Japanese Whisky Manufacturers Strive to Continue Drink’s Popularity

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Suntory Spirits Ltd. President Nobuhiro Torii, center, poses for photos at a press conference on Wednesday in Tokyo.

Japanese whiskey manufacturers are tackling the drink’s shortage while endeavoring to continue its popularity.

Suntory Spirits Ltd. announced Wednesday that it will launch a canned highball made from its high-end Hakushu whisky at an affordable price in June, while Asahi Breweries Ltd. and Kirin Brewery Co. have increased their whisky production.

According to Suntory Spirits, the new product, a 350-milliliter can of Suntory Premium Highball Hakushu, will be put on the market nationwide in limited quantities on June 6. Its alcohol content is set at 9% so that the drink can also be enjoyed with ice. The suggested retail price without tax is ¥600. The company plans to release a canned highball of its Yamazaki brand as well for the same price this autumn.

“There are customers who haven’t tried whisky yet. If they have an opportunity to drink and like it, there may be more demand,” Suntory Spirits President Nobuhiro Torii said at a press conference on Wednesday.

This year, Suntory marks the 100th anniversary of its whisky production that started at its Yamazaki Distillery in Shimamoto, Osaka Prefecture.

Suntory will spend ¥10 billion to renovate the distillery and its Hakushu Distillery in Hokuto, Yamanashi Prefecture, by the end of 2024.

The Japanese whisky market was once in a slump after its peak in 1983. It has been recovering in part thanks to Suntory’s full-scale efforts that started in 2008 to promote highball, made by mixing whisky with carbonated water. As a result, whisky began to be accepted by the younger generation as a drink to have with meals.

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Japanese whisky has been highly acclaimed at international fairs, receiving many inquiries and orders from overseas.

Unfortunately, its production has not been able to keep up with the increasing demand. Some products have been in short supply in recent years, leaving consumers finding them hard to obtain.

In the 2010s, Suntory increased the number of pot stills for making whisky as well as warehouses where whisky is stored and matured in casks.

Asahi Breweries, which produces whisky under brands such as Taketsuru, also increased its production capacity by building more warehouses from 2019 to 2021. Kirin Brewery started exporting its Fuji brand whisky to countries including Australia and China in 2022 to take advantage of overseas demand.