The Akkeshi distillery, situated on the stunning northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, has been distilling whisky since 2016. The distillery founder, Keiichi Toita, chose the island as the location for his whisky venture thanks to his love of Islay single malts. The climate on Hokkaido is both cool and wet, and so conditions are perfect for producing a spirit akin to those made on Scotland’s most famous whisky producing island.
The town of Akkeshi can be found on the coast, where Hokkaido meets the Pacific Ocean, and it’s surrounded inland by the Bekan-Beushi wetlands. This area is absolutely teeming with wildlife and as such it’s a conservation area, meaning the distillery has to adhere to strict ‘eco-friendly’ rules when producing their whisky.
For the past few years, Akkeshi has been releasing the “New Born Foundations” series, which has taken us on a journey from still to cask, showcasing many aspects of what we could expect from the distillery in the near future.
These releases were not actually “whisky” just yet, they were in fact new-make spirit, with each of the four expressions in the series having something slightly different about them, from the wood they were aged in, to the number of years they were matured for. They allowed us to explore many different aspects of the Akkeshi distillery’s processes and gave us a good idea of what’s to come. What’s more, despite being young and raw, they were quite delicious, with each of them scoring high in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
Now, the first single malt is here and it brings many parts of the New Born Foundations series together to create a well-rounded, elegant and flavoursome whisky. Titled “Akkeshi Sarorunkamuy”, translating as “Japanese red crowned crane”, an animal synonymous with the meaning “God of the Wetlands”, it’s made from whisky distilled in 2016 and matured in bourbon, red wine, sherry and Mizunara casks.
Nothing excites me more than trying new Japanese whisky expressions, particularly ones from the new, up and coming distilleries dotted around the country, and so I was delighted to finally get my hands on this one.
On the nose, it brings a wealth of fruity notes, including red berries, poached plums and gentle citrus notes that gradually come through in the background. Gentle wood spices and essence of vanilla also make themselves known as you continue to nose and a sprinkling of sea salt helps to cut through the fruity sweetness.
The palate brings yet more fruity notes, but here you’ll also find subtle spices building in the background, including gentle black pepper and hints of sandalwood from the Mizunara cask.
Then comes the lingering finish, that is medium length and brings more spices to the table, with cinnamon, gentle nutmeg and a little more pepper being backed up by just a whiff of peat smoke and another pinch of sea salt.
It’s a fascinating, well-rounded whisky that comes packaged inside the uniquely shaped bottle, with the long neck and stubby cylindrical base, that has become something of a signature for the distillery’s releases. They look incredible in your whisky cabinet and really stand out among the crowd with their minimalist, but elegant, label designs, and the fact that they hold quality spirit inside only adds to their appeal.
I thoroughly enjoyed drinking the Akkeshi Sarorunkamuy single malt and wouldn’t hesitate to try it again. The fact that they have managed to get it so right with their first single malt release makes me very excited to see what else they have in store for us in the coming years. Akkeshi is one distillery that will no doubt make a name for themselves at spirits competitions around the world as the years go by, so it’s well worth keeping an eye on them.