I knew instantly we have been going to get alongside. I used to be getting ready for a zoom session with Jota Tanaka, probably the most extremely credentialed distiller and blender working within the Japanese whisky business at present, when the person himself popped up on display screen. “Put the whisky apart for a second”, he prompt, “I perceive you’re a fly fisherman?”
Because it seems, so is Tanaka. That won’t imply quite a bit to some, however as any fisherman can inform you, particularly fly fishermen, put two of us collectively and you’ll’t shut us up. As well as, I’ll have completed whisky lovers in New Zealand a terrific service. Our pal Tanaka loves nice brown trout and there may be nowhere on earth, at the very least for me, the place brown trout fishing is extra thrilling than within the northern a part of the South Island of New Zealand. I foresee a go to to New Zealand to advertise his fantastic whiskies in a brand new market and maybe some fishing as nicely!
Earlier than too lengthy, nicely maybe too lengthy for his entourage, we turned to whisky and what thrilling new whiskies they’re (new to me, at the very least).
However first, think about the view out of your workplace window to be probably the most iconic on the planet. Some folks have all of the luck.
The distillery overlooks Mt Fuji (extra precisely neighbors the mountain because the distillery sits at 2,000 toes above sea stage, on the foot of Mt Fuji, whereas the height is over 12,000 toes above sea stage). Nonetheless, Tanaka tells me that for a lot of the 12 months, clouds and mists obscure the mountain.
Snow is simply on the well-known peak for lower than half the 12 months, in any occasion, and with local weather change, little doubt it is going to diminish additional. Nonetheless, the magnificent mountain performs a vital position within the manufacturing of their whisky, and has little doubt helped carry many guests to the distillery.
The common temperature here’s a chilly 13°C, whereas the excessive humidity, averaging round 85%, helps within the growing old of the whisky within the barrels. After all, all this may at some point backfire as Mt Fuji remains to be an lively volcano. Fingers crossed.
Tanaka has a long time of expertise within the whisky business all over the world and has been in cost on the Mt Fuji Distillery since 2017. He’s solely the second individual from Japan awarded the title of Grasp Blender and has just lately been inducted into the celebrated Whisky Journal ‘Corridor of Fame’, solely the fourth such inductee from Japan and the one one to obtain the award whereas nonetheless working.
Tanaka started working with Kirin Brewery (the general homeowners of the Mt Fuji Distillery) in 1988, spending time at a Californian vineyard earlier than finishing a Grasp’s diploma in Meals Science on the College of California, Davis. He then spent seven years as Director of High quality on the 4 Roses Distillery, Kentucky, earlier than returning to Japan in 2009. He was named Chief Blender in 2010, after which Grasp Blender in 2017, changing into solely the second individual to carry that put up within the 50 years of the Distillery’s historical past.
Tanaka can be closely concerned within the new whisky rules, that are partly aimed toward guaranteeing that labeling is correct and that offshore whiskies should not introduced in and labeled as Japanese. There are some distilleries doing this however making it clear on the label, which is ok. It’s offering some distinctive whiskies, however there are all the time some who’ll try to beat the system. It ought to be famous that the brand new rules solely apply to members of the Japan Spirit & Liqueurs Makers Affiliation, though that does cowl nearly all of Japanese producers.
The Distillery, the total title of which was the Fuji Gotemba Distillery and is now Mt Fuji Distillery, was established in 1973, nicely earlier than the worldwide curiosity in Japanese whisky took maintain, though it was a time when whisky was highly regarded in Japan. Given the possession, and their connections across the globe, a singular method was taken. Right here, overlook malts. Grains are king.
The Distillery was a three way partnership between varied associated producers, Seagram, Kirin and Chivas Brothers. A variety of manufacturing methods from across the globe have been integrated, notably from the USA, Canada and Scotland. In addition to 4 Roses, Kirin now has such distilleries as Chivas Brothers (Scotland) and Seagram’s (Canada), and far, rather more. It was in 2002 that the company construction was ‘simplified’ and Mt Fuji grew to become a totally owned subsidiary of Kirin Brewery Firm (Seagram’s was as soon as the biggest proprietor of alcoholic drinks on the planet, however by then, had been dismantled).
The significance of the water supply for distilleries is well-known and essential for type and high quality. How particular, then, for a distillery to have entry to the melted snow from Mt Fuji, however solely after these waters have spent fifty years filtering their manner right down to an aquifer 100 meters under the Distillery, for its sole use. Provided that this 12 months is the 50th anniversary of the Distillery, it implies that the snows which fell on the mountain because it was opened for manufacturing, are solely now getting used to create their whiskies.
No matter type they could look to, the intention is to supply whisky which is “clear and estery”, whereas floral and fruity notes frequently emerge throughout the vary. There may be depth and complexity and an interesting mellow character throughout the vary to be discovered of their whiskies.
Earlier than wanting on the whiskies particularly, it’s value mentioning that greater than every other distillery or blender I’ve encountered, there’s a actual emphasis on the completely different approaches to having fun with and exploring the whisky. Taking a look at it earlier than one swirls the glass, letting it sit for 10-Quarter-hour earlier than doing so, and the type of glass are all essential. Tanaka could be very eager to emphasise all this and extra.
The glass famous on their web site because the choose for his or her whiskies resembles a high quality sherry glass – not the tiny, ridiculously ineffective issues one typically sees utilized in eating places. The choice, which does work extraordinarily nicely, is the Riedel Veritas Sauvignon Blanc glass. It permits folks to see rather more of what the whisky has to supply than in the event that they merely picked up the glass, gave it a whirl and drank the contents.
Additionally value mentioning is that Tanaka could be very eager on his whiskies being matched with applicable meals. He’s a fan of matching them with chocolate, discovering the 2 make for a terrific mixture. Uncooked fish is one other suggestion. The thoughts boggles slightly on the idea of the one drink being a great match for 2 gadgets as completely different as chocolate and fish.
Tanaka additionally means that after your preliminary tasting, a dollop of water will assist launch the esters and aromas. We mentioned a small ice dice as an alternative – it may be 13°C the place they normally drink their Mt Fuji, however for me, it’s typically nearer to 30°C and the ice does the identical job because it melts, but in addition helps to maintain the liquid recent. Sure, I’ve been castigated for such a suggestion earlier than, however I might counsel that everybody must bask in slightly experimentation to seek out what works for them. And for these sustaining a inflexible view that every one high spirits have to be drunk neat, if the blender himself suggests in any other case, maybe it’s time to rethink, until you actually do suppose higher.
The distinctive method taken on the Distillery permits for the manufacturing of 4 sorts of whisky. A malt whisky, within the type so well-known from Scotland after which three variations of grain whisky, being the American type which resembles Bourbon; Canadian; and likewise Scotch.
With the grain whiskies, the usage of multi-column stills offers for steady distillation leading to whisky that’s lighter in type, fairly delicate. Batch distillation is by kettle and column stills making a extra medium, luscious type of whisky, emulating that from Canada. The beer column and Doubler stills additionally present steady distillation however outcome within the heavier Bourbon-style whiskies. Barrels are normally American white oak and have typically been beforehand utilized by their sibling distillery, 4 Roses. There was inclusion of a variety of sherry barrels in latest instances, and likewise the usage of Mizunara oak. The whiskies are bottled at comparatively excessive alcohol ranges.
It’s fascinating to speak with Tanaka about growing old. Today, the development could be very a lot that the older the whisky, the higher it have to be. Tanaka is having none of it and refers to his conversations with legendary Wild Turkey blender, Jimmy Russell. Evidently they’re on the identical web page. Tanaka believes that the maturation peak for Bourbon sits between 5 and eight years. He doesn’t consider that merely growing old the barrels endlessly will produce a greater product. That is partly why he operates on a No-Age-Assertion foundation.
Mixing turns into key. It’s extraordinary how typically, when one talks to a grasp blender of spirits, a chef de cave answerable for nice non-vintage champagne, or a high cigar curler that what they should say virtually turns into interchangeable. Mixing is an artwork and it takes a few years to attain the extent we see with somebody like Tanaka. He goals for complexity, richness, and multi-layered character.
The excellent news for Australian whisky lovers is that the Mt Fuji vary has lastly hit the shores. USA, Asia, and the Japanese home market are already nicely catered for, however in Europe, aside from Paris, pickings might be slim. They hope to rectify that in time.
The brand new rules, as talked about above, additionally allowed for what’s successfully a brand new class, the ‘single mix’, as odd because it sounds. Beforehand, ‘single’ might solely apply to a single malt or a single grain. Now, a mix of malt and grain might be often called a ‘single mix’. Mt Fuji sought and attained recognition to make use of this time period, with the help of many different whisky distillers. Outdoors Japan, there are some comparable curiosities in Scotland, extra in Eire and it’s fairly widespread in Canada.
Single Grain Whiskey ($150) – A delightfully recent, virtually ethereal type of whisky. Notes of hazelnuts, florals, spices, light orange rind, stonefruit, a contact of sunshine chocolate and a touch of caramel. Pears and even the merest trace of cranberries. A contact of honey seeps in on the end. Layered and with misleading complexity. Good size and effective stability.
The alcohol sits at 46%. It is a whisky that might simply entice one again for a second glass, maybe extra. Mellow is a phrase that’s thrown about slightly too simply in the case of whiskies however right here, it appears applicable. 100% American white barrels have been employed.
Please word that the spelling of ‘whiskey’ is just not an error. Despite the fact that it’s conventional in Japan to make use of the Scottish model, particularly ‘whisky’, for this product, the American model has been adopted as a nod to the robust connection that they’ve with American distilling.
Single Blended Whisky ($180) – Whisky aficionados will certainly wish to pattern this mix of grain and malt, even when solely out of curiosity. It’s the whisky that has actually grow to be the hallmark of the Distillery. It really works virtually like a candy and bitter dish, a mixture of the richer and barely heavier notes, mixed with the lighter, more energizing and extra delicate contribution from the grains. Most significantly, it really works. Not a lot level in doing it if the ensuing whisky is just not an excellent one. This, most definitely, is.
The ultimate result’s a layered and sophisticated whisky. Extra oats and deeper stonefruit notes, with a wealthy white chocolate contact evident. Pink fruits and a touch of a personality like a pear custard. A bit of extra honey evident right here. Nonetheless, some pretty florals, displaying that the grains should not overwhelmed. For me, the very first impression was a stunning word of oats, which works splendidly nicely. Finely balanced, silky. The deep citrus, a fair deeper orange rind word than we noticed on the Single Grain, with dried apricots. Thrilling size. The alcohol a smidge decrease right here at 43%. 4,700 circumstances made.
Single Blended Masterpiece 2022 Whisky ($1,650) – This was the primary ‘single blended’ launched, making it a little bit of a collector’s merchandise. That might be a disgrace as it’s a whisky that calls for consuming. As mentioned, Tanaka is extra all in favour of concord and the diploma of maturity, quite than the precise age. That mentioned, there are parts right here which can be over thirty years in age, however that’s not the purpose. The purpose is to make the most effective whisky of this type that he might.
It’s fantastic stuff. Extraordinarily complicated, there are notes of chocolate, hazelnuts, spices and honey. We’ve got that teak word typically seen in outdated fortifieds, with dried apricots. Nuanced, elegant and but filled with taste. Alcohol is at 50%. A few of the barrels used weren’t their standard – outdated wine casks and beer barrels have been included. As we discover this whisky, we see extra black fruits, cassis, incense and deeper chocolate emerge in waves. A contact of raspberry, however it’s the darker fruits that dominate. There may be some oak, but it surely merely works with all the opposite parts and doesn’t intrude. An exquisite whisky, one for the bucket record. Just one,000 bottles made, apparently 300 of these allotted to Australia. Fortunate us.
I very a lot look ahead to catching up with Jota Tanaka within the flesh and never over a machine, during the longer term, hopefully with a fly rod in a single hand and a glass of nice whisky within the different.
For extra info, please go to https://fujiwhisky.com/
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