Quote:Japan shakes Scots pride with award-winning whisky
EDINBURGH, Scotland (Reuters Life!) - Japan is getting serious about whisky, winning awards in global competitions and shaking Scotland's pride in its national drink.
Japanese liquor maker Suntory's Hibiki was chosen as best blended whisky for the second straight year at the World Whiskies Awards, a competition hosted by Britain's Whisky Magazine in April.
Yoichi, another Japanese brand made by Nikka, was picked best single malt whisky at the competition where journalists, retailers, master blenders and distillers tasted 200 whiskies.
For some locals in Scotland, the birthplace of whisky and known for its prestigious brands, it was hard to swallow.
"Going by what the Scottish put into their whisky, I think it would be hard for Japanese whisky to be better," said 39-year-old Glaswegian John Jamieson. "I can't see them (Scots) raising a glass to it."
Those who have tried a glass of Japanese whisky, however, seem to like it.
While still a small presence in Europe, Japanese whiskies are benefiting from the recent boom in malt, instead of blended, whisky that puts single malt whiskies with rare and distinctive qualities - like Suntory's - in the spotlight.
Last year, Suntory sold about 48,000 bottles of another award-winning single malt whisky called Yamazaki, 20 times the amount it sold four years ago.
"When we tried to sell Japanese whisky in the western world 15 years ago, we were told it was nonsense," said Kiyoshi Morioka, Suntory's marketing director for Europe.
"Things have changed dramatically," he said, adding that European magazines and whisky fans were now eagerly seeking Japanese whiskies.
Japan has been making whisky for more than 80 years after a man who trained at a Scottish distillery applied what he learned to help Suntory build the nation's oldest distillery in the outskirts of Kyoto.
The Scottish whisky industry does not see Japan as a major threat for now, with exports of Scotch whisky up 14 percent last year on healthy growth in its biggest market, the United States.
But it is making sure it has the capacity to meet booming demand in emerging economies like China and India.
Scottish whisky makers last year announced a combined capital investment of more than 400 million pounds ($781.5 million), a level not seen in 30 years, to be spent on new distilleries and warehouses over the next three years, according to the Scottish Whisky Association.
"We're confident but not complacent about the prospects for Scotch whisky," said David Williamson, spokesman for the association.