TAIPEI – Brewing and distillery giant Suntory Holdings Ltd. was among three Japanese businesses invited to promote their products one night in Taipei earlier this month at a party to celebrate Emperor Akihito’s birthday on Dec. 23.
The event was organized by the Interchange Association, Japan’s de facto diplomatic mission in Taiwan. However, those who attended hoping to sample Suntory’s current beverage of note, its single malt Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013, were disappointed.
Dubbed “World Whisky of the Year” by Jim Murray in his “Whisky Bible 2015,” Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 has attracted considerable interest among Taiwanese buyers.
Only 18,000 bottles of the limited edition tipple were made and just 96 were allocated to Taiwan, where they were distributed bottle by bottle to outlets around the island.
All were sold within a week, with buyers willing to pay six times the list price, making it easy to understand why Yamazaki Sherry Cask 2013 was unavailable for sampling at the Interchange Association on the night of the party.
Japan is the world’s largest producer of single-malt whisky, with its two main producers being Suntory and Nikka Whisky Distilling Co.
Exports of Japanese varieties were modest before 2000, but things took a dramatic turn in 2001, when they began to win top international awards. Since 2008, exports are up 86 percent.
Amid an overall spirits boom in Asia, Taiwan has been quick to praise Japanese whiskies, which have added variety in a market long dominated by scotch — the island is the largest export market for Scotch whisky in Asia and third-largest by value for single malt whisky worldwide, according to the Scotch Whisky Association.
Yet despite a modest market share in Taiwan, Suntory whiskies have seen rapid growth over the past four to five years, Satoshi Tateishi, a Suntory manager, said.
The popularity of Japan’s more expensive whiskies has a lot to do with what Tateishi described as their “round” taste.
“If Scotch whisky is a round ball with sharp edges, Suntory whisky is a round ball without the edges,” he said.
It is not that one is better than the other, but the Japanese kind “does not lose its balance” even when mixed with water or ice, he claimed.
Liang Taichi, who just published a book on Scotch whisky, said while she has great respect for Japanese whiskies, which “possess exquisite fineness,” her heart lies with Scottish whiskies, which she described as “having multiple personalities.”