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Japan beats Scotland to win world’s best whiskey title

Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013. (AFP/Getty Images)
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“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.” – Raymond Chandler

Few things are as Scottish as whiskey. But a leading whiskey critic may have just dealt a major blow to Scotland’s identity.

From the cover of “Whiskey Bible 2015,” whiskey connoisseur Jim Murray gazes over a snifter with a smile playing on his lips and a fedora shading one eye.

In his annual guide to more than 4,500 whiskeys released Monday, he ranked a Japanese single malt as No. 1.

Murray awarded “World Whiskey of the Year” to the Yamazaki Single Malt Sherry Cask 2013, giving it a score of 97.5 out of 100. He described it as a drink of “near incredible genius” with a taste “thick, dry, as rounded as a snooker ball.” In the book, Murray touts its “nose of exquisite boldness and finish of ‘light, teasing spice.’”

Aging the whiskey in sherry casks “provides a strong, rich character … and a delicate sweetness,” Keita Minari, Europe brand manager for Yamazaki’s parent company, told the Independent. The single malt sells for about $160 a bottle in the United States.

Yamazaki, the maker of the winning whiskey, is Japan’s oldest distillery, founded in 1923. The company is now owned by Suntory, the world’s third-largest distiller that bought Jim Beam for $13.6 billion earlier this year.

For the first time since the “Whiskey Bible” was first published in 2003, not a single top-five whiskey came from Scotland. Murray called it a “wake-up call” for Scottish distilleries, according to the Independent. Ouch.

“Where were the complex whiskies in the prime of their lives?” Murray wondered. Here, it’s only fair to point out Suntory also owns several Scottish whiskey brands, including Laphroaig, Bowmore and Teacher’s.

Ron Taylor, a Scottish spirit judge who claims to be a “nonpartisan” drinker, told Time it’s no surprise a Japanese whiskey won. Japanese distillers regularly win whiskey competitions, even in Scotland. He compared Japanese single malts to a Lexus: “beautifully crafted, no vibration, smooth, consistent and always pleasant.” Scottish whiskeys, on the other hand, are more like a Maserati: “They’ll knock you around and slap you around the face a little bit.”

Three American bourbons took second, third and fourth places — William Larue Weller, Sazerac Rye 18 Year Old and Four Roses.

Rubbing alcohol in the wound of those who recently voted for Scottish independence and lost, Murray, an Englishman, gave the top prize for European whiskeys to English Whisky Company’s Chapter 14 Not Peated.

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