are fervent supporters of transparency around product origin, ageing, and product details, and as such, welcome the move by the Japanese Whisky industry to put in new regulations around production and labelling that add to this transparency. However, as these regulations are non-binding and considering the fact that three fifths of all Scottish Whisky imported into Japan is in bulk containers, it is unlikely that they will quickly adapt to the new ‘rules’.

This presents what could be an interesting time for Japanese Whisky. The next few years will see big changes to a number of brands, who need to either change the way they produce their product, or drastically change their labels. We are predicting this will mainly affect the lower-mid range of the market, while demand for the higher-end whiskies, and those distilled in Japan, will continue to rise as their origin is already well known.

Our advice is to buy the best-known brands that have a history of using 100% Japanese distilled Whisky such as Matsui, Taketsuru, Miyagiko, Hibiki, Yoichi, Hakushu, Yamazaki and Kurizawa.

This looks like a new era in Japanese Whisky!