Japan Unveils New Labeling Standards for Japanese Whisky

Japanese Whisky

What’s been hotter than Japanese whisky these past years? But unfortunately, with the category’s rapid rise, regulations protecting the authenticity of the industry have not necessarily kept pace.

The Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association today announced new steps to combat these kinds of misleading labels. Addressing the need, the organization recently posted on its website (translated into English): “It is unfortunate . . . that in recent years there have been cases where brands that only use imported foreign whiskies being sold as ‘Japanese whisky’ and cases where brands that do not meet the qualification of ‘whisky’ under the Japanese liquor tax law being sold as ‘whisky’ in other countries, sowing confusion among consumers.”

Accordingly, the association now officially defines “Japanese whisky” or “Japanese whiskey” with the following guidelines:

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  • Ingredients: Raw ingredients must be limited to malted grains, other cereal grains, and water extracted in Japan. Malted grains must always be used.
  • Production: Saccharification, fermentation and distillation must be carried out at a distillery in Japan. Alcohol content at the time of distillation must be less than 95%.
  • Aging: The distilled product must be poured into wooden casks not exceeding a capacity of 700 liters and matured in Japan for a period of at least 3 years thereafter.
  • Bottling: Bottling must take place only in Japan, with alcoholic strength of at least 40% as of such time.
  • Other: Plain caramel coloring can be used.

Additionally, unless a whisky matches the above qualifications, producers cannot release expressions with labels that include names of people that evoke Japan; names of Japanese cities, regions, famous places, mountains and rivers; the Japanese flag; or a Japanese era name or anything else that might inaccurately indicate that the product satisfies the above guidelines.

“We fully support the implementation of these new standards of identity for Japanese whisky,” says a spokesperson for Beam Suntory, the category’s leading producer. “We believe that these standards will help to further distinguish the Japanese whisky category. As category pioneer and largest producer of Japanese whisky, we are proud that every Japanese whisky product we export from Japan already meets the new standards, and we look forward to continuing to craft our award-winning Japanese Whiskies for the world’s enjoyment.”

These new labeling standards will be administered by the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association. Any uncertainty in the interpretation of the standards, or use of specific terms, will be deliberated by a committee entrusted by its board of directors, according to the association’s website.

The new rules go into effect April 1, 2021.

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