Following my memorial piece on the discontinued Hakushu 12 and Hibiki 17 from Suntory, I am taking on one of the lesser-known Japanese distilleries: Eigashima (White Oak). Unlike the now rare and dearly-priced pair above, Eigashima’s whiskies are more readily located, and more readily afforded when they are found.
Eigashima distillery is located in Akashi, in the southern prefecture of Hyogo. The company started the production of shochu and sake in 1888. They installed small copper pot stills for whisky production in the 1960s, which were subsequently abandoned in the mid-1980s as the company scaled up production to meet them-booming domestic demand for whisky.
The current pot stills are a Frankenstein’s monster of old tops from the defunct Silver Whisky Distillery, fitted to new copper bottoms. Whisky distilling is compressed into the summer months, with sake produced in the winter and shochu in the spring. The malted barley is imported from the UK, peated to 10 ppm. The water is sourced on site and meets the demanding quality specifications of sake production. A single strain of distiller’s yeast is utilized during a 3-5 day fermentation period.
Having toyed with age statement single malts for a decade, poor stock management led the company in 2007 to focus on a pair of mainstay NAS whiskies: Akashi Blended Malt (40%; $45, or £31.20 in the UK) and Akashi Single Malt (46%; $100), which now have distribution in the U.S. and Europe. I have tried them both, preferring the latter for its range of woody tones imparted by the eclectic group of barrels used for maturation; among them are sherry, brandy, bourbon, wine, American oak, and shochu.
On the side, the company periodically releases age-statement single-cask (or single-cask-type) bottlings. These are mostly sherry casks, though I have seen white wine, cognac, and bourbon casks pop up from time to time. They’re often special bottlings for bars like Zoetrope or liquor stores such as Shinanoya. Occasionally, the big department store chains like Isetan/Mitsukoshi will get in the game with bottles priced at an egregious markup. For whatever reason, these releases seem to be overlooked compared with the voraciously-hunted Suntory and Nikka bottlings, judging by their availability. During my travels in Tokyo, one or more of the Eigashima single casks has usually been found on store shelves, priced more attractively than the Scotch-in-kimono bottles from impostors Kurayoshi.
Eigshima’s whiskies are typically less than 10 years old, though they achieve full maturity with the benefit of Akashi’s balmy clime. The city has an average August high of 89°F, similar to that of Louisville, KY. Compare this with an average high of 64°F in Inverness, and the shorter maturation periods begin to make sense.
Having had my socks knocked off recently by a 5 year old sherry cask from Eigashima, I was overjoyed when a friend arrived back from Tokyo with this 3-year-old in tow. The subject of today’s review is this single malt whiskey matured for 3 years, 5 months in Oloroso sherry casks. It is a run of 1,100 bottles, at 50%. This 500 ml was acquired at Liquors Hasegawa in Tokyo Station for ¥5,980.
Eigashima (White Oak) Akashi Sherry Cask 3 years old – review
Color: Medium-dark rusty buckeye.
On the nose: Sultanas, honey, seaweed, fish broth, molasses, and hickory wood. Almost sickly-sweet, with the slightly sulfurous note of firecrackers. Not winning any awards for cleanest sherry cask of 2018.
In the mouth: Rubber balloons, peanut brittle, soy sauce, paprika, sansho pepper. Finish of mint, more rubbery notes, and a subtly metallic tang. There’s a lingering aftertaste of brackish water, like a stagnant lagoon, and a recurrence of the struck match sulfur flavor.
As with single casks from all producers, the Akashi single casks are a roll of the dice. The 5 year old was an 11 on the come, but this 3 year old crapped out under the malign influence of a poor cask. This is mostly palatable, with many interesting flavors in the mix, but some off notes creep in to spoil the party.
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