Event Report: Kanosuke Double Distillery

The Kanosuke Distillery recently held a press event in Tokyo to officially announce, among other things, the release of their much-anticipated “Double Distillery” whisky. This bottle combines the malt whiskies of Kanosuke Distillery with pot-still grain whiskies from the Hioki Distillery, where the whole is hopefully greater than the sum of its parts. Does it work?

On the off chance you’ve been reading nomunication.jp since I started the site nearly seven years ago, it’s safe to say we’ve witnessed most of the Kanosuke Distillery’s journey together. Or at least the public-facing part! We were there when they released their first-ever new pot. We reviewed their first New Born, then their first ever single malt. Hioki Distillery popped on the radar, and Komasa-san himself quickly chimed in to confirm they were making grain there. We visited the Kanosuke Distillery, of course. Then there was the investment from Diageo‘s drinks incubator, Distill Ventures — so we talked to them about it.

In many ways, the press event held on April 17 is the natural progression. Kanosuke already has their standard, non-age-statement Kanosuke Single Malt, and Hioki already has their non-age-statement “Hioki Pot Still” grain whisky. The newly released “Double Distillery” unites the two and completes the Kanosuke Distillery’s core lineup.

Let’s think about that for a minute. Core lineup implies that these bottles are NOT limited editions. These are bottles that will, at least in theory, be available year-round for the forseeable future. Taking it a step further, you could say the Kanosuke Distillery is essentially telling us they’ve achieved the baseline flavor profile they originally sought, and don’t plan to make, for example, a 6-year age-statement blended Japanese whisky their brand standard going forward.

This is a wildly different approach than what we’ve seen from other Japanese whisky distilleries. Mars Whisky started distilling in Yamanashi in 1960, and over 60 years later, they don’t have a standard “Single Malt Komagatake” or “Single Malt Tsunuki.” Everyone and their brother who knew about Chichibu a decade ago seems to have a single cask nowadays, but how many standard (i.e., not limited edition) single malt releases have the distillery done?

As I said last year, there’s no right or wrong answer here. If Kanosuke Distillery wants to come out swinging and say hey, this is our standard single malt, this is our single grain, and this is our standard blended, more power to them. (That said, I have a strong suspicion they’ll want to go upmarket in the future, i.e. maybe some “deluxe” standard releases)

One of the other somewhat unique things about the Kanosuke Distillery’s lineup is the pricing. You might think a grain whisky is supposed to be cheaper than a malt whisky? Well, you’d be wrong in the case of Kanosuke. In fact, the single malt is the most affordable of the bunch, coming in at 9,900 yen after tax. From there you can move to the Kanosuke Hioki Pot Still (12,100 yen), and then to the Double Distillery release (14,300 yen). Which is to say you probably should not look at this whisky as a blended whisky. Instead, call it a “vatting” or something of malt and grain whiskies.

Double Distillery weighs in at 53% abv, containing seven component whiskies shown in the slide above (1-5 from the Kanosuke Distillery and 2 from the Hioki Distillery). As a fan of both Kanosuke Single Malt and Hioki Pot Still, I found the Double Distillery to be nicely blended, not leaning too hard into either distillery but still presenting a lot of the characteristics we’ve come to enjoy. But perhaps more importantly, Double Distillery is not simply a blend of the Single Malt and Pot Still — this is a genuinely new blend.

Since this was the media session, one of the presentations focused on Kanosuke’s sales strategy in the future (this was not covered in the SNS influencer or consumer sessions held later in the day). There were a few key takeaways:

  • Kanosuke’s brand message will be built on three columns: “Family,” since Kanosuke is a family business, “Craft,” since Kanosuke is made by Japanese craftspeople, and “Place” since Kagoshima’s “Mellow Coast” is the only place that can produce whiskies like these.
  • Unsurprisingly, Kanosuke plans to rapidly expand their sales footprint globally. Their initial efforts will focus on the US market, particularly New York and California.
  • The European markets will follow, focusing on major cities in the UK, France, and Germany.
  • Asia will follow, namely China/Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Singapore.
  • Global Travel Retail will apparently feature some exclusives too (three GTR-exclusive versions of the standard lineup).
  • Altogether, Kanosuke aims to increase sales by 5x by 2030, becoming one of the world’s leading craft whisky brands.
  • They will continue to release Distillery Exclusives in both 200ml and 700ml sizes.
  • Creation of a “Kagoshima Whisky Trail,” since the prefecture currently has 13 licensed whisky distilleries (I dubbed something similar the “Kagoshima Whisky Triangle” back when I visited three — but as of this writing Ontake Distillery is not yet open to the public)

Needless to say, quintupling sales in around five years is no easy task. I suppose one major component of that strategy is building out the necessary capacity. At least the distillery property has room for more warehouses, but if they have to add more stills, mash tuns, or what have you, the current facilities might not suffice.

The elephant in the room? Age statements! Well, if you’ve built a whisky distillery on the beach in the subtropical climate of Kagoshima Prefecture, perhaps age statements don’t seem like such a big deal.

At the current exchange rate, Double Distillery costs around $90 USD (in the Japan domestic primary market). Convincing international drinkers to pay, I dunno, $150 USD for a NAS craft Japanese Whisky might be a challenge, but other subtropical whisky distilleries have proven that plenty of people don’t care about age statements as much as they used to.

Watching the Kanosuke Distillery emerge as one of the more ambitious craft Japanese whisky makers has been interesting. Here’s to watching them for many more years to come.

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