Whisky production in Japan is a fledgeling industry when compared to Scotland’s immeasurable heritage in the same area. Yet, in the span of less than a century, the East Asian country has thundered its way into the global malt sphere, creating stellar whiskies that have become some of the most sought-after.
The flipside to that intense demand is, unfortunately, a dramatic lack of supply. Recently, Suntory announced that it would be discontinuing two of its best-selling expressions, the peaty Hakushu 12 Year Old, and the Hibiki 17 Years Old, a multi-award-winning single malt that climbed to fame after Bill Murray gave it due screentime in the cult classic, Lost in Translation. Sales for the Hakushu are expected to stop this month (and any astute collector will know it is already a challenge to get hold of remaining stock), while the Hibiki has been accorded longer shelf time, with sales slated to cease in September.
This drought comes at a time where Japanese whisky, especially those from defunct distilleries like Karuizawa and Hanyu, is making bank internationally during auction season. Earlier this year, a Yamazaki 50 Year Old broke records at Sotheby’s Hong Kong when it fetched S$392,000, making it the priciest bottle of Japanese whisky ever sold.
At the announcement of the discontinuation, a Suntory representative also cited the current domestic popularity of the highball as a reason for the whisky shortage, telling the Japan Times that the market for those single malts was “beyond what we could have expected”.
There are currently no reports as to when (or if) Suntory plans to revive the Hakushu 12 and Hibiki 17, but it is not all a lost cause. Japan’s nine functioning distilleries have plenty else to offer an uisgeophile. Before the shortage turns into a full-on scarcity, we’ve rounded up some of the Japanese whiskies you ought to collect.