Japanese whisky boom drives rice farmers to drink

Japan’s burgeoning whisky business is driving rice farmer Hiroshi Tsubouchi to hit the booze. 

With domestic rice consumption sliding, Mr Tsubouchi, 36, says he’s getting on the whisky bandwagon — or, at least, switching to the barley used to make it.

With Japanese whiskies ranking among the best — and most expensive — in the world, the profits of the local distillery industry are beginning to flow to the country’s farmers.

Mr Tsubouchi will reap his first crop next month, joining a dozen farmers in central Japan testing barley’s potential to bolster incomes and help feed the nation’s malt-hungry spirit-makers.

Japan is the world’s fourth-largest importer of the grain and second-biggest buyer of malt, the barley product that’s mashed and fermented to make whisky and beer.

Imports of whisky-making malt jumped 20% last year and have almost quadrupled over the past decade, spurred by demand for Japanese whiskies from San Francisco to Hong Kong.

“I never expected our Japanese whiskies to be so popular overseas,” said Ichiro Akuto, 50, whose single malts sell for as much as 100,000 yen (€810) a bottle.

His distillery, Venture Whisky Ltd, in Chichibu, is working with local farmers to establish a supply chain for a malting plant he built in 2013.


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