Dekanta Anniversary Week – Day 6 – Eigashima Distillery

We’re now just two days away from our 4th Anniversary party in Tokyo where we will be launching an incredibly exciting new single cask whisky. If you haven’t already signed up to join us for the online launch event, you should do so right here, it’s sure to be amazing!

In the lead up to the event, each day we’ve been honouring a different distillery or brand that has made an impressive contribution to the Japanese whisky industry. So far we’ve showcased Yamazaki, Hibiki, Nikka, Chichibu and Mars and you catch up with any do them by following this link.

For day 6, we’re delving into the past, present and future of a very exciting distillery with an ancient and impressive history. This one has been around for as long as any in Japan and they have made some superb whisky in recent years. As one of the country’s smaller distilleries, their expressions are less well-known to many outside of Japan, but they are growing in popularity and are particularly close to our hearts here at dekanta. Today, we’re talking about Eigashima, or “The White Oak Distillery”, as it is also known.

Day 6 – Eigashima White Oak Distillery

The Eigashima Distillery dates all the way back to 1679. It was founded in the Akashi area of the Hyogo prefecture by Urabe Heikichi and has remained a family run business ever since.

Sake Awards At Eigashima

Like many old Japanese distilleries, they started by producing sake. For this they won many awards in the early years, as well as picking up a great number abroad after they began exporting, though this didn’t happen for many years to come.

As the popularity of their sake continued to grow, Urabe San convinced a number of brewers in the local in area to join forces with him, and in 1888 they formed the Eigashima Brewing Company Ltd, with him as the chairman.

This was a groundbreaking step at the time, and it is believed to have been the first in the Hyogo Prefecture.  These moves immediately positioned the group as a major player in the Japanese economy.

While the Sake and Shochu business continued to grow, the Urabe family started to explore a new opportunity in the early 1900s. Driven by a love for the excellent Scotch whiskies that were starting to be sold in Japan, they had the foresight to begin exploring whisky production and became the first Japanese company to obtain a license to produce whisky in 1919.  

With the license in hand, Eigashima started exploring whisky production using their existing brewing facilities to learn the process.

While they were the first in the country to have a license to produce whisky, it would be some time before they would begin full scale production. In fact, both the Yamazaki and Yoichi distilleries would start producing spirit before them.  

After much hard work and dedication, Eigashima began releasing their first whisky expressions to the local Japanese market in the 1960s.

For the next two decades they would continue to slowly grow the business until, in the early 1980s, they decided it was time to get more serious about whisky production. It was time for a dedicated distillery and so, in 1984, the now famous White Oak Distillery was built.

The White Oak Whisky Distillery

As with so many of Eigashima’s processes, the distillery was constructed based on Scottish design with the original stills constructed in Scotland. The new distillery allowed them to produce even better spirits, and begin producing more of it to meet growing demand.

The distillery focused exclusively on making blended whisky up until 2007 when it introduced its first single malt to the line-up, sold under the “Akashi White Oak” label.  From then on Eigashima has continued to grow, while ensuring that they are doing so at such a rate that means they don’t have to sacrifice quality.

In March of this year they replaced the stills with ones made at Miyake Seisakusho, the only pot still producer in Japan, but even amidst the boom in demand for Japanese expressions, the distillery has just 5 full-time employees who only produce whisky in the summer months, with the winter being used for Sake production. With this said, production volumes do continue to grow as demand and distribution expand.

This was highlighted on my visit to the Eigashima distillery earlier this week when I spoke with Urabe Yuki, current manager of the distillery and direct descendant of the founder, Urabe Heikichi. He stated that “We are continually looking to grow as much as we can. 5 or 6 years ago we were using just 20 tonnes of malt per year. Last year we used 150 tonnes and this year we will use 170.”

This growth, combined with an increasing global awareness of the quality of the liquid being produced there, means that we will likely be seeing a lot more from Eigashima in the near future. With incredible whiskies, an idyllic location and a rich, prestigious history stretching back more three centuries, it’s a place that’s definitely worth getting excited about.