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Dram from Japan: Why are Japanese whiskies so popular?

Jasmine Alimin
Jasmine Alimin • 7 min read
Dram from Japan: Why are Japanese whiskies so popular?
Master blender Joe Tanaka: "While most other Japanese distilleries followed the whisky production methods of Scotland, our company adopted techniques and methodologies from around the world."
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When I had my first dram of 12-year-old Hibiki ten years ago, I was struck by its smoothness on the tongue and fullness of fruit with just the right amount of oak. It was easy, elegant, and didn’t take itself too seriously — but in the best way possible. That was the moment I found my whisky.

“Japanese whiskies are always refined, balanced and aromatic, which makes the liquid easy to appreciate while matching the flavour nuances that people love and know about Japanese cuisine,” says Asiaeuro Wine & Spirits CEO Jonathan Chow on its growing appeal.

“The Japanese are known to be masters of their craft. Many large whisky brands have facilities capable of producing their liquid in-house, and are therefore able to control and maintain high-quality standards,” he adds. “Presentation is also another factor. Japanese bottles are beautifully crafted to look gift-ready — largely influenced by the Japanese gifting culture.”

Banking on the popularity of Japanese whiskies, the specialised importer and distributor of Asian and European spirits recently added Fuji to its growing portfolio of craft whiskies. Launched globally in 2020, Fuji is a premium whisky label under the Kirin group.

“Japanese whiskies are in high demand globally due to their smooth, fruity, balanced flavours and limited production. The Kirin company makes exceptional Fuji whiskies that are delicate and layered with beautiful complexity. We are deeply honoured to be Kirin’s chosen distribution partner to finally introduce Fuji whiskies to consumers in Singapore in 2023,” says Chow.

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Mixing methodologies

The main reason for the smooth taste profile of Fuji whiskies is the water used in the distillation process, made entirely from pure Mount Fuji water. The result is a floral, aromatic, sensationally delicate whisky with a distinctive and agreeable taste.

Fuji is produced entirely on-site at the Fuji Gotemba Distillery in Shizuoka, located at the foot of Mount Fuji, 610 metres above sea level, where the facility enjoys an average temperature of 13°C and misty humidity that provides an ideal climate for whisky ageing.

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Capitalising on the abundance of undisturbed nature, the distillery uses the mountain’s snowmelt and rain as its source of spring water, which has been naturally filtered underground for about 50 years and has accumulated directly just 100 metres beneath the distillery. This results in high-quality water with a clean minerality that defines the clear profile of whiskies from the distillery.

In 1972, Fuji Gotemba Distillery was established by Kirin-Seagram (now known as Kirin Brewery Co) to develop the ideal whisky that caters to the refined Japanese palate. Since operations began in 1973, the company has had a vision to become a singular facility responsible for producing whiskies that honour the terroir of Mount Fuji.

Master blender Jota Tanaka explains the history behind the whisky’s unique makeup: “While most other Japanese distilleries followed the whisky production methods of Scotland, our company adopted techniques and methodologies from around the world. This is because the distillery was a partnership between Kirin Brewery Co, Joseph E Seagram and Sons, and Chivas Brothers. This allowed us to procure equipment for malt and grain variants, and scrutinise methods, technologies and flavours across Scotland, the US and Canada.”

Kirin eventually devised its original brewing techniques to cater to their particular and exacting standards. Fusing this know-how with Japanese sensibility, the company has released products marked by a distinctively clean and estery taste that gave it its unique Japanese style and cemented Kirin as one of Japan’s leading whisky producers.

A rare distillery

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Over the past five decades, Kirin’s distillery has earned its reputation as a rare distillery for in-house productions of both malt and grain whiskies. Equipped with pot stills, “continuous” stills, “beer column and double” stills, and “kettle and column” stills, the facility produces malt whisky and three-grain whiskies in three key categories: heavy for the rich, floral and fruity Bourbon styles adapted from the US; medium-based on the Canadian characteristics of mellow and silky; and light for the renowned crisp and delicateness of Scottish types.

Priding themselves on achieving the perfect harmony, every component crucial in whisky-making is done in-house. From selecting yeast for fermentation, distillation using different equipment, gentle yet efficient ageing in 180-litre oak barrels, and blending ratios to bottling, every step is carefully observed to ensure a naturally inclined complexity that shines when sipped on its own.

Initially released domestically, Fuji eventually successfully expanded exports to France, the US and Australia. Amid the ever-growing appreciation of Japanese whiskies in Asia, Singapore was chosen as the fourth official market for the brand’s expansion. “We are very confident that on quality and provenance alone, we will win over discerning whisky lovers for whom price is secondary to quality,” assures Chow.

Fuji offers collectors two core products as quintessential expressions — Fuji Single Grain Whisky and Fuji Single Blended Japanese Whisky — and two limited editions — Fuji Single Grain Whisky aged 30 years and Fuji Single Blended Japanese Whisky 2022 Masterpiece. They are available for islandwide deliveries at

Chow’s personal favourite is the Fuji Single Grain Whisky. He explains: “At first glance, the understated packaging and bottle look very simple, but once you sip the whisky, the explosion of aromas and complex flavours makes even the most jaded drinker go wow! I love this contrast between appearance and actual taste, and I love letting people try and then see their nonchalant look turn from cynicism into delight.”

Spirit of Fuji

Fuji Single Grain Whiskey, S$168

Marked as the entry expression of Fuji, the Single Grain is a blend of three different grain whiskies to achieve a unique blend. It’s described as delicately fruity, complex yet mellow; the liquid presents scents of white grapes and orange peel on the nose, with a soft palate of honey, bitter chocolate and orange marmalade after each sip. Matured wholly in American white oak barrels, the finish holds a lingering woodiness with a sweet complexity reminiscent of Canadian-styled grain whisky. It has earned consecutive Gold Medals at the International Spirits Challenge from 2020 to 2022.

Fuji Single Blended Japanese Whisky, S$158

This is the first Single Blended variant to be approved in Japan. Primarily blended with a larger ratio of medium and light grains, its interplay of variants offers a multi-layered profile recalling peach, apricot, and orange liquor aromas. With a silky mouthfeel, drinkers will uncover vivid notes of fruit tart and white flower honey for a well-balanced nuance of fruity and floral, while a sweet and rich afterglow paves a luscious finish.

Fuji Single Grain Whiskey 30 Years Old, S$4,800

The distillery’s oldest expression yet, the 30-year-old Single Grain flaunts seductive deep mahogany derived from multiple Canadian styles of maturates. The liquid immediately arouses sweet temptations of ripe and dried fruits that open to dark chocolate, black honey-laced aroma. It launched to critical acclaim, earning the World's Best Grain Whisky (World Whisky Award, 2020) and a Trophy – the highest honour possible – at the International Spirits Challenge, 2020. Only 120 bottles have been allocated to the Singaporean market.

Fuji Single Blended Japanese Whisky 2022 Masterpiece, S$2,000

Leveraging Kirin’s capabilities in producing malt and grain whiskies, each Single Blended holds a secret culmination of 30-year-old whiskies and various whiskies aged in red wine and ex-beer barrels. Precisely blended by Master Blender Jota Tanaka - Master Blender of the Year (Icons of Whisky, 2017) and Whisky Hall of Fame Inductee (2022) - the maple-coloured liquid captivates with an inviting aroma of crème brûlée, yellow peaches and incense wood. Remaining consistent, notes of spicy rye, ripened cherry and faint lychee form a long, pleasant conclusion with moderately woody and ripe fruit notes. Only 240 bottles are available in Singapore.

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