It’s Day 2 of our 10 day dekanta anniversary countdown, and today we’re honouring another of Japan’s ji-whisky distilleries. Yesterday, we looked at Akashi White Oak (if you missed that you can catch up right here), and we hope you all grabbed yourself a nice bottle at a discounted price.
Today, it’s all about Nagahama, Japan’s smallest whisky distillery. Much like Akashi, we’ve been working closely with Nagahama in recent years and we have nothing but good things to say about their methods and expressions. Despite being a very young distillery, they have already managed to produce some excellent whiskies, including a World Whiskies Award winner. So without further ado, let’s get into it.
The Nagahama Distillery
Founded in 2016, Nagahama is Japan’s smallest distillery, situated next to Lake Biwa, Japan’s largest freshwater lake. They produce a spirit as crisp and elegant as the distillery’s surroundings and are one of the fastest rising craft distilleries in all of Japan. The story of Nagahama stretches back to around ten years before they distilled their first whisky.
In 1996, after the Japanese government loosened restrictions concerning beer production, the Nagahama Brewery was born, and they began producing craft expressions, including IPA, British Ale and wheat beer. Their beers quickly took off in the local area and around the country and Nagahama became known as one of Japan’s best craft breweries overnight.
Not happy with a successful brewery, those at Nagahama were keen to continue progressing in the drinks industry and they saw the Japanese whisky boom as a great opportunity to do so.
Moving into whisky isn’t a decision that should be taken lightly, given the precision, care, time and effort required to make good expressions. However, Nagahama were perhaps better positioned than most to make this jump, with their experience in brewing, which has some cross-over with whisky distilling.
Distillers, like brewers, start by fermenting grain to release sugars. The differences in the production process arise when brewers then add hops before allowing the liquid (known as wort) to run off the grain, before adding yeast. Whisky producers, on the other hand, leave the sugary grain in the wort and add yeast, creating “wash” which is then distilled.
While there are obvious differences in the process, the number of parallels has no doubt given Nagahama a leg up when it comes to whisky production, allowing them to simply alter their already well-practiced beer production process to create elegant and crisp whisky expressions.
From the outside looking in, the Nagaham distillery is an unassuming white building that faces onto a small canal that used to be used for transporting rice in and out of the town.
When you enter the distillery, it is guaranteed to be unlike any other you have seen in your lifetime. You may be used to seeing a reception, an information desk, old pieces of equipment and tourists gathering around placards to read snippets of history, before being herded together to be taken on your tour, but you won’t get that here.
Walking through the front door of the Nagahama distillery, the first thing you are faced with is, in fact, the distillery operations themselves. Nothing but a small bar separates you from the Alembic pot stills, while on your right hand side you’re likely to see a distillery employee working hard to shovel the residual malted grain from the mashing process into large sacks to be shipped off to local farmers to feed their livestock.
It’s an intimate experience, and one that the distillery workers are happy to contribute to by allowing you to sample several types of beer and new-make whisky.
Nagahama Whiskies So Far
Given the Nagahama distillery was only born in 2016, they have only just managed to release their first single malt expressions, which sold out of our store in record time. In the lead up to the recent single malt launch, they released several expressions of new-make that allowed us to experience their whisky’s journey so far, as well as an award-winning world blended expression, created with some of their own malt whisky and matured in Mizunara oak.
The experts at Nagahama clearly know their way around whisky production, with everything they have produced so far being of the highest quality. This is a distillery worth keeping a close eye on, as we’re likely to see more stunning single malts in the near future.