Learn About Ji-Whisky Makers
Ji-whisky is simply whisky made by small local distillers that is usually not sold nationwide but only sold in the local area in which it is produced. In Japanese, the term is written as “地ウィスキー” in which the “地” denotes “local” or “area.” It is, in other words, the Japanese word for what are commonly called local whiskies in English. We at dekantā like to follow the original Japanese naming convention and therefore simply call it ji-whisky.
Ji-Whisky producers often specialize in sake and shochu and only make whisky on the side. Some of them might have started during the post-war whisky boom and made small quantities of whisky as an experiment or hobby. Often they use unique techniques reflecting their background or expertise in making sake and shochu. ji-whisky is therefore something for the hard-core whisky fan who wants to try something new and rare. These whiskies might not always compare to the larger, more authentic brands such as Suntory and Nikka but they can still be surprisingly good.
Aioi Unibio is the result of a merger between three companies: mirin maker Aiou Mirin Corp., shochu maker Aichi Breweries Corp. and sake maker Aiou Breweries Corp. In October 2012 they united under the name of Aiou Unibio Corp.
According to the new company, the “Ai” part (from “aiou” in Japanese, meaning friendship or cooperation) denotes how partners work together to overcome adversities. The company also combined the English words “Union” and “Bio” to make the second part of the new name, Unibio.
The Aiou Mirin Corp. was established in 1872 and thus has a 140- year tradition to build on; it originally focused on making flavors for alcoholic drinks. Aichi Breweries Corp. was established in 1941 and was originally a shochu supplier in the Mikawa area. Since then it has produced alcoholic products of every sort, including shochu, umeshu and alcohol for medical use, as well as soft drinks. Aiou Brewing Corp. has been a notable sake supplier within the prefecture since 1954. The new company has a license to make every kind of alcohol except beers. The company makes two types of whisky under the name Rainbow Whisky, which is is a mid-tier ji-whisky well worth a try.
Chugoku Brewing is a relatively small brewery and distillery based in Hatsukaichi, just outside Hiroshima. It takes its name from the Chugoku region in Japan (literally, “midlands”) where Hiroshima is located. The company was established in 1918 and specializes in sake, shochu, mirin and liqueurs, but it also makes whisky.
The distillery is located in one of Japan’s most beautiful areas, just opposite Miyajima, which is internationally famous for its floating “Torii” gate. Miyajima means “shrine island” in Japanese, and the shrines on the island are designated UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The island was an important site during the Tokugawa era. The brewery itself is active year-round and uses techniques that have hardly changed since pre-modern times. The company makes only one brand of whisky in distinctively black bottles: a 14 year named Togouchi, said to have a smoky aroma. It is well worth a try.
Since its establishment more than 100 years ago, Eigashima has been a popular maker of alcoholic beverages. The guiding principles of the company are honesty and sincerity. The company does its very best to put these principles into action, both when brewing and also when it comes to customers. They have been in the whisky business for a long time but only released their first single malt (of the modern era, at least) in 2007.
The company dates back to 1888 and supposedly began selling whisky in 1919. Eigashima takes great care in maintaining the highest standards of production. While preserving old traditions is important the company does not slavishly adhere to them. On the contrary, in order to constantly improve its products it keeps an eye open for innovations in the field and as a result new discoveries and research results are frequently put into practice. The company has produced many popular beverages and done its part in contributing to society. As a consequence, this company based in Hyogo prefecture has a well established reputation in the world of brewing.
Fuji Hakko Kogyu
Fuji Hakko was located in Koshu city in Yamanashi prefecture about 100 kilometres from Tokyo. Its ji-whisky was called Lilian. The company ceased operations a few years ago, and consequently its whisky is not easy to find. The company’s characteristically unique bottles, often shaped like historical statues, are extremely collectible.
Gyokusendo is a small brewery based in Yoro, Gifu prefecture. The company makes sake, shochu, mirin, liqueurs, spirits and whisky. It makes a ji-whisky named Peak Whisky sold in 1.8-litre bottles and was especially popular in the ’70s and ’80s.
The whisky is a blend of authentic 8-year-old Scottish whisky and Gyokusendo malt whisky. After blending it is again stored in a barrel for up to 10 years, giving it ample time to mature. It is frequently used to make highballs. Peak is considered a moderately priced whisky and is excellent for its grade.
Helios is a small ji-whisky maker located on the southern extreme of Japan in Okinawa, sometimes called the Hawaii of Japan. The company makes many brands of alcohol, including Awamori (a local Okinawa drink), spirits, whisky, liquors and ji-beer. It is a firm believer in using renewable energy, limiting industrial waste and saving water. Four years ago the company also started using solar energy and wind power.
The Company’s history goes back to 1961 when Matsuda Masa, the eventual founder of Helios, became convinced that the sugar cane of Okinawa could be used to produce excellent rum. Helios can boast of many long-time best-selling products, such as an amber-coloured Awamori, old sake, red shochu, craft beer, umeshu, rum and other popular drinks. Like its rum, the company’s whisky is brewed from Okinawan sugar cane, making it a very special breed indeed.
This small ji-whisky brewery has a history stretching back to 1822 when it was founded by a certain Takahashi Zennosuke. In 1883 it moved to Nikorikawamura village, and then in 1918 it moved again to its current location in Shibata city, Niigata prefecture. By 1968 it was one of the first companies in Japan to brew sake year-round. Then in 1970 the production of Red Sake began.
The company uses its family crest “Kanemasu” for business. Its labels are carefully decorated and have remained more or less unchanged since the founding of the company.
Kyowa Hakko was a medium-sized brewer of alcoholic drinks with distilleries and breweries in Ibaraki, Fukuoka and Kitakyushu. It used to make a rather inexpensive brand of ji-whisky called Diamond Whisky. In 2002 the company sold its alcoholic drinks business to Asahi which opted not to continue the Diamond brand. Consequently bottles of Diamond Whisky are extremely rare these days.
Diamond Whisky was generally sold in 700-millilitre bottles with an alcohol content of 43 percent. The taste is often described as spicy with a hint of vanilla.
This company is based in Takasaki city, Gunma prefecture, northwest of Tokyo. It was founded in 1941, in the middle of World War II. Rice was scarce during the war so the company started by making potato wine. After the war the situation greatly improved and the company expanded to making all sorts of alcoholic drinks.
Mihou Shurui’s strong spirits selection consists of rum and few types of brandy, including four different types of fruit brandy. It is definitely worth trying for those interested in something a little novel.
Miyazaki Honten is located in Yokkaichi, Mie prefecture, near Kyoto and Osaka. The company was established in 1846 as a sake and shochu maker. Today it is still a well-known maker and exporter of sake and shochu, but it also makes a ji-whisky curiously called Sun Peace that comes in sake-like 1800-millilitre bottles.
The name Sun Peace was reportedly invented in the post-war era, when everybody was tired of war. The sun of course refers to the Land of the Rising Sun. This ji-whisky is not widely known outside of the Kansai area but it is very good.
Monde Shuzo is a relatively young company established in 1952 in the town of Isawa in Yamanashi prefecture, just west of Tokyo. It is mainly known for producing wine, Chinese spirits and vodka, although it also produces a small quantity of whisky each year. The company’s first whisky was distilled in 1967.
Monde cultivates its own grapes. A few years ago the company rented a roughly 5000-square-kilometre plot of land for cultivation. The field is high above sea level, resulting in grapes with precisely the correct colour and sugar content for making high quality wines.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Monde’s whisky is the scent. It is very peculiar and often reminds people of sake, but has some spice to it as well. The palate is light yet complex, with a metallic quality. Needless to say, it is definitely an interesting whisky!
Nisshin Breweries is located in Tokushima prefecture, on the island of Shikoku. The company was established in 1941 and is chiefly known for making sake and shochu. It makes a single brand of whisky named Young Seven which is sold in sake-like bottles. Outside of Japan the company is mainly known as an exporter of shochu and sake.
Oenon is a large Japanese brewing company headquartered in Tokyo with almost 1000 employees. The name derives from the Greek goddess Oeno who reportedly had the power to turn whatever she wanted into wine.
The Company currently makes only a single type of blended whisky called Kokun. The whisky is sold in 360-, 600- and 2,700-millilitre bottles. The Kokun is relatively inexpensive and is described by Oenon as a “cost performance” whisky.
The Sapporo Shusei distillery is ideally located in the beautiful area of Hokkaido. The brewery has long used the underground water of the Sapporo mountain range to produce quality drinks popular in Hokkaido. Recently, following a shochu boom, genuine shochu as well as potato wine have been in high demand. The company has therefore been making an advance into the shochu market and it has been difficult to meet demand; as a consequence, bottles of premium shochu have been selling for premium prices.
The Company mainly specializes in shochu; however, it does make four brands of whisky known simply as Sapporo Whisky.
Sasanokawa is a small distillery that has been making a ji-whisky simply named Cherry since 1946. The distillery itself is located in the center of Koriyama in Fukushima prefecture, with a population of 330.000. For Fukushima prefecture, the population of the city is relatively large and supports prosperous industries. Many other leading companies have offices and branches in the city. Sasanokawa makes refined sake, synthetic sake, shochu, whisky, spirits and liqueurs.
Takara Shuzo is a major Japanese producer and distributor of foodstuff and drinks. It has offices and businesses in the Unites States, Europe and Asia. It is best known for producing sake and shochu, but also makes light alcoholic drinks, soft drinks and seasonings. Takara produces a single line of whisky named King Whisky. Sold in large plastic bottles of up to 4 litres, King is an economic whisky.
Toa Shuzo (literally, “East Asian Breweries”) is a Saitama-based brewing company whose long history began with its founding in 1625. It has a wide selection of sake and shochu as well a liqueurs. Toa’s ji-whisky is called Golden Horse and comes in a few different bottles. The Musashi Golden Horse bottle is reminiscent of champagne bottles, while the Golden Horse Grand and the Golden Horse precious are stored in more traditional whisky bottles.
Toa whiskies are not made in great quantities and can thus be a bit hard to find. But rest assured we are always doing our best to supply you.
Tokai Hakko Kogyo
A small local sake and shochu maker based in Nagoya city, Tokai Hakko Kogyo was founded in 1942 and ceased operations in 2008. It made a single brand of ji-whisky called Lucky Sun. As the company is already defunct, finding a bottle of its whisky can be challenging.
Toyo Breweries was located in Izunokuni in Shizuoka prefecture, where it made a ji-whisky called Jupiter Whisky. The company has now merged with Asahi Holdings; however, a few bottles of its whisky are still in circulation.
Founded in 2004, Venture is one of the youngest whisky companies in Japan. Owner Ichiro Akuto comes from a family that has been making alcoholic drinks for centuries. His family ran the now-closed Hanyu distillery. Ichiro utilized his family’s expertise, his agricultural education and his experience working at Suntory to found his own distillery in Chichibu.
Venture is a small distillery with just nine full-time employees. Aside from making its own whisky, Venture also bottles the remaining stock from the Karuizawa and Kawasaki distilleries. Marketed under the labels Ichiro’s Choice and Ichiro’s Malt, these whiskies have become something of a legend in Japan’s whisky business.
The history of Wakatsuru breweries stretches back to the Tokugawa era, to 1862 to be precise. In what is now known as the city of Fukuoka, a wealthy farmer named Kyujiro obtained a license for brewing. The company would continue to be a family business until 1918 when it became a public company.
The Company offers everything from shochu and sake to whisky and liqueurs. Its expertise is in traditional Japanese drinks; however its whisky might surprise people, as the company makes a unique Japanese apricot whisky. The taste is reminiscent of umeshu, but the whisky of course has a much higher alcohol content.