Japanese whisky named world's finest; no Scotch in top ranking

Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky from Japanese distillery Suntory. The Sherry Cask 2013 version of this spirit has been named the world's best. -- PHOTO: SUNTORY
Yamazaki Single Malt Whisky from Japanese distillery Suntory. The Sherry Cask 2013 version of this spirit has been named the world's best. -- PHOTO: SUNTORY

LONDON (AFP) - A Japanese single malt whisky was named the world's best for the first time by a prestigious guide released Monday which failed to place a Scotch in its top ranking.

The Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013 was described as "thick, dry, as rounded as a snooker ball" by Jim Murray's Whisky Bible, which awarded it a record-equalling 97.5 points out of 100.

He praised the whisky as "near indescribable genius", with a "nose of exquisite boldness" and a finish of "light, teasing spice", The Telegraph newspaper in Britain quoted him as saying.

Three bourbons from the United States took second, third and fourth places - William Larue Weller, Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old and Four Roses.

The Telegraph said this year marks the first time in the book's 12-year history that a Japanese whisky has landed the title. Not a single Scotch managed made it to the final five shortlist.

Only 16,000 bottles of the winning whisky have been made. It is aged in Oloroso sherry butts for around 12 to 15 years, said The Telegraph.

Whisky has been made commercially in Japan since the 1920s after a Japanese student who studied in Glasgow, Masataka Taketsuru, moved home with his Scottish wife and helped start the Yamazaki distillery near Kyoto.

Yamazaki's maker, Japan's Suntory Holdings, bought the US maker of Jim Beam bourbon for nearly US$16 billion earlier this year.

Murray said in his editorial for the guide that it was time for Scotch whisky distilleries to stop resting on their laurels.

"Where were the complex whiskies in the prime of their lives? Where were the blends which offered bewildering layers of depth?" he wrote.

"It is time for a little dose of humility... to get back to basics. To realise that something is missing."