Yes, Suntory is making whisky at the Osumi Distillery… from rice

It looks like there is a fourth distillery in Suntory's Japanese whisky making operation. As we speculated last year, that distillery is Kagoshima prefecture's Osumi Distillery.

Most of you are probably already familiar with Suntory's Yamazaki, Hakushu, and Chita distilleries. Osumi, on the other hand, is originally a shochu distillery that was bought in 2014 by Suntory. They later went on to acquire a whisky distillation license for the site. That and a few other factors led me to believe it was Suntory's next whisky-making facility.

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Well, to toot my own horn, I was right. Today we've learned that Suntory has indeed been making rice-based whisky at that Osumi Distillery. Apparently for over 3 years, even. In volume 4 of The Essence of Suntory Whisky is a Rice Whisky that is fermented and distilled at Osumi without using koji.

"Rice-based whisky" might have you scratching your head. I have seen two different kinds out in the wild:

  • We previously discussed the differences between shochu and whisky. The use of koji as a fermentation starter for shochu is perhaps the biggest difference! In the US there are lots of "Japanese rice whiskies" floating around that are basically rice-based aged shochus, creating confusion for many consumers.
  • There are a handful of rice-based whiskies elsewhere in the world not using koji.

Again, The Essence of Suntory Whisky Rice Whisky falls into the latter group, as it explicitly does not use koji. Instead, it's using yeast and malt (i.e. it's not 100% rice). So while we can certainly argue over whether or not rice qualifies as a grain for whisky, at the very least... this is definitely not an aged shochu.

Your move, Nikka.

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