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Japanese Whiskeys, Translated From the Scottish

on 05/10/12 at 12:10 pm


ONE of the most expensive cocktails in New York can be found at Ryu, the Japanese-inspired restaurant that opened last spring in the meatpacking district. It’s a Sazerac variation called Shogun’s Grip and it’s ticketed like a four-star entree: $35. Adam Schuman, then the beverage director, had a good excuse for the stiff tariff. Its base is 18-year-old Yamazaki, the Japanese single malt made by Suntory that can cost $140 a bottle.

The Shogun’s Grip’s price means Ryu doesn’t sell more than one or two a night. But it doesn’t keep bottles of the Yamazaki from disappearing off liquor-store shelves. Quite the contrary.

After decades as an also-ran in the American whiskey market, Japanese whiskey is on the ascent. Last year, Suntory’s sales in the United States rose 44 percent, according to the company, which found it difficult to keep up with demand. So it increased prices of the Yamazaki 12- and 18-year-olds by 10 percent last year and this year. “We like the consumer to recognize Japanese whiskey as very high end,” said Yoshihiro Morita, Suntory’s executive manager for American sales and marketing.

Japanese whiskey has been produced commercially since the 1920s, when the Yamazaki distillery was built. Compared with Scotch, Irish whiskey and bourbon, it is still the new kid on the block.