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Japanese whisky distillery opens in Hokkaido

A new independent whisky distillery is to start production on the Northern Japanese island of Hokkaido, with plans to release heavily peated single malts, blends and single estate expressions.

Akkeshi Distillery is based in Akkeshi, Hokkaido, in the rural north of Japan. Picture credit: Clint Anesbury

Akkeshi Distillery will start distillation at the end of this month, becoming only the second distillery on Hokkaido, joining Nikka Whisky’s Yiochi distillery. Based in the namesake town of Akkeshi, it is owned by raw food importer Kenten and has not received third party investment.

The company plans to release a three-year-old single malt which it hopes will be distributed domestically and internationally, as well as various ‘malted spirits’ aged for three, six and 12 months in a variety of casks.

Inspired by the whiskies of Islay, Scotland, Akkeshi’s house style malt will be heavily peated.

“Most distilleries here in Japan have a full production schedule of using unpeated malt with the exception of one or two production runs of peated malt throughout the year,” said Clint Anesbury, product development and brand manager at Akkeshi Distillery.

“Our production run is the opposite in the sense we will have a yearly production using peated malt with the exception of one or two runs a year where our production will be based on unpeated malt. So, theoretically, it could well mean that our unpeated products will become limited.”

Akkeshi will predominantly mature its whisky in Bourbon barrels and Sherry butts, but its inventory will also include French and Australian red wine casks, Japanese Oak (mizunara) puncheons, and rum barrels.

With two pot stills (one wash and one spirit) made by Scotland’s Forsyths and six wash backs, the 2,960 square foot distillery will have capacity to produce 30,000 litres of whisky in its first year of operation.

Its whisky will be aged in a traditional dunnage warehouse with capacity for 400 casks, however Akkeshi is seeking land in mountainous and coastal areas to build new warehouses that “add a terroir aspect to our ageing process”.

Since 2013, prior to its establishment, the distillery has been engaged in a test maturation programme to see how its local terrain impacts the flavour profile of whisky, using liquid made by two different Japanese distilleries.

In the future, Akkeshi plans to create a “100% Akkeshi produced whisky” using local barley, water, yeasts, and felled Japanese oak. The distillery also intends to source peat locally from surrounding wetlands.

Akkeshi will import malted barley from Scotland and also import grain whisky to create blended varieties at a “very affordable price”. However, the distillery has an ambition to open a grain distillery in Hokkaido in the “long-term future”.

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