The White Oak Distillery, sometimes known as the Eigashima distillery, located in Akashi City, Hyogo Prefecture, is primarily a sake and shochu producer but it is technically Japans oldest whisky distillery. I say technically because despite being founded in 1919 whisky production has been limited and only became regular in 1984 and the sites stills are presently used for whisky production only 2 months a year. The domestic distillery output, which amounts for approximately 70% of the market, in many instances does not meet international whisky standards as these are made using molasses. Export varieties although inline with international standards have seen only slow uptake though the brand is beginning to penetrate European and American markets.
White Oak DistilleryThe small, lesser-known White Oak Whisky Distillery is located on the seafront in the coastal town of Akashi, in the Eigashima district. It is part of the Eigashima Shuzo Co. Ltd., which was founded in 1888. Initially, only sake, the traditional Japanese rice wine, and shōchū, a distillate that can be made from various raw materials such as rice, barley or potatoes, were produced. Later also wine and umeshu, a liqueur made from the ume fruit, often referred to as “Japanese plum wine”. 1919 - that year Eigashima Ltd. the state license for whisky production - can be seen as the founding year of the White Oak Distillery. At that time there was no whisky distillery there and in the legal sense the distillery was and is not an independent company. It was not until the whisky boom in Japan that the decision was made to produce its own malt whisky in the mid-1960s. A pair of two small pot stills with a capacity of 1000 liters each was installed. From the beginning, whisky production was only seasonal: sake was brewed from September to March, shōchū was produced from April to May and from June to July - later extended to May to July - the two pot stills were in operation and distilled malt spirits. In 1984 the distillery finally took on its current form: The plant moved to a new still house built on the company’s premises and the old stills were replaced with two larger, steam-heated pot stills, a wash still with 4500 liters and a spirit still with 3000 liters . These were previously in the Japanese Silver Distillery in Nara, which was closed in 1963. Both were rebuilt by the Japanese company Miyake and given new floors. This quadrupled the capacity of the distillery. The building that was previously in use was subsequently converted into a racked warehouse.
Production and Maturation
At White Oak, only malt whisky is produced. Grain whisky for blends is purchased from the Scottish Longmorn Distillery. For their own malt whisky, imported, lightly peated barley malt from Scotland is used. Until 2014 it was 3.5 to 5 ppm, since 2014 it has been 10 ppm to make the taste of the whisky a little smokier and heavier. From 2021, two variants are to be produced and either unpeated barley malt or one with 50 ppm. The increasing demand for this raw material suggests that the owners are satisfied with their investment in the White Oak Distillery: up to 2013, 44 tons of barley malt were processed per year, in 2016 it was 88 tons and in 2017 it was 110 tons. The New Make, which is twice distilled according to the Scottish model, was filled into the barrels at 59.5 percent by volume until 2012, then at 63.5 percent by volume. When it comes to cask selection, White Oak is much more willing to experiment than other Japanese distilleries. Although bourbon casks and sherry barrels are mainly used, more exotic chestnut barrels, cognac barrels, sake barrels or tequila barrels can also be found in the warehouse. Barrels made from Japanese Konara oak are used in very small numbers. A systematic, future-oriented barrel management was not really recognizable until 2013. They seemed to want to fill the whisky as quickly as possible without at the same time working towards a noteworthy stock of old barrels. At that time there was a gap of about ten years between the oldest and the next younger barrel. However, the whisky is stored in one of the hottest and driest areas of Japan, so that a degree of maturity suitable for the market is usually reached after three to five years. The warehouse can hold up to 1000 barrels. In May 2019, around 600 pieces were stored there, the oldest from 2007.
The whisky from the White Oak Distillery is bottled under the Akashi brand, named after the location of the distillery. There is also the cheaper White Oak product line for the Japanese market. However, these blends have less than 40 percent by volume and may therefore not be sold under the name “whisky” within the scope of the EU spirits regulation. The oldest bottling that has ever existed was the White Oak Single Malt Whisky Akashi Aged 15 Years, released in 2013. Because sales of sake in Japan have stagnated for years, the management of Eigashima Ltd. is concentrating. more focused on the production of whisky. The focus should continue to be on malt whisky, which CEO Mikio Hiraishi regards as the “quintessence of whisky”, and who wants to offer customers only the best product. In order to promote product development in addition to increasing quantities, there are exchanges with other small whisky manufacturers in Japan, such as Venture Whisky (Chichibu) or Hombo Mars (Mars Whisky). The White Oak Distillery is currently offering two Akashi blends and three Akashi single malt whiskies - one with no age indication, a five-year-old and a three-year-old from the sake barrel - some of which are also available in Europe. There are also some single cask bottlings, but they are mainly sold in Japan. 2019 is a special year for Eigashima Ltd .: the centenary of the whisky license. To celebrate this event, a special bottling has been announced for August. Mr. Yuki Urabe, Public Relations and Sales, did not want to reveal in advance what exactly will be in the bottle. In any case, there will soon be Akashi bottlings made from tequila and chestnut barrels again, he gently changes the subject. And, of course, a dedicated bottling is also planned for the major event in Japan in 2020, the Summer Olympics in Tokyo. A bit speculative, but not entirely out of thin air: In May 2019, an umeshu was brought onto the market that matured in barrels for six months. This indicates that in the not too distant future, an Akashi with an Umeshu finish could hit the market.
|Name||Pronounced||AKA||Region||Country of Origin|
|Eigashima Shuzo||White Oak||Hyōgo||Japan|
|Status||Active||Whisky Type||Website||Tours Available|
|Active||1888 - Present||Malt||Eigashima Shuzo||Not Available|
|Manager||Distiller||Blender||Owned by||Parent Group|
|Unknown||Eigashima Shuzo co. ltd|