Since our last update on the new Komoro Distillery, owned and operated by KDI, where we spoke to those behind the venture about the overall plans for Komoro, a lot of progress has been made at the distillery. So I caught up with Master Distiller, Ian Chang, and KDI’s CEO, Mr Shimaoka, once again to find out what the next steps are and delve into the finer details of their planned whisky production.
Starting with a brief update on the Komoro Distillery, Ian told me “By the end of this month (October), we will complete the roof of the building and then next month, we will hold a ceremony to celebrate the completion of the roof. Everything is now taking shape day after day. Our plan is to have Forsyths come to Japan to install the distilling equipment early next year, and then production is scheduled to take place hopefully by the end of April 2023.”
For those that have been closely following this exciting new distillery, that is very good news indeed, and gives us something of a rough timeline for when we can expect to try the spirit produced at Komoro. Whether that be new-make releases within the first few years, or single malt releases at the three year mark is yet to be seen.
When it comes to the style of the liquid that will be produced at Komoro, and the way this will be achieved, Mr Chang has a very clear view of what he wants to create and how he intends to go about it.
“Achieving the desired spirit basically comes down to a combination of all of the stages of whisky production – so the mashing methods, the temperature of the waters, fermentation time, the yeasts that we use and finally the cut points. So when we combine all of these together, along with the wood policy that we are going to use, what we hope to achieve is a single malt whisky that is complex in terms of flavours – fruity characters, floralness and so on.”
Ian then went on to detail a rather interesting process he is currently exploring that would bring something really unique to Komoro whisky. “We would also like to achieve the floral character of the flower of Komoro City, which is the violet. That is something I’m doing some research into at the moment regarding the fermentation and the mashing temperature and what is required to develop this character in the whisky.”
Violet notes in whisky are not entirely new, most famously having been a feature of some Scottish single malts in the 1980s, but no distillery has really committed to adding this unique layer of floralness to their spirit on a regular basis since. The fact that the team at Komoro are exploring this, shows that they are not scared to step out of their comfort zone in order to create something brilliant, that will capture the imagination of the world, and that’s a testament to the confidence, knowledge and expertise of their Master Distiller.
What about peaty notes? Will there be peated whisky production at Komoro?
Ian explained, “After discussions with our team, we have decided that we are going to do some peated whisky as well, however it will be very limited. The plan is to spend one month out of the year producing solely lightly to medium peated whisky, probably December, with every other month dedicated to non-peated production. We don’t want to create heavily peated expressions right now as the smoky notes may overpower the floral, fruity notes in our spirit.”
“As a Japanese producer of single malt whisky, we plan to use plenty of Mizunara wood as a key feature of our wood policy. But also, in addition to that, we will use sherry casks from a very reputable producer in Spain. So Mizunara and Sherry will be the two main types of casks from KDI, but in addition to that we also have ex-bourbon casks from the US, rum casks from Central and South America, and port casks from Portugal. Basically, there will be a wide spectrum overall, increasing our portfolio and the diversity of our whisky.”
As Ian talks me through it, he makes it all sound so easy and simple, a real sign of a master discussing his craft. When I ask about the well documented perils of working with Mizunara wood, he gives me a fascinating account of the process used to avoid leakage.
“(When using Mizunara wood) what you have to do, is keep refilling the new make in the cask, so that eventually the pores are blocked and stop leakage. This makes using Mizunara much more expensive, because you have to use a lot of new make in the early stages.”
Bear in mind, this isn’t the only challenge that those working at Komoro are preparing for. The climate in the city can get very cold in winter, and warm in summer, and this poses interesting problems for the Master Distiller, who’s previous role had him working in extremely warm and humid conditions at Taiwanese distillery, Kavalan.
Ian stated “In contrast to Kavalan, in Taiwan there is a hot climate, so the challenge is to prevent over maturation, but here at Komoro the task is to try to speed up the maturation naturally by using different sizes of casks and different oak types to find an optimum maturation speed at Komoro.”
Thankfully, Ian is equipped with the knowledge of how to do this thanks to his mentor, the late, great Dr Jim Swan, “Luckily, when Jim was still alive, he taught me how to do both (speeding up and slowing down maturation), but until coming to Japan the cold weather technique was just in theory for me. Now, this time, I have this opportunity to apply all of the knowledge and techniques that Jim has left us – his legacy! So I’m very excited to try all of these in order to speed up the maturation, and I’m very confident we can do it. There will have to be some experimentation initially to find the best method in this climate.”
A Big Future For KDI
With a firm image of the type of whisky that will be produced at Komoro laid out by the Master Distiller, it was time to chat a bit more about the future plans for the distillery, beyond the next year.
Mr Shimaoka was keen to stress they are currently focused on the near future and producing something incredible at Komoro, before detailing some exciting news about KDI’s plans, “We are in a good position just now – we have a great team, a great plan and soon we will have a great product, so I’m very excited about our future.”
“However, the Komoro Distillery is just our first one, in the future we have big plans that could see us owning multiple distilleries. We want to produce a range of whiskies, with Komoro as the pinnacle.”
A big plan indeed and one that we feel echoes the current upwards trajectory of Japanese whisky, with a growing landscape of distilleries giving consumers more access than ever before to unique ranges of top quality single malt whisky from all across the country.
However, for now, Komoro is the focus for KDI and Ian’s overall message, combined with his unrivaled expertise, bodes well for the future of this exciting Japanese whisky venture.
“I want to show the world that KDI is not just about producing whisky, but that we also have the know-how to achieve our aims in terms of quality as well.” – Ian Chang