In the 28th and second episode of season two of the Japan Distilled podcast, your hosts Christopher Pellegrini and Stephen Lyman dive into the huge increase in new Japanese whisky making licenses that have been issued in the past 5 years as well as who may be behind some of these new ventures.
Mixing and Editing: Rich Pav (https://www.uncannyjapan.com/)
CHRISTOPHER PELLEGRINI Vermont born and bred, long-time Tokyo resident and author of The Shochu Handbook, Christopher learned about delicious fermentations as a beer brewer at Otter Creek (Middlebury, VT). He now spends most of his waking hours convincing strangers that shochu and awamori are unlike anything they’ve ever tried before.
STEPHEN LYMAN discovered Japan’s indigenous spirits at an izakaya in New York City. He was so enthralled that he now lives in Japan and works in a tiny craft shochu distillery every autumn. His first book, The Complete Guide to Japanese Drinks, was nominated for a 2020 James Beard Award.
Stephen and Christopher like new Japanese whisky as much as anyone else, but at this point we are drinking Scotch at home. These prices are insane!
If you have any comments or questions about malt vs. koji, please reach out to Stephen or Christopher via Twitter. We would love to hear from you.
Japanese Whisky Distilleries by Year of Operation
Akashi White Oak (1919) – arguably Japan’s first whisky distillery in Hyogo Prefecture, but sometimes whisky makers.
Suntory Yamazaki (1929) – designed by Masataka Taketsuru, situated strategically on the border between Osaka and Kyoto and an easy trip to Tokyo.
Nikka Yoichi (1934) – Masakata Taketsuru’s dream realized in the idyllic village of Yoichi on the northwest coast of Hokkaido.
Sasanokawa Asaka (1945) – sake makers in Fukushima Prefecture received their whisky license in 1945, but did not begin distilling malt until 2015. Up until then they were content making low grade whisky or bottling imported Scotch.
Wakatsuru Saburomaru (1952) – based in Toyama prefecture, releasing whisky sporadically since 1959, they make it in a French allospas still. Still releasing only dribs and drabs occasionally.
Sanraku Karuizawa (1956) – owned by Mercian, shuttered in 2000. Acquired by Kirin in 2006, demolished 2016.
Nikka Miyagikyo (1969) – situated in Miyagaki Prefecture, making both malt and grain whisky for Nikka’s blends.
Suntory Hakushu (1973) – the highest altitude malt whisky distillery in the world in the Japanese Alps of Nagano Prefecture.
Kirin Fuji Gotemba (1973) – situated at the foot of Mt. Fuji, a collaboration between Kirin, Seagrams, and Chivas (now wholly owned and operated by Kirin).
Suntory Chita (1973) – grain distillery.
Hanyu (1980) – malt whisky distillery shuttered in 2000. Sales of old casks led to opening Chichibu in 2008.
Mars Shinshu (1985) – Nagano distillery acquired when Hombo Distillery from Kagoshima decided to get into the wine business. Shuttered from 1969 to 1985 and shuttered again from 1992 to 2011. Now making the popular Komagatake brand.
Chichibu (2008) Distillery opened by Ichiro Atsuko in Saitama. Now making some of the most sought after craft malt whiskies in Japan.
Miyashita Okayama (2011) longtime sake and shochu maker released their first single malts in 2015. Still limited availability.
Kiuchi Nukada (2016) best known for Hitachino Next beer, Kiuchi’s first whisky release was in a canned highball! Opened the Yasato Distillery in 2020. Good things sure to come.
Kenten Akkeshi (2016) Hokkaido’s second distillery after the fabled Yoichi, Akkeshi is focusing on heavily peated styles. Recently released their first bottlings.
Gaia Flow Shizuoka (2016) The CEO of the Gaia Flow energy company vacationed in Scotland and after decided to move to whisky making. Shizuoka acquired some of the old Karuizawa equipment and released their first malt whiskies in 2021.
Mars Tsunuki (2017) Hombo Distillery decided to expand in their traditional home in Kagoshima Prefecture where the hot, humid climate should make for some very good younger malt whisky. They also have an aging warehouse on Yakushima Island even further south.
Kanosuke (2018) Shochu maker Komasa Distillery got into the whisky making game earlier than some of their competitors. Their long running barrel maintenance program for their Mellowed Kozuru brand made them natural first movers. The early releases have been extremely well received.
New Japanese Whisky Coming Soon
We’ll stop here and just state that since 2018, 54 new Japanese whisky making licenses have been issued. There is going to be a huge amount of new Japanese whisky coming in the future. Some of the highlights are:
Kuroki Honten, makers of the most famous barrel aged barley shochu, Hyakunen Kodoku, has opened a whisky distillery in Miyazaki Prefecture.
Nishi Distillery, makers of the well known Hozan shochu line and the barrel aged shochu, Tenshi no Yuwaku, have opened in Kagoshima.
The Shinozaki Distillery, makers of the koji-fermented whisky, Takamine, have opened the Shindo Distillery in Fukuoka to make their own malt whisky.
And, of course, as we led off the episode, the New Karuizawa Distillery is coming back (kind of) with none other than Mitsubishi getting into the whisky making business.
It’s going to take a lot more effort to keep track of everything going forward, that’s for sure!