Saturday, May 5, 2007


The former owners of the Shirakawa Distillery in Fukushima have left their Japanese single malt making days far behind.

Takara Shuzou, an old sake and shochu making business tracing its roots back to the mid 19th century, is now more famous for cutting up and manipulating DNA than whisky distilling. Takara workers might have been forgiven for thinking the bosses had been drinking from the barrels when they announced a biotech research centre in 1967, but the investment paid off in the late 70s when they produced enzymes that identified and separated DNA sequences. Takara are now big players in that world.

The Takara holding company still has an alcohol arm. In the 50s and 60s, its "King" blended whisky and "Takara" beer brands were quite prominent. The beer is long gone and, though you can still buy the blended whisky, Takara now makes most of its sales through traditional Japanese alcohols, chu-hai cocktail drinks and mirin cooking sake. Its quality whisky making is now entirely offshore - it owns the Tomatin distillery in Scotland - and a brief flirtation with the Japanese single malt scene seems to have finished quite a long time before the Shirakawa distillery was officially closed in 2003. Shirakawa, which had been bought by Takara from another brewer immediately after the Second World War, was being used solely as a bottling plant in its later years.

According to Takeshi Mogi`s Japanese whisky site, stocks of Shirakawa single malts are quite limited. I have found this store on the internet, selling Shirakawa single malt by the 100ml in plastic bottles, and one Nonjatta reader bought Shirakawa for less than 500 yen per 100ml in 2004. Wish I could get it for that price.

"Shirakawa" mark in Japanese characters

I have never seen the Shirakawa brand on a whisky bottle. This is what it looked like scrawled on the side of my placky bottle of Shirakawa:

And in computer text, in case you want to search for these whiskies on the Japanese internet: 白河 (Shirakawa), ウィスキー (whisky). (Can`t see it?)

Single malts from Shirakawa

See the side bar.

LocationView location on map of Japan's single malt distilleries. (If you download Google Earth and click on the "KML" button above this map you can see the topography in 3D!)
The distillery is no longer operating. Takara has a new plant in this area but it has nothing to do with whisky distilling.

No longer exists.
I believe it was at: 961-0074, Kakunai 151, Shirakawashi , Fukushima
Former address in Japanese: 白河市郭内151〒961-0074
The Takara (alcohol) website in Japanese
The Takara (alcohol) website in EnglishOnline Vom Fass shop selling Shirakawa by the 100ml in plastic bottles

I am taking a bit of a punt with the illustration for this post. I believe it is an old print of the Shirakawa distillery but I am not sure at all. I found it on the Takara website.


mrkorino said...

What do you mean they produce Blanton's? That's made at Buffalo Trace is it not?

Nonjatta said...

I have changed that text because I think you are correct, and I cannot find the source for the original meaning that would allow me to clarify the meaning.

Gabanyi said...

Takara doesn’t produce Blanton’s, they just own the brand since they bought a company named Age International in 1992.
Age International was founded 1983 by two managers of the long defunct Fleischmann Distillery in Kentucky. They owned the Ancient Age Distillery — now Buffalo Trace — and created the Blanton’s brand especially for the japanese market. Having bought their business, Takara sold the distillery to Sazerac Co., who still owns it now, but kept the Blanton’s brand together with other Age International bourbons, Elmer T. Lee, Hancock’s Reserve and Rock Hill Farm.
All these whiskeys are still produced by Sazerac on behalf of Age International/Takara