Tonight we're drinking yet another spirit blurring the lines between shochu and whisky, The Sugawara Suikyou Oloroso Butt Finish. It's one of several bottles that were made available via a wildly successful crowdfunding project.Let's get this out of the way: The Sugawara Suikyou is not whisky. It's not shochu either. Instead, it's a hybrid between the two.
The Sugawara Suikyou series was apparently born out of an experiment to create an actual koji-based whisky right here in Japan. Yes, koji-based whisky, pioneered by Dr. Jokichi Takamine as early as the 19th century. Long before Scotland was even a twinkle in Taketsuru-san's eye, Dr. Takamine had already patented his process. Koji whisky faded into obscurity though, thanks to yeast-based processes producing better-tasting results.
I don't really want to get into all the technicalities of shochu vs. whisky here (since I already have in the past), but to summarize they aren't allowed to call The Sugawara Suikyou shochu because it's aged. And they aren't allowed to call it whisky because Japanese law requires "whisky" to be distilled from yeast and enzymes from malted grain. Meaning, legally, "koji whisky" cannot exist here in Japan.
So here we are. It's categorized as simply "Liquor" per Japanese law.
In actuality, The Sugawara Suikyou is the result of lots of experimentation to find some kind of shochu that holds up well in a cask. The team eventually decided on carrot-based shochu(!) to make up the base spirit, which is aged in virgin American oak casks. I guess if you can't call it whisky anyway, why bother with grains?
The carrot shochu is blended with a dry-roasted barley based shochu aged in ex-Bourbon casks for 10 years. As you may have guessed, for this bottle, they're then married in a Spanish oak cask that has been seasoned with Oloroso sherry for two years.
This time around they were supported by Dr. Masaharu Minabe, an ex-Suntory distillation executive and Heriot-Watt PhD in whisky production.
Carrot shochu isn't something we come across often, and I'm always a big fan of these sort of experimental releases. So let's see what's in the bottle.
Review: The Sugawara Suikyou OlorosO Butt Finish
Nose: At 39% abv it's tough to pick out, but there's a good bit of woodiness and dried grass.
Palate: Vegetative as all get out, but with a background of tannins and vanilla. Plenty of thickness. If you're looking for carrot, you won't find it (probably for the better).
Finish: Finally getting a bit of fruitiness from the sherry, I'm thinking dried orange peel and slight banana. Lots of dryness on the end as well.
Price paid: 5600 yen, 720ml, 39% abv
The story behind this one is probably more interesting than the actual contents of the bottle. The palate has a bit going on, but I have a feeling the team was overly cautious trying to avoid making it too much of anything.