Komasa Jyozo's Kanosuke Distillery is in Kagoshima prefecture's Hioki. Overlooking the 47km-long Fukiage Hama, one of the longest in Japan, Kanosuke is the country's only beachfront whisky distillery. Their concept is "Mellow Land, Mellow Whisky."
Who's behind it
Unlike many shochu makers, Komasa Jyozo is no stranger to oak cask aging. That's because in 1957, the company released Mellowed Kozuru, the industry's first shochu aged in oak casks.
The company's history goes back to 1883. But it was the second-generation president, Kanosuke Komasa, who pioneered the use of oak casks for aging shochu. That's where the Kanosuke Distillery gets its name.
Current and fourth-generation president Yoshitsugu Komasa doesn't just hold a master's degree in fermentation science from the Tokyo University of Agriculture. He's also a graduate of the school of hard knocks. In his travels as a global salesman during his earlier years at Komasa Jyozo, he found that outside of Japanese expat communities, shochu wasn't easy to sell to people outside of Japan.
Making whisky, however, allows the Kanosuke Distillery to "speak the same language" as whisky makers from across the globe. It allows the company to stand on the same stage. If customers of Kanosuke Distillery's whisky look at the bigger picture and decide to give shochu a try, it's certainly a win.
What kind of whisky
The distillery is targeting mellow whisky, and thus far, their New Borns have been exactly that.
Japanese NEW BORN
Japanese Single Malt Whiskies
WHERE is it
Kagoshima prefecture is comprised of two peninsulas, with the western peninsula known as the Satsuma Peninsula. Along the coast of the East China Sea runs Fukiage Hama. It's named as such because during the winter months, winds from the north-east inland hit the beach and pick up sand. That sand gets carried to the surface of the water, creating plenty of sea spray.
With the Kanosuke Distillery being right on the beach, it gets plenty of that sea spray running through its aging warehouses.
The temperature difference in the area is also pretty significant over a year. While a lot of people might think Kagoshima to be pretty balmy year-round, the average yearly temperature is only 16.9°C. In winters snow isn't rare as the temperatures drop to around 0°C.
Like many newer craft whisky distilleries across the world, Kanosuke Distillery is geographically well-positioned for their maturation to yield results more quickly. Tasting the New Born releases from Kanosuke Distillery, you'll agree that they are quite mature given their age.
WHEN did they start
The Kanosuke Distillery acquired their distillation license in November 2017, with their first distillate entering casks in February of 2018. In June 2021, their first single malt whisky was released.
WHY is it special
Kanosuke Distillery is one of the most promising post-Chichibu craft whisky makers in Japan. While most distilleries of this size would have two pot stills, Kanosuke has three, affording them more variety in their distillate.
Then there's the location. Kanosuke Distillery isn't just blessed with fantastic sunsets over the East China Sea. The temperature differential helps the whisky breathe in and out of the casks more quickly, bringing on more mature notes at a quicker pace. The influence of sea spray should be more apparent as the years build on.
It's also interesting to see how different aspects of the company's shochu business are finding their way into the whisky operation. The June 2021 first single malt uses primarily American white oak casks, which is fairly standard. But what's not standard is what they used to contain: ordinarily we would expect ex-Bourbon barrels. In Kanosuke Distillery's case, though, they are recharred ex-shochu casks.
President Yoshitsugu Komasa is adamant that the company will not use imported whisky in their products at all. In fact, he's so dedicated to this position that the company is one of the only two craft whisky makers in Japan making grain whisky at the moment. In 2020 they began distilling grain whisky at their Hioki Distillery using their stainless steel shochu pot stills.
-Mash tun: 6000L stainless steel
-Washbacks: 5x stainless steel @ 7000L each
-Wash still: Miyake, 6000L, indirect heating, horizontal lyne arm, worm tub
-Spirit still 1: Miyake, 3000L, indirect heating, downward lyne arm, worm tub
-Spirit still 2: Miyake, 1600L, indirect heating, upward lyne arm, worm tub
-Warehouse: 6x racked (mixed use with Mellowed Kozuru shochu)
-Output: 200KL per annum?
Planning your visit
The Kanosuke Distillery is open to the public, for a cost of 1000 yen. Head over to their official page for more details.
Images by Whiskey Richard
REFERENCES & Further reading
Suwabe, Shinichi. ジャパニーズウイスキーで世界に挑む 新世代蒸留所からの挑戦状 [Taking on the World with Japanese Whisky. Challenge from New-Generation Distilleries]. Recipbook, 2019.