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The First Whisky License in Japan

Eigashima, which has a century-old history, is located in Akashi, Hyogo. It was the first party in Japanese to receive distillery license in 1919, at that point while Yamazaki was not yet established. The region was nurtured with clean water source and rich in growing high quality rice. Encouraged by the increasingly popularity of whisky, the brewery which used to produce sake and shochu, stepped into the world of malt by crafting their first local whisky“Ji-Whisky”in quite handcrafted and light style.  

They built a new distillery later in 1984, which produced a blended whisky called“White Oak”and finally single malt in 2007. It was in that year the imported duty waived which provoked a shake-out of local distilleries. Akashi distillery was lucky to be able to keep afloat. The barley is imported from Scotland and the water is sourced from Hyogo, which gives rise to its particularly smooth texture.

It may be a bit confusing. What you need to know is that Eigashima produced Sake and Shochu and owned“ White Oak” distillery, in which the products were sometimes labelled with “Akashi”. For example, the entry version is labelled white with red letters. It is a whisky which has spent two years in Bourbon cask and another one in Sherry butt, which gives a nuance of sweetness and a soft mouthfeel. The price is quite affordable as well.

“White Oak Blend” is also a blended whisky which is aged in charred barrel for two years and then Bourbon and Sherry casks. It is sweet and spicy with 40% abv. Last year I have tasted the White Oak single malt NAS in a spontaneous circumstance. It is actually a blend of seven-year, five-year and four-year spirits, followed by further ageing in Sherry butt and a mix of American oak and ex-Bourbon cask, which is a character of the distillery.

Although the NAS single malt is higher in alcohol, but the flavor is rich and the body is well-structured. With 46% abv, it is soft in texture exuding scents of vanilla, pine, flowers, and accompanied by some fruits and smoky hints. Finish is long with tones of tobacco, which is typical Japanese style. If you pair it with cigar, make sure it is not too strong that may otherwise mask the whisky.

In June, I have encountered “White Oak” 8 year single malt in Spirit and Cigar Festival. It is aged in an exclusive Sherry butt with independent number # 5184, which gives only 900 bottles only. Please note that all “White Oak”has a volume of 500ml instead of typical 700ml. Therefore a retail price of HK$1,500 is equivalent to HK$2,000/ bottle actually. Considering an 8-year aged whisky, it is actually quite expensive.

The legendary fifteen-year single malt commands an even higher price, and is substantially short of supply. It is aged in Sherry butt for over 10 years, followed by Japanese small Mizunara oak for two years. It is bottled cask strength at 58% abv, and is known for its fierce character as opposed to typical Japanese style. With the combination of intense flavors and an extremely high price of over HK$6,000, it is seemingly considered to be another Karuizawa or Ichiro malt.

 

日本第一個威士忌釀造牌照

擁有過百年歷史的Eigashima江井酒造建設在兵庫縣明石市Akashi,是最先在1919年領取威士忌釀造牌照,那時候山崎蒸餾所還未建立。這地區水源清澈,盛產優質米,酒造本來一直生產清酒和燒酎。由於進口威士忌日益受歡迎,和其他酒造一樣,也利用自家設備和釀造燒酎經驗,開始生產地道威士忌Ji-Whisky,有別於蘇格蘭的做法,保持自創的手工精釀風格,   口感柔順淡麗。


在1984年新蒸餾所落成,以White Oak名字出品混調威士忌,直到2007年單一麥芽開始投入生產。當年放寬外國威士忌進口稅,令很多酒廠倒閉,明石蒸餾所僥倖渡過,近代隨著熱潮更是發展大好時機。酒廠進口蘇格蘭精選大麥,採用釀製清酒的地下泉水,由於兵庫縣水質關係,所釀製的威士忌入口特別順滑。

提及名字太多可能有點混亂,記著江井酒造是釀製清酒(神鷹)和燒酎,酒造擁有White Oak威士忌蒸餾所,其產品有時候也採用Akashi明石作標籤。例如Akashi紅牌其實是入門版,以紅字白底作標籤,屬混調威士忌,兩年陳熟於波本桶,第三年注入雪利酒桶攝取更多味道,較甜,嫩滑及容易入口,價錢也相宜。

White Oak Blend也是混調威士忌,經燒酎木桶陳熟兩年,然後注入波本桶和雪利桶,香甜之餘帶點胡椒辛辣,兩瓶入門版也是40%酒精,喝起來很輕鬆自在。記得去年訪問日本Mars威士忌香港代理,同場也品嚐了White Oak 沒年份列明NAS單一麥芽,由七年、五年和四年麥芽原酒混合而成,經過雪利桶、美國橡木和波本桶陳熟,混桶已經成為酒廠特色。

雖然NAS單一麥芽酒精較之前兩瓶入門版高,但味道豐富了,酒身得到承托, 46%酒精度反而感覺質感柔軟。那些香草、松木和花香,夾雜著水果和些微煙燻氣息,收結帶點菸草,細水長流般,這就是迎合國民的地酒風格。若然配合雪茄的話,請考慮不要太濃烈的味道,容易把酒掩蓋。 

在六月的雪茄烈酒節遇上White Oak八年陳單一麥芽威士忌,採用舊雪梨酒桶,獨立木桶編號#5184,產量九百瓶,就是一桶容量。請留意White Oak所有酒瓶也是五百亳升,與一般七百毫升有別。這瓶零售價一千五百塊的話,就等於標準裝須二千塊港幣有多。以八年陳來說,可算是頗昂貴。

更昂貴的不得不提傳奇十五年陳單一麥芽,幾乎長年缺貨,陳熟在雪利桶十多年後,再經日本小楢橡木過桶兩年多時間,這瓶cask strength 58%被喻為野性化身, 跟地酒淡麗風格截然不同,反而綜合各類型濃郁味道,加上五百毫升容量索價港幣六千多塊,走上輕井澤release和伊知郎麥芽系列之路了。