Japan to Implement Stricter Regulations for Japanese Whisky

After the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association raised concerns over the proliferation of misleading labeling practices, and with the aim of preventing foreign-made spirits from being erroneously marketed as Japanese, Japan's alcohol industry will introduce a new set of definitions for Japanese Whisky starting in April, Nikkei Asia reported.

In comparison to Scotch whisky, Canadian whisky, American whiskey, and Irish whiskey, Japanese whisky has lacked so far clear definitions regarding its country of origin, production and aging periods, and alcohol content. Some brands sold internationally do not meet the legal requirements to be classified as whisky under Japanese liquor laws.

Three years ago, the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association, which counts approximately 90 members, established labeling standards to address customer confusion caused by foreign whiskey being marketed as Japanese. These standards, though voluntary and not strongly enforced, began to transition into effect in April 2021 and will be fully implemented starting next month.

Clear criteria will be established concerning indigenous ingredients, production methods, and other factors. Japanese whisky must exclusively utilize malted grains and water sourced from Japan in accordance with these standards. Additionally, production, aging, and bottling must all occur within Japan. Following distillery production, the whisky must mature in Japan for a minimum of three years before being bottled at a minimum strength of 40% alcohol. Products that fail to meet these criteria will be prohibited from being labeled as Japanese whisky.

Given the widespread issue of misleading labeling, restrictions will also be imposed on the use of Japanese names, locations, and historical eras. Furthermore, the use of the Japanese flag in branding will be limited.

Despite experiencing a downturn in 2023, the export value of Japanese whisky has maintained a steady upward trend, surpassing JPY 56 billion (USD 369.8 million) in 2022.

Masaki Morimoto, managing executive officer and head of Spirits Company at Suntory, emphasized the importance of these standards, stating, "Scotch and other whiskies overseas are subject to strict regulation, which plays a significant role in determining their value. As interest in Japanese whisky grows abroad, we aim to establish Japanese whisky as a permanent category rather than just a passing trend."

Japanese whisky has earned global recognition, with one notable achievement being the World's Best Blended Malt award secured at the World Whiskies Awards 2023. Furthermore, there have been successive victories at the same awards between 2016 and 2020 for Japanese whisky products.

Despite a decline in 2023, the export value of Japanese whisky has shown a consistent upward trajectory, surpassing 56 billion yen ($369.8 million) in 2022.

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