Kyushu Spirits’ Asakura Premium Koji Whisky combines traditional Japanese fermentation methods and Western maturation techniques for a Japanese whisky that challenges boundaries.
A fan of Japanese whisky? You may just want to rein in your disbelief when you hear about this new Japanese whisky that was recently launched. Asakura Premium Koji Whisky was introduced into Singapore earlier this year by Kyushu Spirits, the first in the latter’s product range. While it’s made in Japan like some other Japanese whiskies, what makes Asakura Premium particularly interesting is how it blends traditional Japanese fermentation methods – more commonly employed in the making of sake and shochu – with Western maturation practices.
Those who are acquainted with shochu will find parts of the making of Asakura Premium familiar. Indeed the people of Kyushu have been making shochu for centuries, and the shochu distillery in Asakura that Kyushu Spirits work with have co-opted those traditional techniques and knowledge in the making of Asakura Premium.
Created in a single distillery, Asakura Premium is distilled from 100% local Japanese barley and matured in sherry oak casks. Sounds like the making of a classic single malt, so far.
But here’s where it starts to differ.
In standard whisky making, malted grains – usually barley – is steeped in hot water to kick off a saccharification process where the starches are converted into sugars. That resultant wash is then distilled two or three times, and subsequently aged in oak casks to create whisky. Shinozaki, the Fukuoka-based distillery Kyushu Spirits works with, employs a different process for Asakura Premium. It uses koji in place of the standard malting process, like how sake is made. Here unmalted barley is first steamed and then inoculated with koji which kicks off the fermentation process. That starter batch is then added to more unmalted barley and hot water in a tank where parallel fermentation – when both saccharification and fermentation processes take place at the same time – occurs, much like in the making of sake. And because the initial wash already clocks in at a higher ABV, the resulting “barley wine” is distilled just once before its sent off for maturation in sherry oak casks.
“Having grown up in Japan, I became very interested in the variety of spirits being crafted locally, and was very surprised to learn about the different sources of artisanal brewers that exist throughout the country,” shared Vikramm Chand, Founder and Managing Director of Kyushu Spirits.
“Through Kyushu Spirits, we hope to continue working with local distilling families on the island to introduce these intriguing hybrid whiskies to the rest of the world,” Chand added.
Because of its departure from the usual whisky making methods, most traditional whisky adherents won’t consider Asakura Premium a true whisky. In fact, the Japan Spirits & Liqueurs Makers Association (JSLMA) recently unveiled whisky guidelines, when implemented later this year, that indicate malted barley must be used to be classified as a Japanese whisky. And because Asakura Premium uses unmalted barley, this will most likely disqualify it from being categorised as a Japanese whisky.
Technicalities aside, Asakura Premium makes for a very tasty dram (our tasting notes are given below). More importantly though, the hybrid whisky represents a vastly different style of whisky that hails from a part of Japan with a long, and strong, distilling tradition. Look past its label, and taste the craftsmanship and terroir this peculiar spirit Kyushu has to offer.
Asakura Premium is distributed in Singapore by Octopus Distribution Networks. The koji whisky can found at good bars and restaurants islandwide, such as Sake Labo, The Cooperage, The American Club, and Matsuya Dining. It is also available for purchase online from Cellarbration at a recommended retail price of S$198 for a 500ml bottle.
Spirited Singapore Tasting Notes: Asakura Premium Koji Whisky
colour Autumn gold.
nose Dried orange peel, banana bread, wild honey, vanilla pods, and a hint of cedar.
palate Vanilla crème brûlée with a burnt Okinawa brown sugar top, with a touch of sweet wood spices in cassia bark and cinnamon, and toasted oak. Spiced hot chocolate.
finish A medium finish with notes of rich baking spices that ends with a dry spicy finish
verdict Well constructed, this sweet, bold, and robust whisky will appeal to whisky fans with Speyside or Highland leanings especially those who enjoy their Mortlach or GlenDronach. Great for sipping neat or on ice, and we can also see this in an Old Fashioned. But it’s a big ask at S$198 for a 500ml bottle.