Japan introduces labeling standards for Japanese Whisky

If it says Japan Whisky, it has to be only from Japan


For some time now there have been discussions in the whisky scene about how much of the Japanese whisky on the market is actually produced in Japan. When blending their whiskies, not all Japanese producers only use whisky from their own country. So far there have been no clear regulations and not all Japanese whisky blenders provide transparent information.

The Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association has now confirmed on criteria a whisky must follow in order to meet the requirement for labeling it Japanese Whisky.

The "Standards for Labeling Japanese Whisky" are binding from April 1, 2021 for members of the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association. These are not all Japanese whisky producers, but there are most of them and the important ones among them such as Asahi, Suntory or Kirin (the full list of members can be found here at the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association). A transition period applies until March 31, 2024.

What exactly do the new rules demand?

When setting the standards for Japanese whisky, the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association leans on internationally common definitions. In future, a whisky that is labeled Japanese Whisky must follow these standards:

  • Malted grain must be used for production, and other grains can also be added.
  • The water used must come from Japan.
  • The production process from saccharification to fermentation and distillation must take place at a Japanese distillery.
  • Alcohol content reached during distillation must be less than 95%.
  • The maturation in wooden casks with a maximum volume of 700 liters is to be done in Japan.
  • Maturation time must at least be three years.
  • When bottled, the alcohol content of Japanese Whiskey must be at least 40% vol.
  • Caramel colouring (E150) is allowed.

The complete Standards For Labeling Japanese Whisky can be found as a pdf in English translation here on the homepage of the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association.

Do not mislead the consumer

If a whisky does not meet these standards, it can be called whisky, but may by its name (e.g. the use of a Japanese region, a river or a city in the whisky name), the Japanese flag or another motif on the label, do not mislead consumers to think this is a regulated Japanese Whisky.

It will be exciting to see which Japanese whisky producers will change the composition of their whiskys during the next three years and whether some will prefer to dispense with the attribute “Japanese” on the label. In any case, it is a clear step towards greater transparency for the consumer.