Karuizawa Distillery is coming back – for real this time? Plus more new distilleries

Here’s the latest in new whisky distillery news from Japan. This time we take a look at the (actual?) rebirth of the legendary Karuizawa Distillery, plus 3 others.

Karuizawa Distillery

Shocking news came out of Mitsubishi Estate this past week: they’re planning to rebuild the Karuizawa Distillery.

Unlike the nearby (yet also exciting) Komoro Distillery, the reborn Karuizawa Distillery will actually be located in Karuizawa and be named the Karuizawa Distillery. What’s more, they’re getting the band back together — ex-Mercian Karuizawa Distillery Master Distiller Osami Uchibori is an advisor to the project, and former Karuizawa distiller Yoshiyuki Nakazato will be the new master distiller.

The fact that the project involves Mitsubishi Estate is also intriguing because my guess is Mercian still owns the legal rights to the “Karuizawa Distillery” brand. Mercian is operated by Kirin, which is itself part of the Mitsubishi Group, making me think that the decision to revive Karuizawa Distillery must have gone pretty high within the conglomerate’s management. Perhaps even at their famed Friday Meeting, over some Karuizawa Whisky.

The deal also involves a company called Plan・Do・See, behind several Japanese hotel brands and restaurants like 6th by Oriental Hotel. It’s probably no coincidence that this company is based in Marunouchi, as most of the land in Marunouchi/Yurakucho is owned and operated by Mitsubishi. In fact, 6th by Oriental Hotel is right across the street from Club Diana, a nightclub I have long suspected was owned by Mitsubishi’s higher-ups… but that’s a different story.

Anyway, things are moving rapidly for the Karuizawa Distillery: they want to start construction at the new site–yes it’s in a different place than the old one–this month, and release some product during 2022. Presumably new make. I guess we don’t have to wait long to find out.

Chitose Distillery

A newly formed company called AZE plans to build a decent-sized craft whisky distillery near Sapporo’s New Chitose Airport.

In addition to private investors based in Hokkaido, AZE is funded by the management behind Hokkaido Liberty Whisky and Hokkaido Liberty Wine, the former of Benizakura Distillery and the latter of the upcoming Japanese vermouth/Hokkaido grain whisky. They probably know a thing or two about launching new distilleries!

The “Chitose Distillery”–that’s simply what I’ve named it for now–will initially produce some 150,000L of spirit per year, though they want to take that up to 300,000 L per year down the line. And that’s just malt: they’ll eventually be able to blend that with their Hokkaido corn whisky from the Maoi Distillery to create a 100% JSLMA-compliant Blended Japanese Whisky.

Construction on the distillery is slated to begin in the summer of 2022. The site is immediately adjacent to the planned location of a new Hoshino Resorts property as well, so they’re clearly targeting tourists to stop by.

Dewa Distillery

Yamagata will soon have its second whisky distillery, as plans have been announced to build the “Dewa Distillery” inside a former onsen facility owned by the city of Oguni.

Details are this one are light, but it will presumably be a fairly small distillery, as the company says they plan to make 5 local hires to run the place. Production is slated to begin in April 2022 and products released 1 or 2 years after that.

Also, if you read Japanese, it’s going to be really easy to confuse Hanyu (羽生) and Dewa (出羽) going forward.

Yabu Distillery

Hyogo prefecture is getting another whisky distillery, this time called the “Yabu Distillery” in the town of the same name. They plan to send out around 20,000 bottles of single malt per year in the future, in 2025 at the earliest. The site will be about 8000 square meters, making it a decent size, and have two aging warehouses on site.

Behind the Yabu Distillery is a company called With One, originally a seller of gaming devices and karaoke machines. They expanded into the liquor industry in 2009, and have since launched the brand of faux Japanese whisky “Azabu” that you may have seen on shelves. Great to see that they plan to “go legit.”

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