|The new one (left) and a mini of the old one (right).|
On 22 March, Kirin launched the renewed ‘Fujisanroku Tarujuku 50°’. But they didn’t just slap a new label on the bottles. In fact, they changed the bottles themselves too. Whereas the old one used to come in 600ml bottles, the new 50°NC – as we will call it, for the sake of convenience – comes in standard 700ml. The recipe has been changed somewhat, too; not to the extent that fans of the old 50° wouldn’t recognize it, but tasted side-by-side, the difference is obvious. The 50°NC is richer and has more depth and complexity to it.
At Fuji Gotemba, in addition to malt whisky, three different types of grain whisky are produced: light (distilled in a column still, as is usual), batch-light (i.e. medium, distilled in a beer column->kettle->rectifying column configuration) and heavy (i.e. bourbon-type, distilled in a beer column and then in a doubler). With the batch-light type picking up some serious awards internationally (‘Blender’s Choice Grain’ was awarded ‘Best Japanese Grain Whisky’ at the WWA2015; ‘Small Batch 25yo’ was named ‘World’s Best Grain Whisky’ a month ago at the WWA2016), the decision was made to feature more of the medium and heavy-type grain whisky, whilst at the same time toning down the peated malt component. Kudos to chief blender Jota Tanaka for the ‘renewal’ of the recipe – it works a treat!
Then, they went a step further and decided to present it un-chillfiltered. It is bottled at 50%abv and this is actually very close to vatting strength. Filling strength (the abv at which new spirit is filled into casks) is unusually low at Fuji Gotemba – 50.5% for malt, 55.5% for heavy-grain and 62.5% for medium- and light-type grain – so when the components are vatted, the strength isn’t far off the 50% mark. Because there is very little dilution involved and because it is bottled higher than most standard whiskies in that price range, the risk of clouding when water or ice is added to a dram (which is the main reason why whiskies are chill-filtered) is very low. Producers who chill-filter their products maintain there is little or no difference. The folks at Kirin ran tests and found that there was a noticeable difference. Maybe in a smoky bar late at night one wouldn’t notice, but in peace and quiet, one would. In the chill-filtered version, the sweet top notes weren’t as bright and it had less body, as well. We applaud the folks at Kirin for pioneering non-chillfiltration at this level and hope that some of the other big boys in the industry will follow suit. Of course, there have been NC releases from other Japanese distillers before, but these were one-offs or special editions. The new ‘Fujisanroku 50°C’ is the first generally and permanently available, entry-level NC Japanese blended whisky that is not chill-filtered. A bold move but one that, we are sure, will pay off. It sure does for us drinkers… the first sip you take, you know!
Now for the bad news… bad for most of our readers who reside abroad. This, like all other Kirin whiskies, is only available in Japan. However, every cloud has a silver lining. We get mail all the time from readers asking us where they can find such-and-such special whiskies to buy and take home… For the past few years, our replies have been along the lines of “mmm, you can’t…” Now we can say, forget about chasing unicorns when you are in Japan… instead, head on over to the nearest supermarket or a liquor store and pick up a few bottles of this. It’s cheap, it’s great, it’s not available back home… and with the time and money you save, there’s plenty of other things you can do. A win-win for everybody.