"Mizunara"... the word itself is to many Japanese whisky aficionados what Pavlov's bell was to his illustrious dogs. When a Mizunara bottling is released, people reach for their wallets faster than they're used to - these bottlings are usually sold out within a matter of days, if not hours. And woe betide you if you've got the "mizunara bug" but happen to be otherwise occupied during those days or hours - in other words, if you happen to work for a living -, because then you'll have to pay for it and pay for it dearly ... on the auction circuit.
Anyway, back to whisky. Suntory and Nikka all make extensive use of mizunara wood, although it is more expensive than the standard alternatives. It's an important part of their signature blends and the awards they've picked up over the years clearly show the trouble is worth the effort. For smaller distillers, it's much more difficult to use mizunara - obviously because they lack the economies of scale - so most of them don't (didn't) bother. Unsurprisingly, Akuto-san (Hanyu/Chichibu) is the exception. Never one to avoid obstacles, he has recently started experimenting with using mizunarawood for the cask heads only. There is another exception, however.
A few weeks ago, I happened to be at Mars (Shinshu) Distillery in Nagano prefecture - and I spent a bit of quality time in their warehouse. Imagine my surprise when I saw this: