The movement of new, small Japanese whisky distilleries kick-started in 2008 with the famed Chichibu distillery, led by Ichiro Akuto, descendant of the owning family of the shut-down Hanyu distillery. But more on that later.
Following Chichibu, the Mars Shinshu distillery reopened after 19 years of halted production. They stopped because Japanese whisky was declining, but in 2011, seeing the demand for Japanese whisky starting to rise, they opened their doors once again. Today, Chichibu and Mars are, arguably, the most popular small whisky makers in Japan.
While the White Oak distillery, maker of the Akashi single malt range, had been making whisky for decades, the team entered the single malt category in 2007 and has since consistently released unique and diverse bottlings. The Nagahama distillery is tiny, operating in a space of just 25 square feet, but has big aspirations. As a young site, the releases so far have seen new make spirit bottlings, ranging from unpeated to heavily peated expressions.
The Akkeshi distillery in Hokkaido launched a few years ago, and is focusing on peated whisky, with a heavy influence from the isle of Islay in Scotland. Kanosuke in Kagoshima stands next to one of Japan’s longest beaches, and hopes to create whisky influenced by the wind and sea. Tsunuki is the second distillery owned by Hombo Shuzo, owners of the aforementioned Mars Shinshu distillery. The Sakurao distillery in Hiroshima is now focusing on gin, but whisky is now maturing, to be released after 2020.
With many other distilleries in the works, the future of Japanese whisky is looking brighter and brighter each day.
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