Most people are probably familiar with Kirin, whether it's through beer, soft drinks, fruit juices or even... Four Roses Kentucky Bourbon! In Japan, conglomerates are sprawled across almost every category, and sometimes end up with the most interesting (and unexpected brands in their portfolios).
Today, we'll look at one of Kirin's many forays - that of a distillery sat at the base of none other than Mount Fuji.
Fuji Gotemba Distillery with the gorgeous Mt Fuji in the backdrop. (Image Source: Time Out)
Back in 1972, the Fuji Gotemba Distillery was started as a joint venture between Kirin, Chivas and Seagram (a drinks giant of yesteryear). Suffice to say, high expectations were put into this distillery, with the sheer amount of brand power, resources and expertise going into it.
However, one thing got in their way - time. Fuji Gotemba was pretty late to the game of whisky making, and by then Suntory had already established Yamazaki and Nikka, Yoichi. Fuji Gotemba as a result found themselves in a fairly crowded space.
Fuji's oldest grain bottling is a 30 year old single grain. (Image Source: World Whiskies Awards)
Not to be deterred, the distillery hit the ground running and continuously produced a wide range of whiskies, with seasonal releases and new editions every so often. However, these were always limited to domestic Japanese distribution. In fact, till today, you can find with relative ease in most liquor stores, one of Fuji's most commonly available whiskies, the Kirin Fuji-Sanroku Signature Blend.
Fast forward to 2002, following Seagram and Chivas' pulling out of the venture, Kirin's Fuji Gotemba Distillery was now on its own. In fact, the distillery remains Kirin's only distillery till date. The corporate shake up fortuitously cleared the way for Kirin to go full speed ahead with whisky production, with it's first single malt, the Sanroku 18 Years Old, released just two years later.
Fuji Distillery is finally making their foray overseas, with its first push the Fuji Single Grain Whiskey to the US. (Image Source: Live Japan)
However, in recent years, the distillery has been pressed by investors to expand their market to the international stage, with the main target being the US. This global push came with heavy investments into more pot stills and an enlarged aging facility. Design changes were on the horizon as well, starting with the distillery changing its international name to Mt. Fuji Distillery.
What's also super nifty is the little impression of Mt Fuji sculpted into the base of the glass bottle holding the whisky.
The distillery has laden its new international design with lots of easter eggs, which our friend in Japan, Mac, who runs Kanpai Planet, will uncover for us!
He reviews the Fuji Single Grain Whiskey that is now headed for the US for the first time ever, live from the Aloha Whisky Bar in Tokyo!
This is certainly big news headed towards Japanese whisky fans in the US, who should take note that this bottling complies with the new updated Japanese regulations on what can be labelled Japanese whisky. So rest assured, what you're getting is completely authentic.
Unlike other grain whiskies, this one is worth trying because of Fuji's unique grain whisky production method.
The distillery has several pot stills that enables three configurations for their grain still thereby producing a spectrum of styles ranging from light to medium and heavy.
Fuji's multiple stills allows for several configurations that results in the distillery's ability to produce a spectrum of grain whisky styles. (Image Source: Japan Whisky Tours)
The pot stills used are:
- Kettle Pot Still - Soft, rich and fruity style, which takes longer than continuous distillation.
- Doubler Pot Still - Bourbon-style heavy type
- Multi-Column Pot Still - Scotch-style light type grain distiller
What's interesting is that the Kettle and Doubler pot stills are completely unique to the US and Fuji Distillery possesses the only of such pot stills outside of the US. The exact mashbill used is undisclosed, but Mac tells us that we can guess a mix of corn and malted barley for the medium type, and for the heavy type, some rye is added to that mix. Apart from that, the distillery uses soft Mt Fuji water to produce its whiskies, with aging done primarily in American White Oak barrels.
Mac's Tasting Notes
Ripe fruits of apple, banana, pears, baked fruits, cinnamon, liquorice. Bold and confident but not overpowering, somewhere between Rye and Brandy.
Soft mouthfeel. Fruit notes with orange, sweet subtle spices, cinnamon, rye bread, bitter chocolate, estery ripe fruit notes.
Medium. Starts off sweet and then moves towards woodiness, incense and finally a homely rye bread feeling.
Mac tells us that this is due to the 180 litre bourbon barrels used (common in Bourbon distilleries) that increases contact between the wood and the distillate, intensifying flavors, and also the proprietary yeast used for fermentation.
From our expert on the ground, we get the hint that this is certainly one bottling that US fans should look out for!
PS. Fans in France can also look out for this release!
Till next time! Kanpai!
If you enjoyed the video, because nothing beats a live taste test right from one of the hottest bars in Tokyo, check our friend Mac out at Kanpai Planet.
He does great informative and entertaining coverage of Japanese spirits. His socials are down below:
Youtube: Kanpai Planet