One of the first surprises of the year comes from Okinawa's Helios Distillery in the form of Kyoda Cask Strength 2020. Mars is also slated to release a second official bottle from their Tsunuki Distillery dubbed Tsunuki Peated. Let's take a quick look at both.
Kyoda Cask Strength 2020
This year's first big news is the surprise announcement of Okinawa's first single malt whisky.
Over the decades, the Helios Distillery in Okinawa has remained in the background in the Japanese whisky scene. They kicked off whisky-making in 1972 with second-grade brands like Highlander Whisky and Helios Whisky, eventually turning into an OEM supplier for Taiwan's Kamiya Whisky. Following that, 2016's REKI Pure Malt was their last product to use some malt whisky distilled at their own facilities -- the more recent KURA the WHISKY brand is distilled entirely outside of Japan. By my estimates, they stopped making whisky in the mid-00s.
Rumors began swirling a few years ago that with the uptick in Japanese whisky, the company resumed distilling their own malt whisky in 2015-16. It appears those rumors were true, because on December 31, 2020 they announced the release of Okinawa's first ever single malt whisky, dubbed Kyoda Cask Strength 2020.
Made with UK malt and distilled in 2017, it weighs in at 60.9% abv, 700ml, 10,000 yen+tax.
We have been expecting more new faces in the Japanese single malt whisky scene in 2021. While Helios wasn't expected, it's definitely a welcome surprise.
I'm eager to see how Okinawa's sub-tropical climate impacts the whisky. And in the future we'll have plenty of chances. Helios isn't the only whiskymaker in Okinawa anymore: Masahiro and Shinzato are now licensed too.
Mars Single Malt Tsunuki Peated
2020 saw the smashing debut of Mars Tsunuki The First, whose powerful profile was well-received by both the community and Whisky Galore's tasting panel. The Tsunuki Distillery is now gearing up to release their second single malt, this time a peated number called Single Malt Tsunuki Peated. It's a vatting of peated malt whiskies that spent time in Bourbon barrels.
Peated gets a bigger outrun than The First: 14,830 bottles this time around. 9,680 yen after tax for 700ml at 60% abv. The lottery opens up on this page on January 15, 2021.
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