"Unlike in Scotland, whisky distilleries in Japan do not swap stock." That's been the case for basically the entire history of Japanese whisky. But that is now changing: Wakatsuru Saburomaru Distillery and Nagahama Distillery have jointly announced they are the first craft whisky distilleries in Japan to ever swap stock.Since the new standards for "Japanese whisky" were announced, going forward, JSLMA members must make their whisky entirely in Japan for it to be labeled as Japanese whisky.
That may be blatantly obvious for malt whiskies. But what about blended whiskies? Grain whisky distilleries are few and far between in Japan.
With no apparatus in place to acquire Japan-made grain whisky on the market, Japanese craft whisky makers face a tough choice should they want to appeal to a broader market with a--presumably more affordable--blended whisky: make your own grain whisky, or source the grain whisky from overseas.
Komasa Jyozo and Sakurao have chosen the former. But if you choose the latter, thanks to the new standards, you lose the "Japanese whisky" title. Akkeshi's most recent release, for example, is not a Japanese whisky. For many distilleries, it's simply not in the cards for logistical or financial reasons to make your own grain whisky.
Saburomaru Distillery said as much in a note published soon after the new standards were announced. In the memo, the company recommended Japanese whisky distilleries start exchanging stocks--even just malts--to create a wider variety of Japanese whiskies. Saburomaru, for example, tends to be quite peaty, so that kind of whisky could add an interesting note to other whiskies found throughout the country.
So that's exactly what they've done.
FAR East of Peat First Batch Blended Malt Japanese Whisky
Takahiko Inagaki blended this one, using Saburomaru Distillery's heavily peated malt whisky from 2017 and Nagahama Distillery's lightly peated malt whisky that was aged in an Islay quarter cask.
It weighs in at 700ml, 50% abv, and will go for a cool 15,000 yen before tax. Only 700 bottles will be made available. Some via a lottery on Wakatsuru's online shop from March 30, 2021.
Far east of peat second batch blended malt whisky
Like the first batch, this one uses the above Saburomaru and Nagahama malt whiskies, but it also features a Scotch malt component. Understandably it will see a much wider release of around 7000 bottles. And cheaper too, at 5900 yen before tax. Still 50% abv and 700ml.
Inazuma Blended Malt Japanese Whisky Synergy Blend
From the Nagahama side, we also get two similar bottles. But it's not exactly the same -- this bottle features non-peated Nagahama malt to go with the peated Saburomaru malt.
It's also 15,000 yen before tax, with an outlay of 700 bottles at 700ml apiece. 47% abv.
Inazuma World Blended Malt Whisky Extra Selected
Again this uses non-peated Nagahama malt and Saburomaru's peated malt, but this one throws "foreign" malt into the mix. Presumably Scotch, but they didn't specify.
6900 yen before tax, 47% abv, 700ml. This one will be a release of about 6000 bottles.
These two Inazuma bottles will also be available via Nagahama's online shop.
I'm looking forward to this new chapter in the story of Japanese whisky!
I’m Whiskey Richard, and I am the founder of nomunication.jp. I’ve lived in Tokyo for over a decade, and I am a certified Shochu Kikisake-shi/Shochu Sommelier (焼酎唎酒師), Cocktail Professor (カクテル検定１級), and I hold Whisky Kentei Levels 3 and JW (ウイスキー検定３級・JW級). Click here for more details about me and this site. Kampai!