Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Fuji Gotemba Distiller’s Select 2016

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.
The release we’re talking about is “Fuji Gotemba Distiller’s Select” and it’s actually a dual release, as so often with the good folk at the distillery there: a single malt and a single grain. The concept behind this release is a very interesting one. At the big companies in Japan, specialized blenders put releases together. That’s their job. At Kirin, there’s a very good team, led by chief blender Jota Tanaka, but for the “Distiller’s Select”, the idea was to have the people who actually make the liquid at the distillery put something together. Several key people on the team created a vatting of their own, which was then tasted blind by the people there, tweaked when necessary and then the “best” one was picked and prepared for bottling.

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.

3 comments:

lennyboy said...

Really keen to try this out. Any idea on the price at the distillery?

Peter van Dongen said...

Great tour! Unfortunately the tour was only in Japanese, but the film in the movie theatre had english subtitles. The movie was beautiful made and the interaction with the tourguide was great! they really done a great job.
At the tasting i tried the 17y single malt and the 25y single grain, and both distiller select 2016. The 2016 single grain was really good and i ended up buying 2 of them. think i have to go back if they are empty :)

price at the distillery for the 200ml is about 23 euro

Jermain Am said...

How about the price at the distillery? Any idea about it? grain to glass