Komoro Distillery brings whisky back to Mt. Asama

About a week ago, Karuizawa Distillers announced the new Komoro Distillery. And for the first time, it happened in English. Today we take a look a brief look at things to come for the distillery.

Let’s make one thing very clear: the Komoro Distillery is not in Karuizawa. It’s in Nagano prefecture’s Komoro-shi, not Karuizawa-machi. The company’s name may be “Karuizawa Distillers” in English, but I think it’s a bit of a misnomer. If you follow nomunication.jp’s facebook, you might remember that we came across the company’s trademark filings last year. Those filings include a logo for Karuizawa Distillery, so perhaps they actually intended it to be be located in Karuizawa.

As far as I can tell, the company and its staff have no relation to the historical Karuizawa Distillery. If you ask me, I’d say that the company is leaning a bit too hard into the Karuizawa angle, given it’s in a different town and unrelated.

On the other hand, Komoro-shi is very similar, climate-wise, to Karuizawa. The distillery will be at an elevation of 910m, making it Japan’s second-highest. Komoro-shi also sits at the foot of Mt. Asama. So if the company wants to “honour the Karuizawa legacy,” Komoro should be a good location to do exactly that.

Of course a whisky distillery isn’t solely about its location and name. Karuizawa Distillers has Ian Chang, of Kavalan fame, as its master distiller. Given Kavalan’s wild success worldwide, it’s understandable that a lot of people have high hopes for Komoro. Apparently, Chang-san even declined an offer from Pernod Ricard to head up China’s first whisky distillery. Undeniably, he’s a win for Japanese whisky.

The president of Karuizawa Distillers is Koji Shimaoka, who spent 20+ years working for Citibank, then left some years ago to build the Ikoi Villa. Shimaoka-san was born in China but he’s now a Japanese citizen and went to school in Yokohama.

Distillation is set to begin in 2022, using all Forsyths equipment. With a batch size of one ton, it’s on the same scale as most other Japanese craft whisky distilleries these days. The architect designing it is Akira Sogo of SOGO Architecture & Urban Design.

Apart from the distillery itself, the company is planning to build a visitor center and a “whisky academy.” Hopefully we’ll know more details soon.


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