The Yamato Single Malt Whisky probably isn’t whisky

It’s been a long time since we last heard anything from Kumamoto’s Yamato Shuzo. As it turns out, back in August, they released an allegedly Japanese whisky called “The Yamato Single Malt Whisky.” And they’re saying it’s fermented and distilled in Kumamoto. …really?

Yamato Whisky is dubbed “Kumamoto prefecture’s first local whisky.”

First of all, here’s the only background we have: the shochu maker behind this new whisky, Yamato Shuzo, has been around since 1821. They got a license to distill whisky in August 2017. Last year, we also saw this trademark application come through for Yamato Whisky.

But otherwise, mostly nothing. Apart from this sole Twitter thread, there’s nothing on social media. No TV/newspaper appearances, no whisky festivals, no people clamoring to order bottles. Searches in English or Japanese yield nothing, except this Rakuten shop selling the same whisky.

It’s really strange that this supposedly Japanese single malt whisky(!) just kind of… got past everyone. I mean, if you actually went through all of the hassle of funding and setting up a Japanese whisky distillery in this day and age, wouldn’t you make a big deal out of it?

The easy answer is that they probably didn’t actually make a single malt whiskyWe’ve discussed Japan’s total lack of regulations concerning whisky plenty on this blog in the past.

Long story short: this is an aged shochu being labeled and sold as whisky. Yes, it’s unfortunately legal to do that! Yes, it probably is actually made in Kumamoto! Looking through Yamato Shuzo’s other products, they do have a barley shochu aged in white oak casks, named “Angel’s Share.”

Bummer. Seems they’ve just changed the packaging to make it more whisky-like. And damn, they didn’t try very hard, did they?


  1. David Storey

    This is being sold in Japan. I thought it wasn’t legal to sell (only export) koji-based whisky in Japan?

    (The bottle really looks like Yamazaki 12)

    On the koji whisky front, it is interesting to see Whistle Pig has just launched a new edition of their premium Boss Hog range with a Canada? distilled koji-based whisky. It’s 16 years old too, so must have been distilled before the Ohishi and Fukano of the world were first released. Interestingly, no one is labelling it as shochu, or whatever a rye-based koji spirit would be called otherwise.

    1. Whiskey Richard

      Glad you asked this!

      To be honest, without seeing the bottle itself I am not entirely sure.

      BUT the current Japanese legal definition of “whisky” requires only 10% actual whisky (malted, distilled grain). So perhaps this bottle does include some actual whisky from somewhere in the world — the law doesn’t specify.

      Perhaps it just says ウイスキー on the front but says リキュール on the back in fine print.

      1. David Storey

        This claims it is 109% malt but no idea how reliable (beyond being a popular Japanese whisky account) It surprises me it is allowed to be as low as 10%. I would have thought more companies that release koji whisky as generic liquor would take advantage of that (or those that only release in the US), but maybe they want to remain more honest.

  2. Stuart

    This one is really blatant. I’m surprised Suntory isn’t suing them for copying the Yamazaki 12 label design. Just hurts the value of the “Japanese whisky” moniker.

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