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Issue 144 - Closing the Circle

Whisky Magazine Issue 144
February 2017

 

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Closing the Circle

Japanese craft brewers become whisky chasers

2016 saw an unprecedented boost in the number of whisky distilleries in Japan, with no fewer than six new distilleries starting production. Not all of these are built from the ground up. In fact, three of the distilleries are tagged on to breweries, meaning the mashing and fermentation is carried out in kit that was already in place, with distilling equipment added on site. This represents a development on the Japanese whisky scene that is likely to inspire others if whispers about new projects left and right are to be believed.

Miyashita Shuzo in Okayama was the first brewery to expand into the field of whisky. They started single-distilling some of their hoppy beer in a (stainless steel) shochu still in 2003 and filled that into American white oak casks. This wasn't ‘whisky', of course, but encouraged by the way it was developing during maturation, they began to think about making proper whisky. Miyashita Shuzo acquired their whisky licence in 2011 and then started doing non-hopped mashes and double-distilling those. They kept using their good old shochu still but whisky distillation and stainless steel are awkward bedfellows. The folks at Miyashita must have realised this because by July 2015, a brand new (copper, mercifully!) hybrid still had been installed on the premises. They have been using that for the production of their whisky ever since. Distillation takes place once a week all year round – slotted in between beer-making – and they try to use as much local...

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