Japanese whisky has been tarnished by imposters: Dave Broom

Dave Broom's 2017 book, The Way Of Whisky
Dave Broom’s 2017 book, The Way Of Whisky

The continued absence of a legal definition for Japanese whisky has caused “irreparable damage” to the category, according to whisky expert Dave Broom.

Broom has been calling for regulation of Japanese whisky for some years, declaring it was “urgently needed” in his 2017 book, The Way Of Whisky.

“Because it hasn’t been sorted quick enough, it has just gotten worse and worse over the past couple of years,” he told the Drinks Adventures podcast.

“I’m getting retailers phoning me up and saying, ‘I’ve been approached by this person selling this Japanese whisky. Do you think it’s Japanese whisky?’

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“So, you know, even reputable retailers in the UK are kind of scratching their heads and going, ‘should we take this? Is this real or not?’.

“That’s not good. It’s not a good way to build a category.”

Importing bulk whisky
Broom said Japanese distillers have always imported bulk Scotch and Canadian whisky for use in their cheaper blends.

“That was fairly obvious. That’s why Japanese distillers bought Scottish distilleries,” he said.

“But it wasn’t controlled. It was still legally called ‘Japanese whisky’ even though it was a blend of Scotch or Canadian and Japanese.

“I think everybody kind of assumed that, with Japan being such a rule-obsessed country, the whisky industry was tightly governed,” he said.

“And then you take a look at it and you realise that there were no regulations.”

Genuine Japanese whisky maturing at Yamazaki Distillery
Genuine Japanese whisky maturing at Yamazaki Distillery – picture courtesy LP Commercial Photography

‘Chancers’ exploiting situation
He said the absence of legislation created a perfect storm when consumers worldwide developed an appetite for Japan’s premium expressions.

“You’ve got this growing demand for Japanese whisky around the world. You’ve got growing demand at home, and no legislation,” he said.

“So you have chancers importing Scotch, bottling it in Japan, slapping on the label ‘Japanese whisky’, and they can do that.

“Or they can blend it with no age neutral grain spirit and slap on a label saying it’s Japanese whisky.

“They can take some barley shochu or rice shochu, which has been aged, and call it rice whisky, which actually they can’t sell as whisky in Japan or the EU, but they can sell as whisky in America.

“It’s an absolute mess, and I think there’s real damage being done to the credibility of Japanese whisky as a whole as a result of it, which is sad, because Japanese whisky is amazing.

“It’s a shame to see it in the state it is in at the moment.”

Veteran whisky writer Dave Broom
Veteran whisky writer Dave Broom

Legal definition is coming
But Broom said industry insiders are confident regulations will be finalised within the next 18 months.

“It kind of depends on the wheels of the government, but they’re pretty close to agreeing what the definition is going to be,” he said.

“It’s fairly simple, you know: Japanese whiskies should be mashed, fermented, distilled and aged in Japan. That’s it!”

“I’m actually really positive about what’s going to happen, in terms of the quality of the whisky [in Japan] and the number of distilleries that are coming out.

“But this is the issue that has to be sorted. There’s a major PR campaign that’s needed to try and turn this around, because irreparable damage is being done to the reputation [of Japanese whisky], which is a real shame.”

This article is a just a short snippet from Drinks Adventures‘ 40-minute podcast interview with Dave Broom. You can listen in full here.

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Author: James Atkinson

Journalist specialising in the food, drink, travel and hospitality arenas. Australian International Beer Awards 2017 Media Award Winner and Certified Cicerone®.

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