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Global whiskey boom has Japanese distillery working day and night

Japanese distillers have been both a beneficiary and victim of the worldwide thirst for whiskey, with the market ...more
Japanese distillers have been both a beneficiary and victim of the worldwide thirst for whiskey, with the market projected to grow 19% to $147.6 billion in the five years through 2023, according to Euromonitor International.
Gerald Herbert, AP
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For the first time in two decades, employees at Japanese distiller Nikka Whisky will be working day and night shifts to meet global demand for made-in-Japan whiskey.

Even so, the best fruits of their labor probably won’t be on the market for at least another decade, given the time it takes to age the finest vintages.

Japanese distillers have been both a beneficiary and victim of the worldwide thirst for whiskey, with the market projected to grow 19% to $147.6 billion in the five years through 2023, according to Euromonitor International. The island nation has been steadily gaining a reputation for quality whiskies, but because of long aging times, the boom has caught distillers unawares and unable to meet demand.

Now Nikka, owned by Japan’s largest brewer Asahi Group Holdings Ltd., is rushing to expand production. The distillery has halted sales of some of its top brands, which include Taketsuru, Yoichi and Miyagikyo. Nikka is boosting output 20%, investing $606 million over the next two years to build new infrastructure and doubling shifts. Nikka is Japan’s second-largest whiskey distiller, after Suntory.

“We’re not shipping enough,” said Asahi spokesman Masato Ishihara. “The market will grow as the reputation of Japanese whiskey spreads domestically and overseas.”

Total demand for Japanese whisky is projected to climb 7% annually through 2022, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. Fun fact: It’s whisky in Scotland and Japan, while elsewhere it’s spelled whiskey.

Domestic demand for Japanese whiskey peaked in 1983, according to the National Tax Agency. That slowed as customers’ tastes changed, also causing some distillers to cut production. But in the past decade, the spirit has gained fans as the highball a mix of whiskey and soda became widespread in Japan.

“Whiskey’s popularity will continue,” said Hiroshi Ito, executive director of the Japan Spirits and Liquor Makers Association.

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