Infographic: Japanese Whisky, Real or Fake?

The latest infographic makes it easy to tell if the "Japanese" whisky you're drinking is actually Japanese or not! This is a bit of a hot-button topic at the moment -- see my recent interview with Dave Broom to find out why.

 

Database Version

44 Comments

  1. J. Klein

    Thank you for this amazing and comprehensive list of real vs. fake Japanese distilleries. I do have one point of contention though. Yamazakura is only now producing their own whisky product (under the New Born label), however the majority of Yamazakura Whisky products (particularly the aged products) I do believe are still made from imported whisky. They are still plentiful on the shelves at liquor shops and department stores. I think there should be some distinction made.

    Do you disagree?

  2. Whiskey Richard

    Thanks for your reply! Now that you mention it, perhaps it’s better to make a distinction between the pre-renovation Sasanokawa and their renovation/rebranding as the Asaka Distillery. Will update the graphic, thanks for pointing it out!

  3. Daniel

    Hello Richard,

    thank you for this great and helpful infographic.
    I just wanted to ask – is there a deeper meaning to the line type, such as dashed lines being only a minor proportion of the production capacity or such?

    Thank you in advance and best regards,
    Daniel

  4. Andrew

    Hi,

    An impressive infographic, thank you and well done for putting this together!

    If I may offer a suggestion: Sakurao Distillery currently has a link to the Togouchi brand which is arguably inaccurate, as the newly-opened distillery is (as far as we are being told) producing its own spirit exclusively for the whisky you indicate with the dashed line and has no connection to Togouchi other than a shared ownership. Alternatively, a connection from the “Scotland or Canada” source to Togouchi would perhaps be more clear?

    Thanks once again for a great infographic!
    Andrew

  5. LC

    Hey Richard,

    Thank you for making this. There are a lot of fakes out there that I have not seen before that you mentioned. Will be on the lookout!
    I also wanted to add 2 more to your list: Kaiyo and Yamato. I see those here in the States but I cannot find any reliable information on them. I’m curious to see what you find.

    I have one correction for you. Mars Distillery is the name of the distillery. They have 2 locations, Shinshu and Tsunuki. Tsunuki is in Kagoshima and there is no “Kagoshima Distillery”. You have Kagoshima leading to Mars whisky which gets a smiley. But then later you have Mars Shinshu leading to Iwai which gets a frowny. The latter contradicts the first statement. But also, Mars Iwai is 100% distilled in Japan (to my knowledge). They source their grain from outside the country (which is common practice in Japan. It costs so much more to harvest local barley and other grains). But the distillation itself takes place in Japan.

    Otherwise, this is spot on! Thank you for taking the time to make this.

  6. Whiskey Richard

    Hi LC, thanks for your comment.
    There are new “Japanese” whiskies popping up almost every week, perhaps even more in the States than here in Japan. I’ve never had Kaiyo myself but as I understand it uses Japanese malt whisky that’s aged both inside and outside Japan (on a boat, even). KLWines details the exact process here:
    http://spiritsjournal.klwines.com/klwinescom-spirits-blog/2017/10/24/introducing-kaiyo.html
    Yamato Whisky, I don’t have any details. But looking at the label (per the TTB filing) I’m going to have to assume it’s fake as they provide no info about where it was actually distilled etc.

    Now, on to Kagoshima Distillery. That’s separate from Tsunuki. Kagoshima Distillery was used for whisky making until 1985, while the Tsunuki Distillery only opened fairly recently and is still getting things ramped up. It’s also located in Kagoshima itself, rather than Satsuma. From a whisky perspective Kagoshima is a “lost” distillery (though they still make shochu/liqueur), while Tsunuki is only just getting started.

    Looks like the Mars Iwai was an error though, will have to fix that. Thanks for pointing it out!

  7. AK

    Hi Richard Have you heard of Ryukyu Whisky by Kumesen Shuzo ?

    Also I am confused on Mars Iwai ? Earlier it was smiley now it is frowny but in your last comment you have mentioned Iwai was an error? Is Mars Iwai Real or Faux?

  8. Pye Palm

    Hi
    I tried to load down your infografic but I could not . I am trying to do that as I will do all of what I so far have found out as a speach for my frinds in our whuisky club .
    We have had it since 1992 and I try to me most informable about Japanese whisky that I love .
    Please send me ,if its possible a file of the infograf in some way maybe as a jpeg or something
    best regards and many thanks for your information . very useful
    Pye Palm Sweden
    Dedicated Hanyu collector

  9. Peter Suh

    Kurayoshi Matsui whisky – are we sure this is “true” Japanese whisky distilled in Japan? All the materials on the net indicate it is a repackaged scotch or some other concoction?

    1. Adam

      Came here to ask this- as I’ve heard otherwise and seen some Kurayoshis that are pure malts. Assuming it it 50/50 scotch/japanese distilled

  10. David Montgomery

    I’m curious as to your source that Mars Lucky Cat is fake Japanese? They distill their other labels, correct? Why not this one?

  11. tom

    is this based on any data? you should back up each of these accusations. i expected the link to the Dave Bloom interview to do so, but was disappointed.

    i don’t want fake anything, but i’m not taking this on face value.

    rice is a grain … buckwheat too. so spirits made from them can be called whiskey no problem, in the USA.

    1. Whiskey Richard

      Hello Tom, thanks for your comment! Certainly a valid question.

      It’s difficult to capture a lot of the detail behind each categorization I’ve assigned in a single infographic. That’s why there isn’t any data cited for the “accusations” made here. When you say accusation I assume you’re talking about the whiskies in the “Fake Japanese Whisky” category. In that case, the fakes usually come from:
      -Companies that don’t, or did not in the past, have licensed whisky distilleries (you can cross-check this with the Japan Distillery Map on this site, or if you’re looking for something not from me, Japan’s National Tax Agency)
      -Companies that DO have licensed whisky distilleries, but only malt distilleries, and not grain distilleries. Yet their final product contains grain
      -“Japanese whiskies” available only outside of Japan with no specific details available about which distillery it comes from

      Certainly, I encourage you to dig further into the details if there is a specific maker/product you are interested in. Be my guest to NOT take this information at face value. I am happy to point you to further resources (beyond this website) for any of the entries. Please let me know.

      The “rice whiskey” thing is a thorny issue. At the end of the day it’s a handful of people taking advantage of the loose TTB regulations in the US, labeling aged shochu as whiskey. If there were more rice whiskies in the US this may be acceptable, but even if they did exist, they probably would not use parallel fermentation and koji.

    2. Metaman

      Do the math. Kurayoshi distillery only opened in 2017. Yet they have been releasing aged “Japanese” whiskies aged 8years, 12 years, 18 years, 23. And 32 years. Where do you think they get it from? You think another Japanese distillery, with Japanese whisky being in such short supply, is selling them their product,? A Mars 27 sells for $800 in Japan, a Hibiki 30 sells for $3000. Why would they give their product to a third party, to sell it cheap, when they can sell the product bottled under their own label for 3 to 10 times the price?

      Japanese distilleries are not famous for sharing.

  12. jim mcnugg

    any whiskey that adds FOOD COLORING should also be labeled FAKE WHISKEY. that crap is so lame and anyone who supports the companies doing it are YUPPY TURKEYS

  13. Whiskey Richard

    Hi Lily,

    Thanks for your comments! I’ll respond to each separately.

    It’s not a reference to using molasses… that kind of information is usually kept secret internally at every whisky maker.

    Instead it’s a reference to the fact that “Akashi”–just Akashi, not “Single Malt Akashi”–uses both malt and grain. It’s a blend. This is true of the Japanese domestic version and export version.

    But as far as I know, the White Oak Distillery doesn’t actually distill grain whisky. They only have pot stills.

    So the question becomes, where are they getting the grain whisky? I suppose it’s not impossible that there’s a domestic OEM-only supplier of grain whisky in Japan, but I’ve not heard of it. Much more likely that Akashi simply uses imported whisky for the grain portion of the blend.

  14. Whiskey Richard

    Now for this one.
    I spoke directly with Kaiyo last year, and believed them enough to classify the stuff as Japanese whisky. However, about a week ago I received a tip that the whisky is actually supplied almost entirely by a certain South African company, and the entire brand is a well orchestrated scam. So at the moment I’m looking for hard (third-party!) evidence, one way the other. What makes you positive it isn’t Japanese whisky? Ideally someone would be able to go on the record.

    Yamato is able to call itself whisky because to be labeled as “whisky” in Japan, it needs only be 10% whisky. The other 90% could be shochu.

    The Hanyu mentioned there is one and the same. The story goes that Toa Shuzo (the company founded by Ichiro Akuto’s grandpa, and operated the Hanyu Distillery) entered bankruptcy in 2000. They were bought in 2003 and the new parent company, having no whisky business, was going to get rid of the whisky stock there. Ichiro Akuto-san left the company in 2004, started Venture Whisky, bought the Hanyu Distillery stock from them, eventually got his hands on Karuizawa stock as well, and the rest is history.

    Toa Shuzo still exists today… they just don’t run a whisky distillery anymore. But you don’t need to have a working distillery to “make whisky” in Japan. That’s why we have Golden Horse today.

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