The Shirakawa Distillery is one of Japan’s lesser known silent distilleries, situated in the Fukushima Prefecture, around 200km North of Tokyo. It was built in 1939 by Daikoku Budoshu, who were also responsible for building the legendary Karuizawa Distillery. They owned the distillery for around 8 years, until, in 1947 it was purchased by Takara Shuzo, who still owns the brand rights today.
In 1951, Shirakawa became one of the first distilleries in all of Japan to produce malt whisky, however at this time the single malt market was almost non-existent, both at home and abroad, with blended whiskies being the peoples’ dram of choice.
The malt whisky produced at Shirakawa was used in “King Blended Whisky”, which achieved moderate success around Japan, but never made it onto the international market. The distillery continued producing malt whisky right up until 1969, however they never released a single malt whisky onto the market.
The ‘silent period’ of the 80s and 90s, which saw Japanese whisky fall in popularity around the country, in favour of more traditional drinks like sake, and caused the closure of a number of Japanese distilleries, meant that Takara Shuzo could no longer keep Shirakawa operational.
The distillery was demolished in 2003, and in 2011, Takara Shuzo gifted the land where the distillery once sat to the Japanese government, in order to build emergency housing to accommodate the locals who had been displaced by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami.
Discovering Long Lost Liquid
In 1986, Takara Shuzo Co. acquired the Tomatin Distillery, based in Inverness, Scotland. In doing so, they became the first ever Japanese owner of a Scottish Distillery.
Tomatin’s Managing Director, Stephen Bremner, immediately took a keen interest in Shirakawa’s pioneering malt whisky making in Japan and set about finding out more. In 2019, he was delighted to discover forgotten Shirakawa 1958 Single Malt Whisky, which had been transferred to ceramic pots and then into stainless steel tanks and moved to Takara’s Takanabe Factory.
Excited and enthralled by his discovery, Bremner began concocting plans for this incredible, rare and precious liquid to be bottled, with the hope of giving whisky fans around the world a chance to own and taste the only Shirakawa Single Malt Whisky ever bottled, and the earliest vintage Japanese whisky ever bottled, at the same time.
The Shirakawa 1958
In 2022, Bremner realised his dream, as Takara Shuzo released the magnificent Shirakawa 1958 to the public and it was immediately met with acclaim around the whisky world thanks to the gripping story, incredible liquid, stunning bottle design and elegant wooden box that houses it.
Just 1,500 bottles of this 49% abv single malt were produced and it delivers a compelling range of notes just waiting to be explored. Takara states that while many production details are not entirely clear, this whisky was produced at a time when “the distillery used predominantly Japanese malted barley and Mizunara oak casks” and this influence becomes apparent as you taste.
The nose begins with waxy oak aromas, backed up by sweet fruits, gentle nuts, candied pineapple and orange liqueur, that gradually make way for notes of cut grass, honeysuckle and coconut, while waves of spices, floral tones and woody aromas can be detected.
Then comes the palate, which balances maturity and vibrancy perfectly through freshly sliced apple and zingy lime curd alongside soft marzipan and white chocolate. This mix of fruit and nut evolves into a tropical trail mix with a dusting of cinnamon and ginger.
The finish tops things off in real style, with the fruity aromas gently dissipating and making way for a soft nuttiness, light spice and just a touch of smoke.
It’s a truly world class whisky that Bremner and Takara Shuzo have saved from being lost to the history books and for that, they deserve a huge thank you from whisky fans the world over.
This outstanding single malt whisky comes packaged in a beautifully designed box and bottle that helps to display this historic liquid gold in all of its glory.
The bottle features gold foil lettering and an elegant gold necklace, alongside a textured neck cover. This is then housed in a stunning, black wooden box that doubles as a display case. The whole thing exudes luxury and is up there with the best whisky bottlings we have ever seen on the market.
Own a Piece of Japanese Whisky History
We are delighted to announce that the Shirakawa 1958 is now available to purchase on dekanta. Limited quantities of this iconic whisky remain, with most bottles already being snapped up by collectors and aficionados around the world.
This a rare opportunity to own your very own piece of Japanese whisky history, and it’s one you don’t want to miss out on.