February 2021 brings a whopping eight newly licensed whisky distilleries here in Japan. The tax man has been busy! Let’s take a look at each and what they might bring to the table.
This Niigata, Nagaoka City based sake maker has been around since 1758. The company is well-known amongst residents of Niigata, but in recent years they switched to producing only mirin. Will whisky start a new chapter for them?
Senjo Yamada Factory
Sake maker Senjo is located in Nagano prefecture’s Ina, famous for its cherry blossoms. The company makes a host of sakes and related products, including amazake for the OEM market. The company began operating in 1866.
Kirin Yokohama Factory
Holy crap! Kirin got a license to distill whisky at their Yokohama Factory. To my knowledge, this is the only site outside of the the Fuji Gotemba Distillery that the company is licensed to distill whisky.
What’s more likely, though, is that the facility will simply be used as a bottling operation for products like Riku Land Discovery.
Iseman is located in Mie prefecture’s Ise, famous of course for the Ise Grand Shrine. Iseman claims to be Ise’s only sakagura.
Chillingly, the company was also involved with the yakuza in the past. Iseman’s parent company, Hamada Sogyou, was embroiled in controversy at the beginning of 2020 when it was discovered that for nearly 12 years, some bottles of their Stella shochu featured a yakuza coat of arms as part of the bottle design. How did it get discovered? Extortion! Classic yakuza.
The chairman of Hamada Sogyou apparently met some yakuza higher-ups back in 1989, and was buddy-buddy with them over the decades. I’ll let you guess exactly which syndicate.
For what it’s worth, the company appears to be trying to get past the incident. They are now under new management and have a compliance committee overseeing all companies within the group.
Back in 2018, sake maker Kizakura got a license for their Tamba factory. Now in 2021, they have a second licensed facility, known as the Misugura. While we are yet to see a whisky come out of Kizakura, it looks like they are switching into a higher gear already.
Beloved sake maker Chiyomusubi now has a license for making whisky at their headquarters in Tottori’s Sakaiminato city. Again details are sparse, but we do know they have experience making vodka and gin.
Hiroshima gets another whisky distillery, this time from Miyakehonten in Kure. Kure is famous for its shipyard where the ill-fated battleship Yamato was launched in 1940. Today, Kure is the site of the Yamato Museum.
Miyakehonten today makes the Sempuku sake.
Here’s the big one. Satsuma Shuzo is one of Japan’s most prominent shochu makers, known for their major brands like Kannoko and Shiranami.
The company now has a provisional(!) license to make whisky at their “Fire God” Distillery.
This is an important one because Satsuma Shuzo Japan’s is supposedly only shochu maker to have an on-site cooperage. As we saw with their recent Sleepy Owl 12-year aged release, they are no strangers to the maturation process and it should be interesting to see how they flex their muscle in this space. In fact, Satsuma Shuzo’s cooperage was previously headed by Hayasaka-san, the former head cooper at Nikka Whisky.
An on-site cooperage puts Satsuma Shuzo in the same league with major players like Nikka, Suntory, and Chichibu. Watch this space!
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