Japanese whisky article archive
Increasing distillation capacity of craft distillery
Annual distillation capacity of craft whisky distillery in Japan will became 2,500,000L in 2022 although it was only 250,000L in 2015.
In addition, at least 10 stainless pot still whisky distilleries are operating today.
As we know, whisky needs more than 3 years aging therefore only 3 craft whisky distilleries were supplying to Europe in 2019 and their single malt available in Europe were only around 45,000 bottles.
Because those bottle must be made from whisky distilled before 2016.
However whisky distillation capacity started drastic increasing from 2016 and it will become more than 10 times of 2015 in 2022.
So that real Japanese whisky supply by craft distilleries will increase drastically to enough to drink soon.
Increasing distillation capacity of Suntory and Nikka
Suntory and Nikka increased production after 2011.
I estimated that Suntory increased 1,800,000 L/Y by followings
1) 4 additional pot stills in Yamazaki in 2013
2) 4 additional pot stills in Hakushu in 2014.
3) The new column still in Hakushu in 2015
*The capacity is less than 10% of giant column still in Chita distillery.
Nikka increased 1,650,000 L/Y by followings
4) Customizing coffey column stills in Miagikyo step by step
5) Increasing production shift in Yoichi in 2019.
Thanks of these investment, in 2021, Suntory could restarted Hakushu 12Y which was stopped in 2019 although Hibiki 17Y is still stopped.
Nikka also announced that they might restart aged statement bottles of Taketsuru, Yoichi and Miyagikyo around 2030.
Number of craft Japanese whisky distillery
I pick up the number of craft distillery excluding Suntory, Nikka & Kirin after 2008
Due to the long ice age from 1984, almost all craft Japanese whisky distilleries were closed including Ji-whisky big3s.
So that there were only 2 operating craft whisky distilleries, Eigashima & Saburomaru when Chichibu distillery started production in 2008. In that time, Karuizawa distillery was still remain although it had already stopped distillation in 2000.
But in 2011, Shinshu distillery was restarted. In same year, Miyashita Shuzo started whisky distillation by stainless pot still and installed hybrid pot still under the name of Okayama distillery in 2015.
In 2016, many new craft whisky distilleries were founded including Akkeshi, Shizuoka, Asaka, Nagahama and Tsunuki which many Japanese whisky fun know because they have already released whisky bottles.
Next year, Saburomaru distillery installed new developed molded pot still ZEMON, Helios Shuzo also restarted whisky distillation and 3 new whisky distilleries were founded.
From 2018 to 2021, 12 new whisky distilleries were founded and 3 more will started production in 2022.
So total number of craft Japanese whisky distillery became nearly 30 except for stainless pot still distillery in 2022.
Super Nikka for Rita
Super Nikka is the blended whisky developed by Masataka Taketsuru together with his son Takeshi Taketsuru in 1962 for his Scottish wife Rita who died in 1961.
She said that she would like to live together with him to support his big dream which means making real whisky in Japan when she accepted his propose. Her death made him deep disappointed.
After some time of despair, he cameback to make his best whisky in his life. He choose best malt whisky from all storage casks of Yoichi distillery. The glass bottle was handmade by the most famous Japanese crystal glass factory, Kagami crystal which is supplying glassware to Japanese imperial familiy. Therefor annual supply was only 1000 bottles.
It took revision change twice and current Super Nikka is made from malt whisky of both Yoichi distilelry and Miyagikyo distillery with coffey grain whisky.
Aging location type of Single malt Komagatake
Shinshu distillery founded by Honbo Shuzo in 1985 was stopped in 1992 but restarted in 2011.
It has been releasing Single malt Komagatake since 2014. Currently there are several variation bottles based on aging location because they have not only Shinshu distillery but also Tsunuki distillery & Yakushima aging cellar.
In 2019, 4 different aging location single malt Komagatake bottles were released. These are Shinshu aging, Tsunuki aging, Yakushima aing and combination of Shinshu aging and Yakushma aging.
Cherry whisky and Yamazakura whisky by Sasanokawa Shuzo
You can find Japanese whisky named as "Cherry whisky" by Sasanokawa Shuzo today.
In fact it doesn’t mean that any cherry fruit liquor or cask are related with their whisky but it came from their old company name.
Their name was Yamazakura Shuzo from 1932 to 1998. Yamazakura means mountain cherry in Japanese so that they named cherry whisky as thier whisky brand in 1946. They also launched Yamazakura whisky in 2000s.
We can see symbol of mountain and cherry flower in their logo mark today.
Currently these whisky are mainly made from import bulk whisky so that they don't use the name of Asaka distillery which they founded in 2016.
Nikka alternative plan for the shortage of sherry cask
Yamazaki distillery is planning to use Umeshu cask for whisky aging instead of Sherry cask which is serious lack supply in the world today. On the other hand, Nikka might use Apple brandy cask as backup plan.
Nikka was producing apple juice in the begining of Yoichi distillery. They merged Asahi cider including Hirosaki plant in 1969. Hirosaki is most famous apple production area in Japan and Hirosaki plant is specialized to apple liquors including apple brandy, apple cider and apple wine today.
Nikka is releasing apple brandy cask finish single malt in 2019.
Suntory alternative plan for the shortage of sherry cask
Yamazaki distillery started Japanese pram spirits (Umeshu) aged in whisky cask according to their long vision strategy. Because they are planning to use Umeshu cask for whisky aging instead of Sherry cask which is serious lack supply in the world today.
Currently they are offering 2 different type Umeshu and 1 blended of Umeshu and Grain whisky.
Soy source aged in Mizunara whisky cask
There were one news about gift from Japan for whisky lover in US. She sent Japanese whisky to her relatives in US every year but what she sent in this year was Soy source in fact. Bottle shape is similar with whisky bottle and it has description "Mizunara" and "Whisky" on the bottle lanel. In fact it is Soy source aged in Mizunara cask used for whisky aging before.
According to the book written bythier former employee in 2000s, Yamazaki distillery was producing soy source before 1934.
On the other hand, biggest soy source Japanese company Kikkoman was also producing whisky before 1964. They stopped whisky business but still maintain winery business with Manns wines brand which was started in 1962.
Nagahama distillery released 1st Single malt
Nagahama distillery which started distillation in 2016 released thier 1st single malt whisky altough they have released prototype whisky Amahagan series made from world malt whisky and their own distilled malt whisky.
Their 1st lot of single malt bottles has 3 different cask variations including Bourbon cask, Sherry cask and Mizunara cask. All 3 are single caks & cask strength. Each version are only 200-260 bottles per each.
Nikka Key Whisky Blended Recipe
Nikka has 4 key material whisky in Japan today. Yoichi malt, Miyagikyo malt, Coffey malt and Coffey grain. They use these 4 as key material whisky to make several blended whisky and pure malt whisky.
Date and From the barrel looks same but From the barrel uses marriage aging which means 2nd cask aging after blening malt whisky and grain whisky which have already aged in cask.
Tsuru and Nikka G&G
Nikka days is only in Europe and successor product of Nikka Blended.
Date is only in Miyagi prefecture where Miyagikyo distillery is located.
Why Shimenawa on pot stills in Nikka distileries
Pot stills in all Nikka whisky distillery (Yoichi and Miyagikyo) have Shimenawa which is barrier symbol strew rope of Japanese animizum Shinto.
But why do their pot stills have it?
At first, I need to mention to that Nikka founder Taketsuru's parents' family had the sake brewery as their family business. There are Taketsuru Shuzo (Sake brewery) in Hiroshima even today.
Sake breweries put Shimenawa in their brewing workshop because that they had belived that fermentation was done by God till micro scope arrival at Japan in 16th century.
Acocrding to this tradition, Taketsuru put Shimenawa on pot still for God bless to the good whisky instead of Sake.
Koji rice whisky and malt rice whisky
Actually there are 2 different type of rice whisky. Difference between them are enzyme for fermentation.
One is malt enzyme as same as other grain whisky, the other is koji enzyme as like Shochu/Awamori which traditional Japanese spirits.
Malt rice whisky is categorized as one kind of grain whisky in the world. On the other hand, Koji rice whisky is categorized as not whisky but other liquor in almost all countries because these countries' regulations require fermentation by malt enzyme. However US regulation doesn't limit to malt enzyme for fermentation so Koji rice whisky is categorized as grain whisky only in USA. In fact, Koji rice whisky is cask aged rice Shochu/Awamori altough Shochu/Awamori has to be clear according to Japan liquor tax law.
If the rice whisky is sold in Japan as whisky, it must be Malt rice whisky but if only in US, it must be Koji rice whisky which is cask aged rice Shochu/Awamori.
Mystery of Kawasaki coffey column still
Kawasaki distillery stopped distillation and coffey column still was moved to Yashiro in 1987.
Yashiro distillery was oroginally founded by Showa Shuzo (It became Sanraku Shuzo) for alcohol in 1939 and still operating as Japanese traditional spirtis Shochu production site of Mercian. Yashiro has 6 pot still (5 stainless/1 copper) and 1 super alospas column still today however no caffey column still.
Coffey column still is very classic type but it can remain material original flavor in whisky. There are less than 10 coffey column stills operating in the world today and Nikka has 2 of them and promoting not only whisky but also spirits distilled by those.
There are no info about whereabouts of Kawasaki distillery coffey column still after 1987. If it remainx in production today, it must be very highlighted.
Nikka coffey series bottle
Nikka has been Coffey series bottle and promoted Coffey column stills in Miyagikyo distillery as their sdvantage since 2012. There are 4 products distilled by Coffey column still in the world market today. It has nothing to do with Coffee.
They started supplying Coffey Grain in 2013 and Coffey Malt in 2014. Both bottles were stopped to be supplied between 2019 Mar and 2019 Nov due to too high demands and shortage of stock. In fact, Coffey series whisky targets EU market because they released these in EU 1 year earlier than Japan. So it means Coffey Grain in 2012 and Coffey Malt in 2013 in EU. In add, they released only 3,000 bottle of Coffey Malt 12Y in 2007 as trial and it's only for Japan and EU.
They also started to supply Coffey Gin using Japanese unique papper Sansho and Coffey Vodka.
Nikka's parent company Asahi beer is producing white spirits Sazan by blending of white spirits distilled by Nikka coffey column stills and other.
Nikka Coffey column still
Nikka is strongly promoting malt whisky, grain whisky, gin and vodka distilled by their Coffey column stills today
Coffey column still was developed by Aeneas Coffey in 1830. It is very early developed column still and inferior in productivity to the latest type such as Super arospas column still but it can produce whisky with material original flavor. There are less than 10 Coffey column stills operating in the world today and Nikka has 2 of them in Miyagikyo distillery.
These Coffey colum stills were requested by Masataka Taketsuru and originally installed in Nishinomiya plant in 1963 which was sister company Asahi shuzo and Nikka was buying whisky distilled there because Nikka financial situation was not enough good to buy those Coffey column still in that time. Nishinomiya plant was merged by Nikka in 1969 and Coffey column stills were trasnferred to Miyagikyo in 1999.
Rubbing alcohol by Japanese whisky distillery (Update)
Due to Corona crisis, some more additional Japanese whisky distilleris starting to produce rubbing alcohol day by day.
Some of them are using copper pot still originally for whisky and others are using stainless pot still which is orignally for Japanese traditional spirits Shochu.
-Kinouchi Shuzo (Yasato/Nukada distillery)
-Wakatsuru Shuzo (Saburomaru distillery)
-Nagahama Roman Beer (Nagahama distillery)
-Matsui Shuzo (Kurayoshi distillery)
-Miyashita Shuzo (Okayama distillery)
-Chugoku Jozo (Sakurao distillery)
-Gyokusendo Shuzo (Gyokusendo Shuzo)
-Komasa Jozo (Kanosuke distillery or different distillery for Shochu)
-Kinryu (Parent company of Yuza distillery but different site)
In add, Suntory Osaka plant which is distillring spirits like Gin and Kirin Fuji Gotenba distillery are producing rubbing alcohol today.
Non whisky spirits producers in Japan are also producing it today. Especially Takara and Oenon are using their huge size super arospas column still.
Suntory Essence series bottle
Suntory has released Essence series 4 times since 2018 as limited bottle. There are 10 different bottles as following list.
Bottle size is only 500ml, it means that these are not for export. In add, these bottles are supplied only to domestic restaurant and bar. (Not retailer for constumer) So if you see bottle during visiting Japan, please don't miss trying.
Rice whisky in 4th release are made by Osumi distillery which are normally producing Japanese traditioanl spirits Shochu in Kyusyu, south main island of Japan.
CHITA〈WINE CASK 4 YEARS FINISH〉
YAMAZAKI〈MONTILLA WINE CASK〉
YAMAZAKI〈REFILL SHERRY CASK〉
BLENDED JAPANESE WHISKY〈CLEAN TYPE〉*Key malt is Hakushu
BLENDED JAPANESE WHISKY〈RICH TYPE〉
*Key malt is Yamazaki
CHITA <SAKURA CASK FINISH BLEND>
*Distilled by Oosumi distillery
Yasato distillery started beer recycle business to Gin
Yasato distillery started draft beer recycle business because many draft beer in restaurant and bar which has been closed for more than one monnth are going to be expired. They distilled draft beer to gin and send back.
Yasato distillery was founded in Feb 2020 as main whisky distillery of Kinouchi Shuzo. But they are busy for Antiseptic solution and draft beer recycle business due to Corona crisis.
Nikka and Apple
Yoichi distillery was founded in 1934. In the beginning, they were producing apple juice in parallel for cash management during whisky aging. But it was not good sales because of over quality with too high price like 100% and turbidity appearance by pectin due to non-filtering production process.
Masataka's wife Rita suggested not only cider but also apple jam and apple sauce which is traditional Scottish food. According to her suggestion, they produced jelly, ketchup adn etc.
It is not so much known but Nikka is producing cider, apple wine and apple brandy even today. Their apple liquor products are produced in Hirosaki distillery in Aomori prefecture which is most famous apple production area in Japan.
Nikka also release single malt apple brandy cask finish sometime.
Past rival of Suntory & Nikka before Karuizawa
Due to strong name brand of Karuizawa distillery, Sanraku Ocean name is known among whisky lover even abroad as past rival of Suntory and Nikka. But there were one more strong malt whisky competitor of them before.
It was Tokyo Jozo and their brand name is Tommy whisky. Tokyo Jozo was founded in 1924 and producing several liquors like brandy, fruity liquor and imitation whisky made from alcohol, sugar, caramel color and other additive.
They started malt whisky distillation in Fujisawa distillery a few years before 1937 and released "Tommy whisky" in 1937. Indeed, it is 3 years earlier than 1st whisky of Nikka. They were strong competitor of Kotobukiya (Suntory today) and Nikka before/after WW2(1941-1945).
However they lost competition in the end and went bankruptin 1955. Fujisawa distillery was sold to Kotobukiya in 1955 and then sold to Morinaga jozo (Fukutokucho Shurui today) but permanently closed in 1960s.
Karuizawa distillery was completely closed in 2012 and no more exsist today. Actually some Karuizawa bottles seem to be released step by step by Karuizawa bottlers.
When Karuizawa distillery was closed, stock casks were bought mainly by Number One Drink in UK, partcially by SMWS in Scotland and HST in Japan(Joint project of Hasegawa Liquor, Sato Liquor and Tamagawa Liquor). These companies are called as Karuizawa Bottler's.
Vaccum stainless pot still
Some Shochu distilleries have Vaccume type stainless pot still. It enable low pressure & low temperature (45-55 degree instead of 85-95 degree) distillration. Sochu by vaccum pot still is milder and softer taste in general.
It was originally developed by Kitaya Sochu distillery in Fukuoka south Japan in 1972. They didn't register patent and vaccum type stainless pot still was popularized in shochu distilleries.
Almost all whisky distilleries seem to be using normal stainless pot still altough Gyokusendo mainly producing import bulk whisky bottle restarted own distillation probably by vaccum type stainless pot still.
Stainless pot still and whisky
There are much more stainless pot still than copper pot still in Japan because Japanese traditional spirits Shochu and Awamori are distilled by stainless pot still.
But stainless pot still is not suitable for whisky because it can't remove sulfur compount contained in malt although copper pot still can remove it.
So malt whisky and grain whisky distilled by stainless pot still has sulfur flavor like burned rubber. On the other hand, rice whisky uses Koji instead of malt so stainless pot still is suitable for rice whisky.
What rice whisky is?
Rice whisky established its position as new whisky category in US today. But what actually is it?
Actually it is cask aged rice Shochu which is traditional Japanese spirits. (Shochu has not only rice material type but also barley, sweet potato and brown sugar type) But why only in US?
Because it is whisky definision difference between US and other countries(EU and Japan). Regulations of EU and Japan require fermentation by malt enzyme although US one accepts fermentation by all natural contents including Koji. Koji is compound of Koji mold and base grain (Normally rice, barley or sweet potato) and it is used for fermentation of Sake, Shochu and Awamori in Japan.
Actually rice whisky is cask OVER aged rice Shochu because Shochu has color limitation by Japanese regulation so that the distillery can sell it as just spirits with lower price than Shochu in Japan if Shochu gets too much color by long years cask aging. But they can export it to US as rice whisky with higher price than Shochu.
Antiseptic solution by Japanese whisky distillery
As same as other countries, some Japanese spirits distilleries are starting to produce high concentration alcohol including whisky distillery because of Corona crisis.
By end of April, Saburomaru distillery by Wakatsuru Shuzo, Nagahama distillery, Nukada distillery by Kinouchi Shuzo and Kurayoshi distillery by Matsui Shuzo release high concentration alcohol for disinfection application.
What Sarorun Kamuy mean?
Highly expected new Japanese whisky distillery Akkeshi released thier 1st single malt whisky in the beginning of 2020. Its name is Sarorun Kamuy but what does it mean?
It is Ainu ethnic language. Ainu is minor ethinic in Hokkaido, north main island of Japan and Akkeshi distillery is located in eastern Hokkaido altough Nikka Yoichi distillery is located.
Sarorun means crane and Kamuy means god because they had faith in aminism and thought that God dwells in all things of nature including animal.
If you would like to know some more about Ainu, I recommend to read manga Golden Kamuy.
Suntory Blended Whisky Hierarchy
Suntory established their blended whisky hierarchy together with bottle keeping system in 1960-1980s.
It was Torys, Red, White, Kaku, Old, Reserve and Royal. (Yamazaki was released in 1984 and Hibiki was in 1989). These blended whisky is still main products of Suntory whisky however most of them are for domestic market because most of them are for High-ball or Mizu-Wari.
Whisky with Japanese dinner by mission Nihonbashi 1970s-80s
Suntory scooped drink at Japanese restaurant which was occupied by Sake and Japanese traditional spirits Shochu. They propose Mizu-Wari style (Diluted with water). Mizu means "water" and Wari means "diluted" in Japanese.
They started special sales promotion campagin to Japanese restaurants all over Japan. The campain was called mission Nihonbashi. It has 2 meanings, one is tow chapstick and the other is Japan bridge which is address name of Suntory head quarter.
The pic is advertisment of mission Nihonbashi. Japanese restaurant chef is drinking Mizu-Wari whisky in his restaurant counter after his working. Text say that it was common to drink hot sake as the end of the day 10 years ago.
As a result, sale of "Suntory Old" whisky was drastically increased from 1 million case in 1970 to 12.4 million case in 1980.
Ref data about other major whisky
-Johnnie walker : 18.8 million case
-Jack Daniel's : 12.2 million case
-Gim Beam : 7.4 million case
-Ballantine's : 6.2 million case
-Jameson : 5.3 million case
-Crown Royal : 5.2 million case
-Chivas Regal : 4.4 million case
Whisky hierarchy and Bottle keep style in 1960s-70s
After Torys and Torys bar success, Suntory was considering how to sell uppder grade whisky. They developed several upper grade whisky and establish whisky hierarchy like Red, White, Old, Reserve and Royal along with Japanese business man promotion title.
They also focused on bottle keep style at Snack bar and Lady lounge. The guest order one bottle to drink and that they can continue to drink it when they visit next time. Bar and lounge normally keep bottle for 1-3 months.
It became common style among Japanese business men to select whisky according to his title and keep it at his favorite snack bar or lady lounge. Keeping upper grade whisky became their target of admiration with promotion in the company.
Torys bar and High-ball style 1950s-1960s
In 1950s, major liquor in Japan was Sake and Shochu altough whisky was for limited exective person.
Suntory considered how to grow domestic whisky market and they opened many Torys bars all over Japan to serve thier whisky mainly for city business man on thier way home. Their whisky is mainly served as high-ball because Japanese are genetically not strong against alcohol and streight whisky is too strong for normal Japanese.
This strategy boosted their whisky sales drastically together with the number of thier bars. There were around 35,000 Torys Bar and Suntory Bar including direct management and franchise in its peak in 1960s.
The other whisky manufactures also opened thier own brand bars like Ocean Bar by Sanraku Ocean, Morozoff Bar by Monde Shuzo, Alice Bar by Asahi Kogyo and etc. Suntory opened not only Torys Bar but also Suntory Bar. In the end, Nikka also opended Nikka Bar. These bars were called as maker's bar.
As a result, whisky high-ball was installed in normal Japanese life as daily drink.
New whisky style and boom produced by Suntory
There are 2 big whisky distillery groups in Japan today. Nikka and Suntory. It issaid that Nikka plans how to sell their whisky after they make new bottle. On the other hands it's said that Suntory plans how to sell thier whisky and then they make new bottle according to their strategy.
So that most of new whisky drinking style and boom in Japan were produced and leaded by Suntory as below.
- Non peated soft mild whisky in 1930s
- Torys bar & High-ball boom in 1950s-60s
- Bottle keep style with several grade whisky along with business man title promotion in 1960s-70s
- Mizu-wari style (diluted with water) with Japanese dinner in 1970s-80s.
- 2nd High-ball boom in 2000s
Probably Ji-Whisky boom in 1970s-80s was only one whisky boom which was not leaded by Suntory in Japan. As a result of their effort, Japanese whisky market grown up with very unique points and drinking style in the world.
Japanese whisky blender
Currently there are only liquor tax law to define what whisky is in Japan and it requires only bottling in Japan to say Japanese whisky. So that there are so many "Japanese whisky" which is actually just import bulk whisky bottled in Japan. So there are some companies producing whisky in Japan without any distillation facility.
There are 3 types of Japanese whiksy blender
- A few small companies have been producing only thier own brand bottles mainly for domestic market from 1970s as Ji-whisky (Local whisky).
- A few large companies are producing bottles from import bulk whisky for low price highball style domestic market.
- Some new companies are producing mainly OEM bottles for domestuc retailers and Japanese whisky conceptors. (But a few distilleries are also doing OEM business)
Japanese whisky conceptor
There are some "Japanese whisky" conceptors in the world today. They build whisky concept and outsource production to thier production partner in Japan. They normally don't disclose their production partner and their whisky bottles don't describe producer name. Almost all their bottles seems to be just bottled one in Japan from import bulk whisky except for rice whisky.
On the other hands, rice whisky in US is actually cask aged Shochu or Awamori. Bothe are traditinal Japanese rice spirits (Shochu has some other different material type like sweet potate, barley and other grain.) Japanese whisky coceptors in US found cask aged Shochu is categrized to whisky in US law and they promoted as single grain rice whisky.
Early days of Japanese whiskey in international competition
Many Japanese whiskies win several international competitions these days.
Suntory and Nikka have been winning from early half of 2000s. Yamazaki 18Y won WWA world best in 2005, Hibiki 30Y won ISC trophy in 2004 and Yoichi 10Y Single cask won WWA Best of Best in 2001.
In add, Karuizawa Master's blend 10Y won ISC trophy in 2002 and Karuizawa 12Y won it in 2001.
Suntory 4th distillery plan
There was 4th distillery plan in Suntory in late half of 1970s.. They purchased land in Nobechi, north end of central main island for 4th distillery in 1980 which is peak of Ji-whisky (Local whisky) boom. However they cancelled it due to drastic market shirnking in late half of 1980s.
Nobechi was converted to the aging cellar and 1st building was built in 1990 and 2nd building was done a few years later however it was completely closed in 2005 which is Japanese whisky ice age.
Silver whisky cask stock and Morozoff Shuzo whisky
There were Ji-whisky(Local whisky) boom leaded by local small distilleries in 1970s-1980s in Japan. Silver whisky was one of the popular early days Ji-whisky but it got bankrupt around 1964 because of serious damage by fire in 1960.
Stock casks were taken over to Morozoff Shuzo, on the other hand pot stills were taken over to Eigashima Shuzo. They were distilling whisky but they stopped whisky distillation around 1984. You might find Ishawa and Usuikyo 1983 which have strong sulfur flavor.
They might have distilled whisky again in 2005 because they released Fujikai 10Y in 2015 only for European market. But it might be produced by import bulk.
Silver whisky pot still was taken over to Akashi
There were Ji-whisky(Local whisky) boom leaded by local small distilleries in 1970s-1980s in Japan. Silver whisky was one of the popular early days Ji-whisky but it got bankrupt around 1964 because of serious damage by fire in 1960.
Their pot stills were taken over to Eigshima Shuzo and they started whisky distillation although they were supplying whisky bottled from import bulk and imitation whisky. This pot stills are on display in Eigashima distillery today. Their current pot stills are 3rd generation.
Distillery name change (Akashi)
There were Ji-whisky(Local whisky) boom leaded by local small distilleries in 1970s-1980s. Most of those distilleries are no more exist today but Akashi whisky is suvivor of Ji-whisky.
The distillery of Akashi whisky was originally named as White Oak whisky distillery according to their whisky brand "White oak". In 1940s-1970s, that kind of English name was very popular to use Japanese whisky name. (For example, Silver whisky, Torys whisky, Tommy whisky, Mars whisky, Sunshine whisky, Golden horse whisky, Peace whisky, Peak whisky, Cherry whisky and etc)
However Japanese name became main stream of Japanese whisky brand and Akashi brand became more pupular than White oak in 2010s. So that they renamed to Eigashima distillery in 2019.
Yakushima aging cellar
Yakushima is small island and Honbo Shuzo has independent aging cellar there. It is called as Yakushima aging cellar.
Yakushima is famous as Natural World Heritage toady because 21% of Yakushima was certified in 1993. Its unique rich ecosystem are realized by large elevation difference on a small island. Yakushima is famous also by huge and very old(More than 1,000 years) trees, Yaku-Sugi (Sugi means ceder). Oldest and most famous Yaku-Sugi is called as Jomon-Sugi and it is more than 2,700 yeras old.
Kiichiro Iwai & Taketsuru note
Kiichiro Iwai is founder of Honbo shuzo's whisky business. Honbo shuzo invited him as adviser for whisky business in 1945. He was assigned to new distillery project and he designed Yamanashi distillery and facility including pot still according to Taketsuru note which is training report wirtten by Masataka Taketsuru after his coming back from Scotland.
Why did he have that repot? Teketsuru was sent to Soctland by Settu Shuzo to learn whisky making process and Iwai was his boss in Settu Shuzo. In the end, Settu Shuzo didn't join whisky business and Taketuru left to Kotobukiya (Suntory in later days) to found Yamazaki.
Yamanashi distillery opended in 1960 and it was his last big job because he died in 1966. We can find his name on whisky label by Shinshu distillery of Honbo Shuzo.
Omi aging cellar & cooperage
Omi aging cellar is as important as distilleries for Suntory. Because it keeps around 40% of total storage cask in Suntory and it also has cooperage (cask factory) for thier whisky. It was orginally founded in 1971 which is same period with Hakushu distillery and Chita distillery. Suntory had another 2 independent distilleries (Yatsugatake & Nobechi) but both were closed around 2005.
Due to limited cellar capacity in Yamazaki distillery, most of cask filled with whisky by Yamazaki are transferred to Omi aging cellar although Hakushu distillery has enough big aging cellar to storage whisky cask distilled there.
In add, there are thier cooperage for Suntory group and they are managing many different type cask including Mizunara cask.
Last distillation at Karuizawa distillery
Karuizawa distillary ended commercial distillation in 2000 and they were only bottlign stock casks but they did last distillation in 2006. It was only 2 months but it became very important seed of Japanese whiksy future because it was for Ichiro Akuta who is founder of Ichiro's malt/Chichibu distillery. He was learning whisky making process during that presious 2 months.
Actually there are 4 Japanese whisky distilleries and thier legacy supported Ichiro's malt birth including Karuizawa distillery.
Molding pot still ZEMON
Zemon is 1st molding whisky pot still in the world. Actually it is not pure copper but copper base alloy containing a little tin so they built micro prototype and checked removing sulfur performance and other effect in advance. In fact it remove sulfur as like standard copper pot still and make mild new pot as like tin glass during distillation.
Indeed Zemon is well technical designed because it's module concept so partial replacement is possible like different angle pot still lyne arm or different shape pot still neck. Pot still wall has more thickness than normal pot still, it mean longer life than normal pot still.
Zemon was developed together with Oigo Seisakusyo, large bell manufacture in local for Buddhist temple. Oigo has 400 years history and most major company for large bell for Buddhist temple in Japan.
There are Karuizawa club whisky bottle today. It is easy to misunderstand that it is whisky by Karuizawa distillery. In fact, it half correct and half increccet.
Karuizawa club is PB of local liquor shop chain "Sake no super Takagi" and it was originally produced by Karuizawa. However it was not single malt but pure malt, which means blended of import bulk malt whisky with or without their own distilled malt whisky.
After Karuizawa distillery stopped production, Shinshu was producing it. But it is not pure malt but blended whisky. Contents might be same with Mars 3&7 and made mainly from import bulk whisky.
Kawasaki single grain whisky
Kawasaki distillery was main grain whisky distillery of Sanraku Ocean whose main malt distillery is Karuizawa distillery.
Kawasaki distillery stopped distillation and coffey column still was replaced to Yashiro in 1987. In 2009, some grain whisky casks distilled by Kawasaki distillery were found in Yamanashi prefecture.
These casks were bottled as Kawasaki single grain whisky 1976, 1981 and 1982 by Chichibu distillery and released to market. These were more than 30 years aging single grain whisky, it means longest aging Japanese grain whisky in Japanese whisky history.
Karuizawa distillery VS Yamanashi distillery
Yamanashi distillery was founded in 1961 as malt whisky distillery of Sanraku Shuzo and Karuizawa distillery was one founded in 1955 as malt whisky distillery of Ocean. Sanraku and Ocean were merged as Sanraku Ocean in 1962 and they needed to choose one of them for production capacity optimization.
As a result, Kariuzawa distillery was selected as main malt whisky distillery although Yamanashi distillery was newer with more modern facility and more room to expand. Because new pot of Karuizawa distillery made by copper pot still is better taste than one of Yamanashi distillery made by stainless pot still. Yamanashi distillery terminated distillation in 1969 and it was converted to aging cellar. It is part of Marcian Katsunuma winery today.
Picture is blended whisky label which mentions that bottle contains malt whisky of both Yamanashi distillery and Karuizawa distillery.
Yoichi distillery pot still
Coal power direct heating
Yoichi distillery is only one distillery using coal power direct heating pot still in the world today. It's quite old fashion style and almost all pot stills in the owrld were replaced to steam power indirect heating type after 1960s. There are a few distilleries using direct heating type but those pot stills are gas power.
Coal power drect heating is most difficult pot still to contron but it can create powerful and rich peated flavor whisky.
In add, their pot stills have thick rice straw rope on the neck which is sanctuary barrier symbol of Shinto, Japanese traditional animism. Pot stills in Miyagikyo distillery also have it.
Chugoku Jozo restarted whisky business by Togouchi brand whisky in 2015 although their Sakurao distillery was founded in 2017. So actually Togouchi whisky is made from import bulk but aged in cask in thier aging cellar in Japan.
Togouchi is thier aging cellar's name which was oroginally test tunnel for railway tunnel construction.
Whisky by Awamori distillery
Helios Shuzo located at Okinawa, southern west island of Japan next to Taiwan. Awamori is local traditional rice spirits.
Fortunatelly they are using copper pot stills although almost all toher Awamori distilleries are using stainless pot still. They were exporting whisky to Taiwan between 1999 and 2008 when they stopped whisky distillation but didn't sell it in Japan in that period. However some stock casks were bottled and released to Japense market in 2015 & 2016. They seems to have restarted whisky distillation in 2015.
Why Ichiro's malt (Person's name)
Most of craft Japanese whisky brand name today came from distillery location or distillery's name like Saburomaru, Kanosuke, Okayama, Akkeshi and etc although English name was popular before 1980s like Cherry, Golden Hourse, Mars and Peak. Indeed Japanese whisky brand name came from name of the living person is only Ichiro's malt.
Ichiro Akuto strated whisky business with whisky bottle made from Hanyu cask and bottled by Sasanokawa Shuzo. In theory, it should be Hanyu or something about it but Hanyu distillery had already terminated and his new distillery was still in planning stage.
So he chose his name for his whisky brand.