Akkeshi – Japan’s “Islay” Distillery

During the Tokyo Whisky Festival last month, one seminar caught my attention over the others. Into the main hall at 11.15, I rushed up to the seminar room for the 1 hour talk on Japan’s newest Hokkaido producer, the Akkeshi distillery.

Held by the charismatic yet extremely humble distillery leader, Katsuyuki Tatsuzaki, attendees were given an in-depth look at the new Akkeshi distillery, established in 2016 in the Akkeshi area of Hokkaido.

During the seminar the words Islay-esque were repeated numerous times. Everything, from the peated new make to the large black writing on the white distillery building, show that the distillery was built with the great isle’s distilleries in mind.

The water found in the area, the cool climate and cold winters, and the peat-rich surrounding land make Akkeshi one of the most exciting craft whisky makers to pop up in Japan.

Tatsuzaki spoke of the importance of the wort, and how much work had gone into perfecting the recipe during their first year of production. The targets for 2017 have been met, a new cask warehouse has been added, and the future is looking bright for Akkeshi.

This hope was evident in the samples given out during the seminar. Tasting Akkeshi whisky for the first time, many seminar attendees seemed sceptical, but all were soon left with smiles on their faces. The non-peated and peated new make were very interesting, however, the New Born Prototype, aged between 5 to 14 months and the 3-month old peated expression were the gems of the flight

The Prototype was sweet with a thick honey and maple nose, while the palate brought strong smoke and earth, with the sweetness lingering throughout. The peated sample was spectacularly intense and strong, with the earthy, oaky character reminding one of the cool, windy shores of Islay.

The seminar was wonderful and ended with a video focused on the Akkeshi distillery, as the seasons changed throughout the year. We were excited before, but now we can’t wait for the first release by Akkeshi, which is scheduled to drop in 2018. Exciting times ahead!