Exports of Japanese whisky set to overtake sake in 2020

Japanese government trade statistics show that the value of Japanese whisky exported from the country is set to exceed that of sake for the first time in two decades.

The growth of the export market for sake is certainly a success story for the Japanese government. Every year since 2010 has seen growth of 5-22%. Once something you only drank at your neighborhood sushi restaurant, sake is now far more widely available outside of Japan, and it’s now paired with a huge variety of non-Japanese foods too.

But the elephant in the room here is Japanese whisky. The category has put up explosive growth numbers in recent years, a shocking YoY growth of 77.4% between 2014 and 2015 for example. 2019 was 29.9% bigger than 2018, and if the numbers for 2020 hold steady, there will be another 21.1% of growth. Looking back at the past 15 years, the yen value of Japanese whisky exports has grown 26-fold. This article definitely isn’t investment advice, but if you can find another asset class that consistently puts up these kinds of numbers, let me know.

Data source: Trade Statistics of Japan

I know what you’re thinking. Is what’s being exported really Japanese whisky? The precise definition of Japanese whisky is a topic we discuss all the time on this site. And these export figures do include an awful lot of bottles that contain whisky definitely not distilled in Japan. But hopefully this breakneck pace at which export values keep climbing will encourage the government to make the right moves necessary to assure that growth continues.

These numbers are recent — meaning it’s all happening despite the coronavirus situation. Realistically, a bottle of high-abv spirits simply keeps better–years, even if it’s open–than a bottle of sake that’s good for like, a week tops. With less people going to restaurants and drinking more at home, it’s likely that more people are reaching for Japanese whisky at their local liquor stores.

Making sense of all the market entrants and distilleries can sometimes be tough, but we’ve got you covered. Keep an eye on the map, follow our news, and if you really want to get the latest, join the Nomikai!

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