Introducing the Japanese New Kids on the Block

Introducing the Japanese New Kids on the Block

It seems like everyone has only just discovered Japanese Whisky, and they’ve gone wild for it. The huge jump in interest has meant that brands like Hibiki and Hakushu, from Suntory, have had to discontinue some of their age statemented drams. With this increase in interest has come a new generation of Japanese distillers.

They are challenging the monopoly that brands like Suntory and Nikka have had on on the market for decades.

Who are they?

New distillers have been popping up for a few years now, with many being ready to release their malt. Let us introduce you the Japanese new kids on the block.

Akkeshi Distillery

Akkeshi started construction on their distillery in 2015 and have just released their first bottlings of young malt in 2018.

They have the perfect location to make Whisky, based on the coast at Hokkaido, beside peat filled boglands. Here they can create a malt similar to that of Islay. The distillery is very focussed on providence, hoping to eventually create a dram that is solely produced in Akkeshi.

Both of their young malt releases, Foundations 1 and Foundations 2, have been made using peated malt and matured in ex-Bourbon barrels.

They are on the cusp of releasing their malt, and with the excitement that has surrounded their young malt, it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

Nagahama Distillery

Nagahama is another distillery that opened in 2016 and has only released new make Spirit so far. They have big things on their minds, despite being the smallest distillery in Japan, at one 26 metres squared.

Like Akkeshi, they have also released some peated young malts. A lot of the focus, both at Akkeshi and Nagahama is to achieve balance, something that pervades a lot of thinking for Japanese distillers. The aim of achieving harmony with their malt is a big part of distilling in the country.

More on the way

There are plenty more Japanese distilleries planned, with Kanosuke Distillery and Sakurao Distillery planned for opening this year.

Kanosuke Distillery

It is based in Kagoshima Prefecture and is owned by Komasa Jyozo Co., who are famous for their Shochu. They have been distilling Shochu since 1883, so they know a thing or two about the art.

They have two spirit stills, one that creates a heavier malt and another that produces a lighter bodied spirt. The variation that the two stills give them means their malt will need to be well blended to strike that perfect harmony Japanese distillers seek.

The distillery plans on using Bourbon, Sherry and Shochu casks to mature their malt. This last option is really exciting, and has never been done before (that we know of), so the final product will be in high demand. The main flavour profile of this malt is expected to be fruity and light.

Sakurao Distillery

This distillery in Hiroshima Prefecture has already released Gin and will eventually bring out the first Whisky to be distilled in Hiroshima. They are going against the grain of many modern distilleries by not bringing out new make spirit first.

Taihei Yamamoto, Master Distiller at Sakurao, plans to create a malt with notes of Bourbon sweetness and vanilla, as this is his favourite Whiky flavours. He also plans to be innovative, using mizunara (Japanes oak) as well as lemonwood and and cherry wood.

The rise of these new distilleries is certainly a challenge for Nikka and Suntory. Although these two have not been the sole creators of Japanese Whisky, places like Chichibu have been present for years, these new distilleries will certainly take some of their market share.

Japanese Whisky as a whole has long been giving Scotch a run for its money, so these are definitely distilleries to watch out for. We certainly recommend you get a sample of their new make spirit from somewhere, you might just be trying your new favourite malt.

Cover image: Akkeshi Distillery

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