Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Questions and answers about imported Akashi blend

Akashi blended whisky

Update 28.7.2011: Eigashima and LWdM released statements saying the Akashi blend was in line with EU regulations.
Update 22.7.2011: Rival importer La Maison du Whisky commented on the issue.

It has been over a month since I posted the exciting news of a new range of whiskies being imported into Europe by Les Whiskies du Monde. Eagle-eyed readers noticed a loose end in that initial report in which I said cryptically that "other importers into Europe" were raising questions about the contents of one of the whiskies. I got some messages asking what on earth I was talking about.

I can now be a little more specific. The "other importers into Europe" were La Maison du Whisky and the specific whisky they were talking about was the Akashi White Oak blended whisky from the Eigashima distillery. La Maison said the whisky was not a blended whisky as Europeans might understand it and had some quite specific figures on its composition. I decided it was necessary to directly contact Eigashima, a company I have always found to be completely straightforward and honest, before publishing anything about this.

Mikio Hiraishi, who runs Eigashima, has just replied with a very full statement of what is in that whisky. It is not conventional blended whisky.

The first thing to point out is that there has never been any attempt by Eigashima to obfuscate about the contents. They have always been perfectly straightforward. The back of the bottle says in Japanese that the whisky is made of "malt whisky and spirits," (see below) something that makes it clear to Japanese consumers that it does not contain grain whisky, as would normally be expected from a blended whisky where I come (UK). The issue here is in the translation of the Japanese whisky market's rules and norms into the international market. This does not normally come up because most of the big players, like Suntory and Nikka, play by the international rules on their premium products. Eigashima plays by the international rules on their single malts. But this was a blended whisky that was, I suspect, made with a very local market in mind, and which Les Whiskies du Monde's enterprise has plucked out of obscurity.

What Hiraishi-san says it contains is the following: White Oak (Eigashima) malt whisky and imported (ie. non-Japanese) malt whisky which together comes to 34 per cent of the whisky in the present blend. The rest, 66 per cent, is made up of molasses spirit (some of which has been stored in barrels). The malt has been stored for an average of 5.6 years. In 2013, the proportion of malt used will rise to 40 per cent, with the average storage time falling slightly to 5 years.

I will follow this up with comments from La Maison and Les Whiskies du Monde if they want to give them, but I just want to give out the basic facts laid out in the message from Hiraishi-san. From my perspective, this is a classic case of different historic norms for mass market spirits (as opposed to premium whisky, which now has very little divergence in norms) causing possible misunderstandings. I really hope nobody is going to blame Eigashima, who have been totally straight forward about what they are producing throughout this.

'Whisky and spirits' are listed as ingredients.
The photos are taken from this page.


Yokosuka Mike said...

Whatever the blend is, is of little importance to me. At 1,050 yen a bottle this tasty whisky is a real gem. I've consumed two bottles already and have four more in reserve. And, ordering it from White Oak via their website was easy and the delivery was quick (next day it arrived). Anyway, Chris, thank you for going to the trouble of clearing up the issue in such a well thought out and educated manner.

Best regards,

Yokosuka, Japan.

Nonjatta said...

I am no purist about what is blended with malts: http://nonjatta.blogspot.com/2009/03/proof-of-concept-whiskyshochu-blends.html
I have a feeling, and I may look into this further, that it is actually very hard for Japanese independent makers to make blended whisky, as opposed to malts, because it is hard for them to get grain whisky in Japan. The big makers, Nikka/Suntory/Kirin, have grain whisky, but just as they don't sell their malts to other companies, they also don't make that grain whisky available. In this situation, it would seem a bit odd for Japanese independent whisky makers to be obsessing about finding grain whisky (since the grain whisky is supposed to be the bit that makes the malt go further). But why don't they make a virtue of necessity and use barley shochu? That would be something new, more appealing than neutral spirits to the consumer, and fairly easily available to independent makers? I am sure there is a good reason, but insisting that Japanese makers copy what was convenient at the end of the 19th century in the UK seems odd.
I haven't tried this blend, but I am interested to see what it tastes like.

Anonymous said...

Hi guys,

there'll be a statement from LMDW shortly, explaining exactly what the problem is...

Take care all,


Jean-Marie said...

Ah, of course, how can anyone dare ? The current monopoly of LMDW on Japanese whiskies (and so many others) in France is such a comfortable position... No wonder they'll raise bogus issues to protect it.
In the past ten years, and unlike in the UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy and Portugal, every single small, independent and specialized whisky shop in France has closed, while the market has thrived. Sure, the average whisky lover has a broad range of whiskies at hand, but at what cost ? Now all over the country, you have to go to average liquor shops to find whiskies, and when you ask them where the bottles are coming from, the answer is always the same "LMDW of course, there's no other choice".
So kudos to Les whiskies du Monde for their bold move. I hope they'll succeed with their alternate offer, and I hope others will follow.
The whisky landscape in France looks fabulous at first sight, but it's a cold monopoly driven one. I hope to see little and passionate independent whisky shops open again in this country, like everywhere else in Europe.

Anonymous said...

Wait, molasses spirit? So it's actually mostly... rum?

Arnaud PONTOIZEAU said...

Hello to you all,

I am Arnaud Pontoizeau, Commercial Director for Les Whiskies du Monde.

Our company imports and distributes Japanese whiskies in Europe on an exclusive basis, including the Akashi range.

I am very surprised to see that mistaken information is circulating regarding the Akashi Japanese whiskies.

As an exclusive Importer/Distributor, we have not been consulted at any time to belie or confirm informations coming from people prentending to be well informed on all Japanese whiskies.

In a few weeks we will contribute our point of view by supplying you with contrary information.
I feel the need to clarify the situation.

We will at the same time take the opportunity to present some exciting new things coming straight from Japan.

Take care everybody,

Nonjatta said...

The information in this post comes directly from the distillery and I have an email from the president of that distillery with all of this information in it, referring specifically to the blend sold to you.
As for your comment "we have not been consulted at any time to belie or confirm informations coming from people prentending to be well informed on all Japanese whiskies"- I did ask you about the content of the blend on June 20 and you did receive the question, because you acknowledged it, but did not answer it.