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How (not) to Drink the World’s Best Whisky

on 06/12/14 at 8:55 am

Yes, ice is ok

Yes, ice is ok

The first thing you notice is the smell: rich, deep, and mysterious. And somehow, both fresh and musty at the same time. It’s a scent that immediately piques your curiosity.

CNN’s On the Road Japan team visited Japan’s oldest whisky distillery just outside Kyoto to learn more about a spirit that’s just been named the best in the world.

Just a few weeks ago, the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, made by beverage giant Suntory, took home top honors in Jim Murray’s “Whisky Bible”. The whisky guru referred to it as “near indescribable genius.” Scotch didn’t even make the top three.

While Japanese whisky has been taking home awards for over a decade, this was a first. And standing in the cellar piled high with oak casks, some American, some Spanish, and some Japanese, you get the sense that its rise around the globe has only just begun.

Don’t call it Scotch

Suntory’s Chief Blender Shinji Fukuyo is responsible for every bottle of whisky — don’t call it Scotch, he says — that leaves the 90-year-old distillery.

While the Scotland-trained Fukuyo is modest about taking home the top title, he is clearly proud of what Japanese whisky has achieved. The secret, he says, is not boldness, but balance.

Perhaps it’s the purity of the water, which Fukuyo says makes a gentle spirit. Or maybe it’s because the whisky is exposed to Japan’s dry, cold winters and hot, humid summers as it matures inside those casks. Or maybe it’s about the blending.

“The Scotch industry has more than 100 distilleries there, so blenders can choose from each distillery,” Fukuyo points out. “But we have only two malt distilleries, one grain distillery. That’s why we have to make different types of whisky even in one distillery. It’s our challenge.”

Creating a perfect blend

Suntory’s master blender won’t show us the secret behind his craft, but when we ask him how he maintains the quality he gives us a glimpse into the science.

READ MORE via CNN Travel