After tasting more than 1000 whiskies, the author of the Whisky Bible has named a Japanese whisky as the best in the world for the year. And oddly enough, the spiritual homes of the spirit—Scotland and Ireland—didn’t manage to crack the Top 5.
Jim Murray, compiler of the guide to global whiskies, now in its 12th installment, chose the Yamazaki Distillery’s Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 as the 2015 Top Whisky of the Year, praising it for its “near indescribable genius,” a “nose of exquisite boldness,” and a finish of “light, teasing spice,” giving it a score of 97.5 out of a possible 100. Coming in second and third (Google cache; The Whisky Exchange’s site seems to be hit pretty hard) were bourbons from America—William Larue Weller 2013 and Sazerac Rye 18yo 2013. Another bourbon, Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Edition #3-4P, took Single Cask of the Year.
Noticeably absent among these global rankings are any Scottish or Irish tipples, which has angered more than a few inhabitants of the parts of the world that brought the “water of life” to life. Irish whiskey has a category of its own, but the two top European whiskies selected this year round were from England and Belgium—English Whisky Co. Chapter 14 Unpeated, and Belgian Owl Single Malt “64 Months.”
Yamazaki’s product is aged for 12 to 15 years in Oloroso Sherry casks, and the timing for the award couldn’t seem to be better. This year, the Japanese whisky industry is getting more than a bit of attention within the country, thanks to Suntory’s purchase of Jim Beam at the beginning of the year and to NHK’s currently running morning drama, Massan, which offers a fictionalized version of how the first whisky was made in Japan. The Suntory Yamazaki distillery was built in 1923, and thanks to the knowledge of Masataka Taketsuru (the “Massan” of the TV series), who had studied whisky-making techniques in Scotland, the distillery started producing whisky in 1929. Taketsuru would later found his own distilling company, Nikka, in 1934.
If you’d like to see for yourself whether or not the taste of this beverage is truly “thick, dry, [and] as rounded as a snooker ball,” you may have your work cut out for yourself: only 18,000 bottles of this single malt have been made, and we have a feeling that they’re going to be selling briskly over the next couple of days.