Inside The Suntory Yamazaki Whisky Distillery

The best whisky in the world is “near indescribable genius.” It scores 97.5 marks out of 100. It is also not Scottish.

By Elizabeth Barber

That’s according to Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2015, a highly regarded ranking of fine global whisky. Specifically, reports theTelegraph, the top title belongs to Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, from Japan’s oldest distillery, Suntory, founded in 1923.

What’s more, for the first time in the 12 years the Whisky Bible has been published, not a single Scottish whisky makes the bible’s top five. If that wasn’t bad enough for Scotland, which along with Ireland is the spiritual home of the drink, the best European whisky in the latest edition is English.

The Whisky Bible describes the winning Yamazaki whisky as “rich and fruity,” with a nose of “exquisite boldness” and finish of “light, teasing spice.” Just 18,000 bottles were made — it is sold out on the bible’s online shop, and it is available in just a few specialist shops in the U.K. for about $160.


American whiskies take second and third prize, including repeat second-place winner William Larue Weller, a Kentucky bourbon.

So what about auld Scotland? A Scottish whisky — the 19-year-old single malt Glenmorangie Ealanta — took the top spot just last year, also getting 97.5 marks.

But the book’s author, Jim Murray, writes that though hundreds of Scottish whiskies were among the more than 1,000 samples he tried from all around the world this year, they fell flat.

“Where were the complex whiskies in the prime of their lives?,” he wonders, calling this year’s rankings a “wake up call” for Scottish brands.

For sure, shock claims that make good headlines certainly won’t harm sales of Murray’s book. But beyond the marketing, Murray’s rankings are an uncomfortable reminder that even an industry as well-established as Scotland’s distillers can’t afford to rest on its laurels. The industry accounts for a quarter of the U.K.’s food and drink exports, and is a key employer in many areas of Scotland where good jobs are scarce.

Ron Taylor, an independent wine and spirit judge and educator, tells TIME it’s no surprise that a Japanese dram took first place in Murray’s list, since Japanese whiskies regularly win prestigious competitions, even in Scotland.

Still, Taylor also said that rankings often reflect the taster’s personal preferences. Indeed, Taylor describes Japanese single malts as like a Lexus —“beautifully crafted, no vibration, smooth, consistent and always pleasing” — while their Scottish counterparts are more akin to a Maserati.

“The Scottish whiskies, they’ll knock you around and slap you around the face a little bit,” says Taylor, who is from Scotland, but calls himself “a non partisan” drinker.

The Scotch Whisky Association, which represents the country’s 109 licensed distillers, refuses to panic, saying its “consistently high-quality products (are) enjoyed by millions of people in around 200 markets worldwide.”

(Additional reporting by Geoffrey Smith)

2 Responses

  1. Geoff

    It’s a pity for Mr Murray that he didn’t take notice of the World’s Best Whiskey judging in London in March.
    As follows;
    Source – London Times
    “Tasmanian distillery Sullivan’s Cove has been named the world’s best single malt whisky at the World Whiskies Award held on Thursday night in London.
    Sullivan’s Cove’s French Oak Cask variety was judged the global winner, as well as Australia’s best, from a high-quality pool of single malt entries. They included Scotland’s Bunnahabain, Aberfeldy, Glenkinchie and Glenlivet distilleries, as well as Japanese powerhouse Yamazaki”.
    “It’s the big one, there are a few big ones in the world such as the Jim Murray Whisky Bible and Liquid Gold awards, but the World Whiskies Award is it, that’s the one everybody wants”.
    The winning whisky was drawn from barrel number 525, and only 516 bottles were created and sent some time ago to retailers, making any examples still on shelves or in personal liquor cupboards rare and valuable.
    Sullivan’s Cove itself has only three bottles from batch 525 left, and will be holding onto them until it figures out what to do with them, Maguire said.
    “If there’s anybody out there able to run down to the bottle shop and find (Sullivan’s Cove) French Oak Cask from barrel 525, get it – quickly,” he advised.

  2. Katil

    The store is called “Bon Repas” and it is ballcaisy an import food/drinks store (wine, cheese, ham, a bit of whisky – including the most foul Japanese whisky you’ll ever come across). They had a decent selection of whiskies years ago, but ballcaisy, they stopped “updating” it. Friends of mine who live in Osaka told me that the selection is such now that when they go there (and these people are maltfreaks!) they usually leave the store with cheese and Belgian beer. In Japan, the reality is that most people usually buy whisky on the internet and have it delivered to their house (which is often free).