The Taste of Japanese Whisky 7th Edition
What is Whisky?
Whisky is a spirit made from barley or other types of grain. It's mostly associated with Scotland, but also produced outside of the British Isles.
After World War II, Japan became one of the largest producers of whisky outside of Scotland. This is why we started to incorporate Japan's number one strong spirit in to the Anime Festival.
This year we are organising the seventh Japanese whisky tasting event at the Anime Festival.
To enter you will have to buy a separate whisky ticket. This ticket covers all consumptions that are part of this tasting event (cost of all bottles, tax and snacks divided by 65). Tickets can be bought at the Information Desk.
We usually focus on the smaller distilleries. We used to do that, because the Big two (Nilla and Suntory) were widely available in the West. However, this is no longer the case. We’re now doing this, because only the smaller distilleries offer us any interesting bottles to share with you, aside from the generic bottles without age statement from Suntory and Nikka.
This year, we have a stronger focus on Mars Whisky products, as they have been most generous in releasing stuff Niels could get his hands on.
The History of Japanese Whisky
In 1923, Shinjiro Torii, the founder of Suntory built Japan’s first malt whisky distillery in the valley of Yamazaki. Using copper pot stills, the Yamazaki distillery was the first of its kind outside of Scotland. The distillery’s location on the outskirts of Japan’s ancient capital of Kyoto offered pure water, diversity of climate and high humidity and according to Torii the ideal environment for the maturation of quality whisky. Torii was able to start his empire by enlisting a Japanese chemist who had been sent out to learn about the Whisky trade in Scotland, a certain Masataka Taketsuru (1894-1979). Taketsuru was sent to Scotland by the later defunct Osaka-based company called Settsu Shuzo, who also wanted to produce a Japanese whisky based on what people in Scotland make. Taketsuru was send to Scotland in 1919 to get educated in western science at Glasgow University, and in his free time, he also learned about the art of blending and distilling.
When he returned to Japan in 1920, he realised that the project for which he had been recruited was not going to see the light of day. And, following the 1922 stock market crash, he lost his job. A year later, he joined the Kotobukiya group (Later Suntory), for which he and Torrii built the Yamazami distillery.
In 1934, after a dispute with Torii, he decided to strike out on his own. Masataka Taketsuru remembered from his experience in Scotland that the environment was essential for producing a quality whisky and realised that the climate of Southern Hokkaido closely resembles Scotland. He found the perfect place for his distillery in the town of Yoichi and created the Nippon Kaju Company and in 1939, after having started off with cheap apple brandy, he began to release his first blends. War broke out, but this did not stop him from bringing out his first bottle in 1940. In 1952, the company definitively adopted the name Nikka Whisky.
His growing success enabled him to establish a second distillery in 1969 on the island of Honshu close to the city of Sendai. Meanwhile, Suntory established a second Distillery, Hakushu, near mount Fuji which prompted Nikka to start a third one, which has since closed and only used for storage near Osaka.
The two Giants
Nikka and Suntory are the most well known brands of Japanese whisky. Nikka, Taketsuru's company, was subsequently bought by Asahi Breweries but still operates as a separate company. Suntory has started to expand in all kinds of beverages as well.
Of these two giants, only Suntory used to be well known in The Netherlands and most of Europe, simply because they have a good distribution channel here and at that time, Nikka produced only enough Single Malt whisky for the home market. Luckily for us Westerners, this changed in the early 2010’s, but caused such a run on the unknown and often superior to Scotch whiskies, that as of 2015, getting any malt whisky outside or even inside of Japan has become difficult.
Japan's active distilleries
The map above, made by Whisky Mag Japan places all active Japanese distilleries in it's place (With a * added as active). However, the list is already out of date, as three new distilleries have been opened. One in Hokkaido, one in Kyoto and one in Okayama. Hombo Shuzo, owner of the Mars Shinshu plant, has also been causing a wave of excitement, as they have changed their ageing warehouse in Tsunuki to a whisky producing plant once more. The final vintage from Tsunuki was distilled in 1984. Production resumed in late 2016. To celebrate this, Mars released a commemorative bottle, which we will be pouring at our tasting.
Hombo used to produce whisky in Kagoshima, Yamanashi and in Nagano (Shinshu) but was until 2011, almost a lost cause. Due to the factory manager and Master Distiller Takehira Koki's input, their almost broken down still was repaired and has even been replaced early 2016 and the distillery is now in full production again for it's 6th year, but only during Winter. Hombo produces whisky under the Mars label. It's a small distillery and getting their goods outside of Japan has finally become possible in 2016, at a price...
An odd one in the world of whisky is Eigashima's White Oak Distillery, which, up till recently, only produced blended whisky. They discovered that the malts they produced for their blends, were actually quite good. This led to their quiet release of a five year old Single Malt called Akashi, after the large city which is near the Distillery. This malt has been on the market for a few years and was relatively un-noticed, until they decided to release a one-off 8 year old Single Malt at The Tokyo Whisky Live! event, which got high praise from all famous whisky buffs. They have now released, alongside their five year old, a very limited batch of 12 year old Akashi of only 2000, 500ml. bottles and have recently released an even smaller batch of 14 and 15yo whisky, which has matured for it's final two years in wine barrels from their vineyards. The funny thing about this distillery is that they only produce whisky during Summer because they produce Wine in Autumn, other spirits and digestives in Spring and Sake in the Winter while most smaller distilleries produce in Winter.
The final small distillery I will discuss here is: Chichibu. Chichibu is owned by Venture Whisky. Venture Whisky has been set up by Akuto Ichiro, Grandson of the previous distiller in the area o Saitama, relatively near Tokyo. Ichiro has a real passion for his craft and you can notice this in his total hands-on approach. He aims to produce everything that is in his whiskies in Japan and even locally. To make this work, he has made agreements with local farmers to grow the type of barley he needs biologically, has used peat from local mores to burn, giving the whisky it's smoky flavour. This year he will start to malt this and other barley at the Chichibu distillery, which is only done by three distilleries in Scotland at the moment and no others in Japan. Due to the heat and high elevation, Chichibu's spirit matures pretty fast. Their three year old "The First" was named Japanese Whisky of 2011. And for a reason!
This year we have opted for one tasting only, due to the lack of availability of nice enough whiskies.
This tasting will contain the following whiskies in random order:
- The Nikka Blend 10yo
- Mars Small batch, the beauty of Shinshu: Rindo (58%)
- Mars Single Cask for LMDW France
- Ichiro's Malt Mizunara Wood Reserve
- Mars Tsunuki Warehouse opening edition Small batch 58%
- 9 Leaves Japanese White Rum
- Nikka Rita 30yo Apple Brandy
In 2017, we will have a whisky tasting for 65 people.
Tickets will be for sale at the Information desk on the day of the event. The tickets will cost € 35 each.
- You are not allowed to drive after partaking in the tasting.
- Whole Weekend and Friday visitors ONLY, limited to 65 tickets.
- You have to be 18 years of age or older.
- You will need to bring your ID and show it to the security people at the door before you are allowed entrance.
- Taking part in this tasting costs € 35 to be paid in advance at the Information desk.
- This event is limited to 65 people. If the limit is reached, you can not attend.
Friday 22:00 - Saturday 00:00