Earlier this year, I carefully selected four bottles to spotlight in a feature on Japanese whisky slated for our May 2021 issue. Within a month, I had begun to question every choice.\r\n\r\nThe liquid in the bottles hadn\u2019t changed. They were still delicious, relatively affordable and accessible, the main criteria for the list. I had vetted each to ensure they were from different regions and represented a variety of flavor profiles and production styles.\r\n\r\nYet, here\u2019s what had changed: the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association released new labeling standards for its association members mid-February, slated to go into effect April 1, 2021. As I began to peel back the layers of the new rules, I realized that two of the four bottles I had selected may no longer be labeled as Japanese whisky. This meant half of the bottles in the line-up were now at odds with the rest.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nPlease pause to insert your own colorful swear words here. I guarantee they will be no worse than what flew out of my mouth.\r\n\r\nThe first bottle impacted was Nikka Days, which I had selected for its bright honey and stone fruit flavors, mixability and gentle price point. It now qualifies as a \u201cblended whisky,\u201d rather than \u201cJapanese whisky,\u201d because it contains imported grain whisky in addition to those from Nikka\u2019s Yoichi and Miyagikyo distilleries.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThe second pick, a sherry cask-finished whiskey from Ohishi, was also out, because it\u2019s distilled from rice, not malted barley. Going in, I knew that spotlighting a rice whiskey was likely to ruffle feathers among purists. But I never imagined that some would clamor for the bottle to be relabeled as shochu rather than whisky.\r\n\r\nThough it was too late to change the bottles in our print edition\u2014the photos and layout were already finalized\u2014some last-minute wordsmithing allowed the text to reflect the new requirements, at least.\r\n\r\nCrisis averted, I suppose. However, I couldn\u2019t help but wonder, if it\u2019s this difficult for industry experts to unravel the new standards, how are consumers supposed to manage?\r\n\r\nTransparency has long been an issue for the spirits industry. The language that appears on labels is no accident; many of those curious phrases are the result of regulations instituted to knock down bad actors and false claims.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIn the late 1800s, Kentucky distillers were undercut by nefarious producers that used neutral spirits, like vodka, riddled with artificial flavors and additives to stretch the whiskey, ranging from glycerine and caramel coloring to wood chips and formaldehyde. Amid pressure from Kentucky distillers, the federal government instituted bottled-in-bond as a standard designation. The term remains on labels today.\r\n\r\nNew issues crop up all the time. The language on modern-day labels often obscures where or how products are made. Exactly how old is that aged rum? Was a whiskey actually distilled by the entity whose name is on the label, or just bottled there? How small is that \u201csmall batch\u201d gin, or how \u201climited\u201d is that \u201climited edition\u201d brandy? Vague words like \u201cultrapremium,\u201d \u201chandcrafted,\u201d or \u201cluxury\u201d provide little concrete information about the liquid.\r\n\r\nKnowing just how opaque and slippery wording on labels can be, I understand why Japan\u2019s whisky producers would seek to clarify what\u2019s in their bottles.\r\n\r\nDespite my personal fire drill over the labeling changes, I stand behind the bottles in our story. Some of them may no longer be technically defined as Japanese whiskies, but they\u2019re still influenced by that tradition. And more importantly, they\u2019re good.