The Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association has announced a new set of regulations aimed at curbing the spread of products labelled as ‘Japanese whisky’ that are sometimes nothing of the sort.

Where the Scots have some of the strictest laws in the world about what is allowed to be called ‘Scotch whisky’, Japanese whisky makers haven’t had such regulations in place until now. The lack of regulation led to many companies cutting corners and pushing the boundaries on what actually constitutes as ‘whisky’ produced in Japan.

Some tricks include importing Scotch whisky and bottling that as ‘Japanese’, or even mixing imported Scotch with Shochu and calling that ‘Japanese whisky’.

Unlike in Scotland, the new regulations are not legally binding but will likely lead to significant change. Starting 1 April 2021, any brand wanting to release a product with the label ‘Japanese whisky/whiskey’ will have to meet the following criteria:

  • The only raw ingredients allowed for use in production are malted grains, other cereal grains, and water extracted in Japan. Malted grains must always be used.
  • Fermentation, distillation, and saccharification must take place in a distillery located in Japan, with the alcohol volume of the distillate not allowed above 95% in strength.
  • Wood casks with a maximum capacity of 700 litres must be used for the maturation of the distilled product and have to be matured in Japan for a minimum of three years.
  • Bottling has to take place in Japan, and the whisky has to have a minimum ABV of 40%
  • Plain caramel colouring is allowed to be added (this is a common practice in whisky around the world).

The regulations also come down hard on any brands that evoke Japanese imagery and names on their labels for a whisky product that doesn’t meet the above requirements.

The Whisky Exchange is the world’s largest online retailer of whisky, and it has announced that it will soon recategorize the products it sells as ‘Japanese whisky’.

For Japanese whisky fans and for many in the industry, the announcement is a welcome step to providing more transparency about what’s in the bottle.

For authentic Japanese whisky, shop at AE Club.