It’s 2019 and that means it’s a particularly special year for the Japanese whisky industry. 100 years ago, in 1919, the first whisky distilling license was granted to a Japanese distillery, the coastal distillery of Eigashima to be precise, signalling the start of the industry that we know and love today.
Since then, we have been fortunate enough to experience and enjoy not only some of the best whisky expressions in Asia, but indeed in the world, and we thought that was something worth celebrating.
1919 – An Important Year For Japanese Whisky
While the Eigashima distillery, one of just a few coastal distilleries in Japan, was initially founded all the way back in 1679, they originally produced sake and shochu, two of Japan’s best selling spirits. For this, they won a number of awards both at home and abroad.
In 1919, they decided to turn some of their attention to whisky production, and so set about acquiring a whisky distilling license. They were the first in the country to do so.
This was the same year that Japanese whisky legend, Masataka Taketsuru, set off on his journey to Scotland. He started a whisky apprenticeship at the Longmorn distillery in a bid to learn the practices, tricks and nuances of producing top quality whisky. He had developed a passion for Scotland’s famous “water of life” and wanted to learn the craft of producing such liquid from those that did it best.
He spent a great deal of time studying the art, filling endless notebooks with everything from the effects of different types of stills, to the optimal climate and the correct way to carefully mature the spirit in a variety of different cask types.
His goal was always to bring what he had learned back to Japan, and produce spirit of his own, and it wasn’t long before he managed to do this.
While Eigashima was the first distillery in the country to gain a distilling license, they wouldn’t start large scale production for some years. Instead, they spent their time practicing the craft, producing small batches of liquid before identifying where they had gone right and where they had gone wrong. Then, they would set about making another batch, this one better than the last. It would take them years of hard work and dedication to perfect the craft.
When Taketsuru returned to Japan, he immediately went about setting up a distillery. He took a job working with Suntory, and alongside his friend, colleague and owner of Suntory, Shinjiro Torii, he set up the Yamazaki distillery in 1923.
Despite Eigashima gaining a license some four years earlier, Yamazaki became the first Japanese distillery to produce a product that would go to market.
Armed with Taketsuru’s new-found knowledge of whisky production, and with the weight of Suntory behind them, Yamazaki launched the country’s first authentic whisky under the name Suntory Shirofuda, or “White Label”, in 1929.
The Japanese whisky market was up and running.
Celebrating 100 Year Of Japanese Whisky
Here at dekanta, we felt that it was only right that we took the time to honour 100 years of the industry that gave us our jobs, our friends, our memories and the experiences that we will hold close to our hearts for a lifetime.
As such, we created a single cask whisky that brings together many aspects of the history of Japanese whisky, paying homage to the past, present and future of that which we hold so dear.
Firstly, we took a cask of Eigashima. 100 Years on from the distillery gaining their license and kickstarting Japanese whisky, we felt it was the perfect way to honour these early, but vitally important, days.
Then, we put this whisky in a cask that had previously housed liquid from one of Scotland’s most famous distilleries – the now silent Port Ellen.
The shared connection and love for whisky between Japan and Scotland played an essential role in everything that came after Taketsuru’s journey in 1919 and we wanted to get that connection into this bottle in the best way possible.
But we weren’t finished just yet. Bringing the whisky back to Japan, we decided that a truly Japanese finish was necessary. While the practices and techniques used in making top-quality Japanese whisky originally came from Scotland, and were hugely important, it was the precision, dedication and passion of Japanese craftsman that put them into practice and created something that, while similar to Scotch, is a beautiful thing unto itself.
The whisky was then transferred into Mizunara oak. The tree is unequivocally Japanese and has come to be recognised as one of Japan’s gifts to the whisky world.
It takes many many years to grow, it’s hard to work with and can take a whisky the wrong way if not handled carefully, but the results it imparts on the liquid within can be extraordinary.
Kigai 2019 – Our Homage To Japanese Whisky
And so, the Kigai 2019 was created. A stunning and iconic whisky that embodies and honours Japanese whisky history, from Eigashima to Taketsuru; the connection with Scotland; the modern advances of Japanese whisky; and the ultimate craftsmanship and dedication of those working in the industry today.
It’s with this whisky that we want to celebrate the industry and we’re delighted to bring it to our customers and fans of Japanese whisky everywhere. We hope that you can pour a dram from this iconic bottling, raise a glass and toast with us, as we celebrate 100 years of the Japanese whisky industry.
For more information on the Kigai 2019, click here.