As many of you probably know, the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association recently announced new standards for labeling of Japanese whisky. This is a first and very welcome step towards outlawing fake Japanese whisky, but for now we’re far removed from such a world. There are still many Japanese whiskies available that do not conform to these standards (while not breaking any law, mind you). One such whisky is the Togouchi Pure Malt.
So, what’s the exact problem with the Japanese whisky rules? Well, there are none. Don’t let the good news from a few months ago fool you. The Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association is not a regulatory body. Their rules will be abided by their members only. Granted, these members include Nikka and Suntory, the two giants of the Japanese whisky industry. But they weren’t the biggest offenders to begin with.
Sure, the new standards are reason to celebrate and should be applauded. But it won’t stop companies that aren’t members of the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association to continue doing what they’ve always done. They’ll keep importing whisky from Scotland or Canada and will have no qualms labelling it as Japanese whisky.
As far as Togouchi goes, that’ll be interesting to see. As it stands now, the brand might require an overhaul from its owners Sakurao Brewery and Distillery. After all, as far as I can tell they ARE members of the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association and will have to adhere to the new rules. But, there’s plenty of loopholes and shortcuts they can use.
As is made clear in this excellent article on Nomunication, members are still allowed to use Japanese proper nouns on bottles that no longer qualify as Japanese whisky. Provided of course, that they “make it clear that the bottles do not qualify as Japanese whisky.” And the way in which they can disclose that information is not extremely transparent. Because it must be disclosed in one of the following three places:
The bottle (which would be the honest way to go about it).
On the company’s homepage (which most regular consumers will never bother to check).
In response to a customer inquiry (which would be a dishonest practice).
So, in theory Togouchi could stay the same. They wouldn’t even have to change their website. They’d just have to disclose that there is non-Japanese whisky in the Togouchi Pure Malt when somebody bothers to ask. So what seemed like a huge step in the right direction just a few months ago, might not even qualify as a baby step upon closer inspection. Such a shame…
Let’s have a dram of fake Japanese whisky, shall we?
Togouchi Pure Malt (40%, OB, 2021)
Nose: Very, very shy. Hints of vanilla and just a touch of smoke. But also a whisper of porridge, lemon peel and green bananas. Soft minerals. Taste: It’s been a while since I’ve tried a whisky as watery as this one. Gentle notes of smoke, some ash and a touch of barley water. Pinch of salt and pepper with a sprinkle of lemon zest. Finish: Milled barley. Short.
Unimpressive and inoffensive, this does nothing for the good name of Japanese whisky. Togouchi Pure Malt is drinkable but unlikely to convince anyone.