Review: Osuzu Malt New Make, JWRC 20th + JW Day Anniversary Edition

Around this time last year we tried Osuzuyama Distillery’s Osuzu Gin, which I found pretty decent. Today I’ve finally gotten my hands on a bottle of their new make (whisky), but it’s not one widely available: it’s a limited bottling to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Japan Whisky Research Centre and the first ever Japanese Whisky Day

Osuzuyama Distillery in Miyazaki is a pretty interesting one. They are bringing a big slice of shochu culture into the whisky world. Barley is sourced locally on 19 hectares that they manage and their barley is all malted in-house.

But it’s not barley malting like you see at some distilleries in Scotland. Instead, 600kg of barley are laid into 48 different stainless steel vats, then stirred by hand. They call this “box malting,” and it’s a process similar to the one they use for getting koji to grow on barley for their shochu. More details about Osuzuyama and the “Box Malting Method” are covered in a recent Whisky Galore article available to Nomikai members.

Perhaps even more shochu-like is the fact that Osuzu Malt’s wash run is done on a hybrid stainless steel shochu still that literally blows steam into the wash to agitate it. This happens all the time in shochu, but for whisky, I think it’s a first.

This bottle here uses new make distilled in 2019, then aged in American oak casks with chestnut heads for 15 months. Yes chestnut, not oak — this kind of thing is allowed under the new JSLMA Japanese Whisky standard, so expect to see more bottles like this in the future.

Japanese barley, malted in Japan, distilled on a shochu still, then aged in an adventurous Japanese chestnut cask. Japanese whisky doesn’t get more Japanese than this. How is one of the first bottles of new make from of one of Japan’s most celebrated shochu makers?

Review: Review: Osuzuyama Malt New Make, JWRC 20th + JW Day Anniversary Edition

Nose: Very malty, fresh cut oak out of the forest, ripe cherries, green apple. Coming back to it again brings more fresh greenery and cedar. Even later there’s caramel and brown sugar.

Palate: Sweet and hands-down the smoothest new make you’ll ever have. Plenty of great woody malt, but lacking depth given its age. No alcoholic sharpness here. Dried oranges hide in the background.

Finish: A tiny hint of chestnut is quickly followed up by woody spices, cinnamon, and vanilla. Lingering sweetness of wagashi.

Score: A-

Price paid: 0 yen, though the lottery bottles went for 3300 yen after tax. 59% abv, 200ml

It’s tough to judge a new make as young as this, but going by texture, Osuzu Malt is likely to end up as one of the smoothest whiskies Japan has to offer. Keep an eye out.

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