It’s time for our first distillery spotlight of 2022 and today we’re looking at one of Japan’s newer distilleries that is making waves with their unique expressions influenced by the local terroir – it’s the Akkeshi Distillery.
Situated on the stunning northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, Akkeshi has been distilling whisky since 2016. The distillery founder, Keiichi Toita, chose the island as the location for his whisky venture thanks to his love of Islay single malts. The climate on Hokkaido is both cool and wet, and so conditions are perfect for producing a spirit akin to those made on Scotland’s most famous whisky producing island.
The town of Akkeshi can be found on the coast, where Hokkaido meets the Pacific Ocean, and it’s surrounded inland by the Bekan-Beushi wetlands. This area is absolutely teeming with wildlife and as such it’s a conservation area, meaning the distillery has to adhere to strict ‘eco-friendly’ rules when producing their whisky.
This requires them to give as much back to the land they work on as they take from it and has resulted in some truly unique whiskies that embody the surroundings and bring something entirely new and unique to the table.
While the initial idea was to create a spirit akin to that produced on Islay, the Akkeshi distillery has ended up creating spirit that stands entirely on its own, delivering a range of notes that result in a must-try tasting experience for fans of Japanese whisky.
Two years after the distillery was built, Akkeshi kicked things off by releasing a number of “New Born Foundations” expressions, giving people a taste of what was to come from the distillery. These spirits were not quite yet whisky, having not gone through 3 years maturation, but they still managed to deliver some compelling flavour profiles that got people excited about the distillery’s future.
Each of the bottlings was created in a different way. Some were made using peated malt, while others used unpeated, and they were all given different cask maturations, allowing us to get a sample of the array of possibilities with the smooth, elegant distillate.
All four releases received critical acclaim, but none more so than the New Born Foundations 2 and 3, which received truly impressive scores of 94 and 93 out of 100 in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible 2020, with the Foundation 2 also being given the “Liquid Gold” award. This is quite a feat, given these releases weren’t even proper whisky, and showed that there was real promise in the work being done in Hokkaido.
Coming of Age
Fast forward to March of 2020 and the Akkeshi distillery was ready to release their first fully-fledged single malt.
Titled “Akkeshi Sarorunkamuy”, translating as “Japanese red crowned crane”, an animal synonymous with the meaning “God of the Wetlands”, it was made from whisky distilled in 2016 and matured in bourbon, red wine, sherry and Mizunara casks. And to be completely honest, it was absolutely exquisite and nothing like anything released by other Japanese distilleries.
It was smooth and fruity, with lots of red berries, poached plums, gentle spices and distinct hints of fresh strawberries, all of which were delivered in a way that kept you coming back for more time and time again.
It was quite a limited release, but anyone that tried it was left longing for another bottle, which quickly became particularly hard to find.
Since then, the distillery has gone from strength to strength and has now released a number of limited edition single malts, from the Kanro to peated and unpeated small batch releases, as well as a range of limited blended expressions, and each and every one to date has been enjoyed by fans and critics alike.
Now, six years on from the founding of Akkeshi and two years after that initial single malt release, we’re expecting 2022 to be a big year for this up and coming distillery. With older spirit to play with and the accumulated knowledge and expertise that they have developed since their inception, they are very well placed to continue releasing fascinating whiskies and we’re sure it won’t be long before we’re hearing more about them on the world stage and at international spirits competitions around the world.