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A Uncommon 55-12 months-Outdated Japanese Whisky From a Ghost Distillery Is Coming to the U.S.

A Uncommon 55-12 months-Outdated Japanese Whisky From a Ghost Distillery Is Coming to the U.S.

The world of Japanese whisky has no shortage of rare bottles, from the last remaining liquid made at the shuttered Karuizawa distillery to a 55-year-old single malt produced at Yamazaki. Shirakawa is a name you might not be familiar with, but that is set to change with the release of this extremely rare (and just a little bit mysterious) single malt whisky from this long defunct distillery. We got an early taste, and the liquid is very intriguing.

This whisky was distilled at Shirakawa in 1958, located about 200 kilometers north of Tokyo in the Fukushima Prefecture. Most of the whisky produced there was used for blends as opposed to being bottled as single malt. The distillery’s malt whisky lifespan was relatively short, only producing malt from 1951 to 1969. Shirakawa was demolished in 2003, but there were a precious few parcels of whisky floating around, some of which made it into this release which is thought to be the earliest single vintage Japanese whisky to ever be bottled. Scotch distillery Tomatin has taken the lead in marketing this rare whisky expression because it is owned by the same Japanese company that owned Shirakawa, Takara Shuzo.

We spoke to Scott Fraser, regional sales manager for Tomatin, about Shirakawa 1958 at length. He tried to fill in some of the details about the whisky while acknowledging there is much that is lost to history, but noted that Shirakawa was built in 1939 by a company called Daikoku Budoshu. “There’s no production records, but we start to have an idea of what began to happen in 1951,” he told Robb Report. “The distillery itself operated in three very distinct periods of production, and 1951 to 1957 was the first period of single malt Japanese production.” Stainless steel stills were used during that time, which resulted in a very different style of whisky, but in 1958 copper pot stills were installed, and that is what was used to distill this whisky.

Fraser said that Tomatin managing director Stephen Bremner became aware of this 1958 vintage just a few years ago and was able to track down the liquid. He can’t say exactly how old the whisky is, but it’s been analyzed by two separate entities that have determined it probably spent close to three decades maturing in mizunara oak. Interestingly, after the whisky was dumped from barrels it was put into clay pots that are normally used to age shochu for a period of time—Fraser says this allowed the whisky to oxidize a bit, but has no effect on the flavor in the way that wood does. Finally, it was put into a stainless steel vat for about 12 years before being bottled.

We got to try the whisky, and it’s quite good. On the nose, you’ll find raisin, fig, apple, and some dark chocolate. The palate opens up with some gentle smoke (the barley was unpeated, but there’s still a whiff present), along with black pepper, cocoa powder, orange zest, lime, dried mango, dusty wet oak, and leather. The finish is warm and lingering, with notes of citrus, spice, coconut, and some rock candy on final sips as your glass empties.

Only 200 bottles will be available in the U.S. at retailers in a few states, each with a price tag of $30,000, and you can also find a bottle for sale from the Whisky Exchange. If you have the means, go ahead and buy two—one to drink and one to save. Who knows, you might just have a highly collectible bottle that’s tripled in price on your hands a few years from now.

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Source: Robb Report

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