History of Saburomaru distillery
History fo Saburomaru distillery
Wakatsuru brand sake was launched by the local wealthy farmer in 1862. The current owner Inagaki family took over it in 1910 and reformed to the company Wakatsuru Shuzo in 1918. After WW2, brewing sake was very difficult due to rice shortage so that they founded their own fermentation laboratory for the feasibility study of non-rice material liquor.
Around 1950, whisky market in Japan started growing up and they founded Saburomaru distillery to produce whisky in 1952. They released Sunshine whisky which name was selected from 2,000 letters submitted although the namer had been unknown for long. However, in 2018 which is more than a half century later, it was revealed by the letter from the namer’s daughter.
He was the local person but stayed in Singapore at the end of WW2 and learned some English there during the next 2 years. He put his wish of a post war reconstruction on the name of Sunshine. However, contrary to his wish, a disaster hit Saburomaru distillery.
Burn out & reconstruction
In 1953, Saburomaru distillery caught on fire and 2,000 square meters including 6 production buildings burned out. Fortunately it was reconstructed 1 year later with great help of local people
Saburomaru distillery equipped Arospas-type column still when it was reconstructed. It was the most advanced type and there were only five units operating in Japan at that time. It had been used until around 1996 so that their long aged whisky was distilled by this although it is no more exist today.
Whisky market around 1980 was leaded by local small producers including many craft distilleries and their whisky was called Ji-whisky which means local whisky in Japanese. Saburomaru distillery increased the sales riding on that boom as the only one whisky distillery in Hokuriku area. But another challenging period was coming.
Japanese whisky ice age
Whisky domestic demand was peak out in 1984 and it had been shrinking to a quarter size of the peak for the next quarter century. Almost all Ji-whisky distilleries were closed during that long ice age. There were big 3 Ji-whisky distillery, Hanyu, Shinshu and Sasanokawa but Hanyu distillery was closed and even the other 2 distilleries had to stop whisky distillation for 20 years.
Around 1996, Saburomaru distillery had to stop Arospas type column still due to too huge production capacity for ice age demand and too old. Fortunately they could maintain whisky distillation by small stainless pot still which was originally for Shochu distillation because they are local bottling partner of Coca Cola Japan and that business was enough good to maintain small whisky distillery.
The whisky domestic market started recovering in 2009 and Saburomaru distillery survive the long ice age, but the building and production facility were becoming too old to make good whisky. In such a situation, the man returned to the distillery and realized drastic innovation there.
Wakatsuru sake brewery before founding Saburomaru distillery
Liquor lab in Wakatsuru in the early half of 1950s
Saburomaru distillery in 1952
The 1st Saburomaru distillery burn out in 1952
Reconstructed Saburomaru distillery
Today's Saburomaru distillery
His name is Takahiko Inagaki, founder's 5th generation head. He was working in US IT company after university graduation and came back in 2015 but he found the possibility of the long aged whisky distilled by his grandfather by Arospas column still.
But the very old facility and the leaked distillery building needed investment to make high quality whisky and the people in the company doubted if it was worth the investment because their long aged whisky released in the early half of 2010s didn’t make big commercial success.
Therefore he arranged cloud funding for Saburomaru distillery renovation project and the total amount of application reached 1.5 times of the planned.
So that they could did not only building renovation but also purchasing the new malt mill and the new mash tank. Indeed, majority of the amount was applied by local people so Saburomaru distillery was strongly supported by local people again.
Renewal of single malt
In fact, his whisky making target is Ardbeg 1974 which is not only peated but also so elegant. In parallel with the renovation project, he was working with local traditional craft companies to realize his ideal whisky making.
They released several single malt whisky bottles distilled by arospas type column still and finally they released 1st single malt whisky after renovation in 2020 but it was distilled by stainless pot still because distillation by new pot still started in 2019.
Saburomaru ditillery before renovation in 2016
Crowdfunding in 2016
Saburomaru distillery after renovation in 2017
Innovations of Saburomaru distillery
1st innovation : Pot still
They customized stainless pot still by replacing stainless head to cupper one but still not enough to produce premium quality whisky stably.
Therefore they developed original new pot still together with the local alloy molding company, Oigo works and the industrial technology R&D center of Toyama prefecture.
2nd innovation : Local Mizunara cask
They realized Mizunara tree from local Mizunara tree together with 2 local companies. One is the wood material processor who is able to cut and bring the tree from a steep slope and the other is the traditional wood craft producer who is normally producing Inami Chokoku which is famous local traditional wood craft.
3rd innovation : Wood fermentation tank
It installed in 2020. They were using enamel tanks which were originally used for sake making for whisky fermentation but to make more fruity whisky, they installed wood fermentation tank.
Wood fermentaton tank can produce more lactic acid than stainless one but thety found that this difference happens only during last 24 hours of 72-96 hours fermentation process. So they use one wood fermentation tank although they keep using the other enamel tanks.
Facility upgrade in Saburomaru distillery.
The old mashtank used for long was also repaced to the new stainless one in 2017
Zemon pot stills
Logging on steep slopes
Local partner cooperage
Cask celler in Saburomaru distillery
Enamel frementation tank
Douglas fir wood fermentation tank
The 1st molded whisky pot still in the world
Buddhist temple bell manufacture
It was developed together with the local company Oigo works and the Industrial technology R&D center of Toyama prefecture.
Copper works in the local area is famous as Takaoka Doki from 17th century. Those producers in that area have been making historical copper works like Buddha sculpture and Buddhist temple’s bell and their domestic share is 95%.
Copper-Tin new alloy
They need to use copper alloy due to molding method instead of pure copper. Therefore they started from alloy material research and developed special copper alloy which contains tin instead of lead for human body safety.
They made three small prototypes with different materials including new copper alloy, pure copper and stainless to checked material effect on distilled whisky and new alloy shows very good result. For example same level of removing sulfur compounds with pure copper pot still, milder taste like Tin glass and fruity flavour.
On the other hand, molding method has 2 merits comparing with conventional hummer working method. Easy to duplicate and thicker wall for longer life time. In add, thanks to modular design concept, it’s possible to replace some part to different shape to make different taste whisky.
They named this pot still ZEMON from the historical trade name of Oigo works, Oigo Ziemon.
Stainless pot still
It was oroginally build for Shochu, traditional Japanese spirtis
Copper head custom pot still
Head part was replaced to copper one for the adsorption of sulfur derived from malt
Bronze bell for Buddhist temple
The local partner, Oigo works, has 80% domestic share of Buddhist temple bell
Molding process in Oigo works
Alloy model for R＆D
They need new copper-tin alloy for molding process instead of pure copper
Plastic model and real pot still
Module concept model
Name of Zemo is come from Oigo Ziemon, the founder of Oigo works