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Suntory Embraces Labeling Rules For Exported Japanese Whisky

Suntory’s compliance to the new labeling rules for exported Japanese whisky is an important milestone for international representation. Image: Mark Littler Ltd

In 2021 The Japan Spirits And Liqueur Makers Association (JSLMA) announced a set of rules for spirits labeled “Japanese Whisky.” As the owner’s of Japan’s oldest distillery The House of Suntory, who are behind some of Japanese whiskies most recognisable brands, have confirmed that they will meet the voluntary labeling rules for Japanese whisky suggested by the JSLMA for its members .

What Is Japanese Whisky?

The new rules are designed to protect the reputation of Japanese whisky internationally by ensuring that international consumers are getting an authentic and reliable product. The 2021 rules had a 3 year implementation period, and now anything labeled as Japanese whisky that is destined for the export market must have been distilled, aged and bottled in Japan. The new rules bring the designation for Japanese whisky more in line with those seen in the USA, Scotland and other countries, and include limits on strength, a minimum maturation period and the use of colors.

Historically the rules around “whisky” distillation in Japan have been much less strict compared to other whisky distilling regions. The flexibility meant spirit distilled in Scotland could be imported and bottled as part of Japanese whisky. Types of spirit that the rest of the world might not expect to be called “whisky” had also been used historically, including a rice based spirit.

The flexibility had been an advantage to the budding industry as international demand for Japanese whisky soared in response to the successes of the 2010s and far outstripped the industry’s short term capacity to meet demand. While the domestic market understood the different designations and brands within what could previously be termed Japanese whisky, there was a fear that the international market did not have the same understanding. The growing international demand for new and vintage bottles that had made the flexibility so useful also meant the larger reputation of Japanese whisky needed to be protected so that consumers continue to buy and enjoy an authentic and reliable product.

To achieve the designation of Japanese Whisky, a brand must uphold the following:

  • Water: Water used in production must be extracted in Japan.
  • Production: Saccharification, fermentation, and distillation must be carried out at a distillery in Japan.
  • Distillation: Must be distilled to less than 95% ABV.
  • Aging: Spirits must be aged in wooden casks (no more than 700 liters) in Japan for a minimum of three years.
  • Packaging: Bottling must take place in Japan.
  • Strength: Bottled spirit must be at least 40% ABV.
  • Coloring: Plain caramel coloring (E150) can be used.
Hakushu Japanese Single Malt from House of Suntory will be included under the new designation guidelines.

Suntory Upholds The Voluntary Designation

The JSLMA guidelines were issued in 2021 with a 3 year transition period which allowed member brands and distilleries to adapt to the changes in the labeling rules for Japanese Whisky. While completely voluntary for its members, the introduction of the rules is an important first step in protecting the name and status of Japanese whisky. As one of the largest and most recognisable of the Japanese whisky houses, Suntory’s compliance to the new standards for the quality of exported products is an important milestone.

“The House of Suntory is proud to confirm that all exported Suntory Japanese Whisky products are 100% distilled, matured, and bottled in Japan and compliant with the new production and labeling standards,” explained the official press release.

Bottles of The Yamazaki Single Malt Japanese Whisky will be produced in compliance with the new rules. Image: Mark Littler Ltd

The brands which will comply on the international market are: The Yamazaki Single Malt Japanese Whisky, The Hakushu Single Malt Japanese Whisky, The Chita Single Grain Japanese Whisky, Hibiki Blended Japanese Whisky, Toki Blended Japanese Whisky and Suntory Whisky “Kakubin” Blended Japanese Whisky.

In addition three domestic brands will also adhere to the new rules: Suntory Old Blended Japanese Whisky, Suntory Royal Blended Japanese Whisky and Suntory Special Reserve Blended Japanese Whisky.

“As a pioneer and leading company dedicated to authenticity, we believe the designation will help uphold the integrity of and further vitalize the category. This is a milestone not just for Suntory, but for our entire industry, as well as being a great day for whisky lovers globally,” shared the President of The House of Suntory, Masaki Morimoto in the official press release. “Suntory is proud to be one of the producers for whom all of their officially exported whiskies available are 100% compliant. Tradition, quality, and innovation are at the heart of everything we do, and we are proud to continue showcasing these through artful distilling and blending.”

Beam Suntory

The House Of Suntory was founded by Shinjiro Torii who also built Yamazaki, which was Japan’s first malt whisky distillery. In 2023 Suntory celebrated a century of Japanese whisky with a series of limited edition whiskies. The Japanese company merged with Beam in 2014 to become the internationally renowned Beam Suntory who own and manage multiple distilleries in the USA, Japan and Scotland.

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