University Distills First 100% Japanese WhiskyBy George Koutsakis
This isn’t widely known, but despite Japanese whisky’s production and aging in Japan, Japanese ingredients aren’t always used.
In fact, almost 80% of the malt and grains used in Japanese whisky-making come from the United Kingdom.
Similar imports occur in many different alcoholic beverage categories. Hops for beer production hail mainly from the United States. The global whisky world—including Scotland and Japan—sources bourbon barrels from the U.S., sherry wine casks from Spain, and Mizunara casks from Japan.
WHY GO LOCAL?
When it comes to quality spirits, a variety of ingredients from different countries and climates often produce the best results. Whisky fans worldwide generally don’t concern themselves too much with the origin of the grains.
Corn Field / Photo Credit: Milada Vigerova
Yet we give a certain admiration to the groups creating purely domestic spirits and beverages. It is a movement which benefits the local community on many different levels.
Leaving community-building factors out of the mix, the patience and endless effort required to create a balanced product, with a very limited array of options, can be exhausting and often hinder the product’s potential.
As such, we want to congratulate the forward-thinking university in Japan which recently created the first fully-domestic Japanese whisky.
Kochi University’s All-Japanese Whisky
Over the past three years, Kazutoshi Hamada, a lecturer at Kochi University’s Faculty of Agriculture and Marine Sciences, has supported his students in taking steps towards creating a Japanese whisky using only domestic ingredients.
According to the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association, no other whisky has ever been created using solely Japanese ingredients.
The key ingredient in this exciting whisky is jibiki, a type of local, yellow flint corn. Jibiki isn’t as sweet as other corn varieties, but it can grow in areas where rice cannot. This makes it a very convenient seed to cultivate in mountainous areas.
“We would like to develop a signature agricultural product, increase the income of local farmers and also pass down the jikibi culture here,” Hamada tells the Mainichi Shinbun, concerning this new endeavour.
The cultivation of rice and imported corn has overshadowed its production in the past few decades. This despite the fact that jibiki has been a food consumed in the Shikoku area for centuries and grown since the Edo period.
Before the bubble burst, Japan’s rapid economic growth led the population to more luxurious imported goods. Meanwhile, they overlooked local ones.
Thankfully, this project may help in reviving jibiki in Japan, and help shed light on the efforts of local farmers.
The Local Whisky Process
It all began in 2014 when Hamada came across jibiki while doing fieldwork. He decided that cultivating this grain would be a great real-life experience for his students. They created the crop in an abandoned field near the university, and the students became heavily invested in the project.
Students work in the field to perfect their crop / Photo Credit: Kochi University
In 2015, Hamada and his class used the corn to create Japanese shochu. Subsequently, he began to plan the production of a purely Japanese whisky.
The team started cultivating the barley needed in 2016. By summer 2017 they had 500 kilograms of malted barley and 550 kilograms of jibiki corn, which they harvested before winter. After adding local water and yeast to the mix, the whisky base was ready.
In collaboration with a local brewery, Hamada and his team succeeded in creating a test batch of the whisky.
In the eyes of local brewers and the Japanese agricultural society, the passionate students at Kochi University have succeeded in doing something no one has before: produced a whisky which is 100% Japanese.
The group is hoping to release their creation by next summer. However, we imagine that getting a taste of it will prove to be quite difficult.
Want to try some other Japanese whisky while you wait?