This review is for the domestic Japanese bottling of the blend, which is something that has proven to be rather controversial. But more on that soon.
The distillery was founded by in 1888 for the production of sake and shochu. A license to manufacture whisky in was obtained 1919 – making it the oldest licensed whisky distillery in Japan. White Oak Distillery was established in 1984 when new facilities where sourced. The whisky stills are only in operation for one month every year, making for some small output, which is mostly used in blends. The distillery is located west of Kobe and near the Seto Inland sea; a narrow passage that runs between Honshu and Shikoku. Having viewed the sea from both sides of the straight I was curious to try this whisky made in the area.
The malt component has been aged in for 5 years in ex-Bourbon and finished in ex-Sherry casks and makes up for 40% of the blend. Now onto the controversy. What’s in the rest of the blend? For the export market (North America, Europe, Australia, etc) it is made up from grain whisky imported into Japan for marriage and bottling. Why do this? In short, the Japanese business model does not see competitors selling stock to each other. So unless you are one of the giants Kirin, Nikka or Suntory, then you have to source your grain component from outside of Japan. Keep in mind I am drinking the local expression, so my does not contain imported grain whisky. Instead it contains 60% molasses spirit, some, which has been stored in barrels.
Huh? Uh oh.
My mind starts to run a millions miles an hour, have I just picked up a bottle of rum, that's passed off as whisky like they do in Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Thailand et al? At least this has malt whisky in it. Akashi have always been transparent about what is inside the bottle. If you can read what is on the label it is all clearly listed. And let’s be realistic it satisfies domestic law for what can be labelled as whisky and exported bottlings of White Oak meet European standards of whisky containing malt and grain whisky aged in oak barrels. I’m calling fair game.
…And…I did pay ¥990 for a 500ml bottle - so it’s not all that bad.
Nose: Barley, peaches, fairy floss, mangoes
Taste: Over powering molasses, all spice, ginger
Finish: Short finish of candy sweetness.
Not complicated and it is rather unexciting, the finish brings down the dram and the molasses dominates. I’m not writing White Oak off though. I am excited to try the export version of this whisky and especially some of the single malt expression Akashi. I may even pop into the distillery next time I am in Kobe.
p.s. makes a great highball.