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2019 Japan Whisky Market Overview


Are Japanese Whisky Making a Mark?

The Japan Whisky is known to be founded by Masataka Taketsuru, also known as “Father of Japanese Whisky”. His fortunes took his destiny to Glasgow, where he studied for his Masters in Chemistry. He found Scottish whisky and immediately knew he had to learn its making and head back to Japan.

Taketsuru returned and built the foundation for one of the oldest Japanese Whisky companies today known as Suntory founded by Shinjiro Torii. Due to disagreements on the making of whisky, he decided to part ways with the company and created another big venture called Nikka Whisky.

Today Suntory whisky is the most successful whisky-producing company in all of Japan, with total revenue of 20.4bn in 2018. Their most celebrated brands are Yamazaki, Hibiki, Hakushu, and Toki. In 2015 the Hibiki 12 Year vintage was discontinued and September 2018 saw the announcement of Hibiki 17 being gradually removed. This was simply due to stock shortages.

Supply falling at this rapid rate, the search for Hibiki and Yamazaki have come to become a treasure hunt. The people of Japan are beginning to see Hibiki and Yamazaki bottles as an investment. The bottles run out within minutes and at times seconds as soon as they are made available in the market. These are then resold for double and at times triple the price it was purchased for.

This has risen the prices of other older vintages of Hibiki 21 and 30 even more, and people are going to great lengths to get them, not only within Japan but globally as well.

The total Japanese Whisky exports have risen by 782.4% from 2010 up until 2018. The rate of growth of the same year of 35%. This year's growth rate is expected to be slower than before due to stock shortages.

Most of Japan Whisky (notice that it is not Whiskey) is made from Scotland Whiskey. Japan even today imports four-fifths of all Scottish whiskey under 3 years. The Japan Whisky would be entirely non-existent if it weren't for the Whiskeys from Scotland. There are no rules in Japan as of now on whisky on origins and their people are importing Scotland Whiskeys and working on them further to give it their Japanese touch by creating vintages of 10, 12, 15, 17 years, and more and blends and calling them Japan Whisky. It is clearly working for big giants like Suntory and Nikka. So that really expensive Japan Whisky that you may be drinking may not be Japanese entirely.

The European Union Exported 1.7 Million Hectolitres to Japan in 2017, which speaks leaps and bounds of what most of the Japan Whisky market is made of even today.

Nevertheless, the Japan Whisky Market is loved and valued for its ways of processing the whisky and hence it's the care and value that these rare vintages are priced at such a high value. This made the 50-year-old Yamazaki the most expensive bottle of Japanese whisky ever sold for $343,000.

Although these record-breaking prices have existed, however, 2019 has been a slow year especially for Suntory with their flagship brand Hibiki where they discontinued the 12-year and 17-year vintage previously.

While Nikka has been doing its own thing and making slightly darker and deeper whiskies with 51% alcohol as compared to the 43% alcohol of most Suntory Whiskies, they together haven't been able to meet market demands.

This gap has given rise to a new whisky brand Chichibu which was founded in 2004 and operational in 2008 by a man called Ichiro Akuto at the Hanyu distillery. Its name comes from the location Chichibu (Chichibu-shi) which is a city in Saitama Prefecture, Japan.

“When the bottles were announced online it took all but 5 seconds for all 416 bottles to sell out. And these were pre-orders.” - George Koutsakis, Contributor, Forbes

In collaboration with Werry van Leeuwen, Dutch bar owner, and Chichibu fan, the CEO of Vienna Distribution, Mauric van Vliet, distributor of Chichibu brand in European markets decided to create the Chichibu Intergalactic Series.

Chichibu the rare single cask whisky and the above statement by George Koutsakis were said when the sale of this Intergalactic Series was announced online. Almost immediately the whisky bottles were for sale again for two or three times its price. Chichibu vintage releases are also resold for five times its original price and considering the auction prices that they are sold for, these reselling prices become the more known price within the market.

The low supply, high demand, and rising prices of whisky in Japan or Japanese whisky globally too has allowed Chichibu to very easily put its foot in the market becoming lucky to almost enter the market in its golden period.