Post by Stefan Van Eycken, Tokyo
It’s been a pretty bleak few months in Japanese whisky land. There have been a few single cask and limited editions from the Venture Whisky stable but that’s been pretty much it. It’s hard to report on those because they sell out in a split second…
What a thrill it is then to be able to signal a limited release that you can get your hands on and that’s 1) reasonably priced and 2) of superb quality. That said, you will have to make an effort and travel to the distillery. Nothing comes easy these days – not as far as Japanese whisky is concerned.
On a recent visit to the distillery, I had the chance to try the Distiller’s Select bottlings and they’re really beautiful whiskies at a price that can’t be beat at the moment. (They come in two sizes, 500ml and 200ml.) According to the staff, the single grain is the first release to come out of Fuji Gotemba distillery that uses all 3 types of grain whisky made there. It’s made up of 50% light-type grain (column distilled), 49% medium-type grain (made in batches, using the beer column and the kettle) and 1% heavy-type grain (made, like bourbon, using the beer column and the doubler). The average age of the vatting is 6yo, with the oldest component 8yo. Wonderfully lush – with a nice maple syrup note – it’s a real treat. The team settled on a bottling strength of 48%. The original vatting came in at about 60% abv but the team felt it was best presented at 48%. They are very thorough so they tried various strengths and that was the conclusion they came to.
The ‘winning’ malt vatting was composed by stillman Masao Nakamura. Nakamura is a fan of peated whiskies (Islay in particular) so he put a generous dose (a little over 1/3) of peated (5ppm) malt in his creation. It’s just the right amount to give it a beautiful smoky halo without obliterating the other notes. The “Distiller’s Select Malt” was bottled at vatting strength (49%).
The team at the distillery are very proud of this pair and understandably so. The plan is to continue this project with annual follow-ups. As chief distiller Yuichiro Mese pointed out, “this project is not just about selling a new product, it’s also about improving our skills”. If this isn’t the perfect excuse to pay a visit to Fuji Gotemba distillery, I don’t know what is. And even if you’ve been there in the past, the visitor center has undergone an upgrade recently and the tour is better than ever before. Perfect time for a weekend trip.