Hakushu

The Hakushu Distillery was founded in 1973 by Suntory in Japan’s Southern Alps, despite being nicknamed ‘the forest distillery’ at 700 meters above sea level Hakushu is among the highest single malt distilleries in the world (in contrast the Dalwhinnie distillery in Scotland the coldest place in the UK is only 324 meters above sea level. Originally conceived during an upsurge in demand for whisky during the so called “salaryman boom” the distillery was at the time the largest distillery in the world, unfortunately the original distillery, now known as Hakushu west is no longer active, production was moved to the new larger Hakushu east location in 1981. As Hakushu east has a production capacity of 3 million litres a year the twenty-four stills now standing in Hakushu west are unlikely to be needed for some time

Hakushu Distillery

The Hakushu distillery is 120 kilometers from Japan’s capital Tokyo in the middle of the densely forested Yamanashi Province in the southern Japanese Alps. The distillery was built in the 1970s and is one of the largest distillery complexes in the world. Up to 30 million liters of Newmake could be produced here every year. Completed in 1973, the Hakushu distillery looks a bit oversized today - especially since the larger stillhouse is currently not in use. But against the background of the Japanese whiskies boom of the 1970s and 1980s, this mega-distillery makes perfect sense. Although the boom was primarily driven by blended whiskiess. At that time, Suntory was selling up to 12.4 million cases (each with 12 bottles) of the Suntory Old Blend - in Japan alone. This corresponds roughly to today’s annual sales of Johnnie Walker - Global! But Hakushu was built to meet the demand for malt whiskies for its own blended whiskiess.

House Sty;e: How does Hakushu single malt taste?

Hakushu Single Malt are known for their creamy, but also fresh, green-leafy to mossy notes, which are often surrounded by a subtle smokiness.

Portfolio

The strong demand at home and in various export markets, especially in Asia, which has been sustained for around five years, also affected the Hakushu range. As seen with other Japanese brands, some age-related whiskies have either been replaced by NAS bottlings or have disappeared from the portfolio entirely. For example, the Hakushu Single Malt 10 Years, which is now simply offered in Japan as Hakushu Single Malt and for export as Hakushu Distillers Reserve, or the 12-year-old, whose production was suspended indefinitely in June 2018. If the age is indicated, the Hakushu Single Malt 18 years and the Hakushu Single Malt 25 years are still available outside of Japan. In addition, various, often very limited special bottlings such as The Essence of Suntory Hakushu Rye Type 2012-2018. Due to the current COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting postponement of the Summer Olympics in Tokyo to 2021, it is difficult to estimate what new bottlings will be presented by Hakushu in 2020. The Summer Games were an occasion for which many Japanese distilleries - including Hakushu - had planned special releases. These new releases will probably also be postponed to the coming year.

Production: How is Hakushu single malt produced?

Wooden washbacks are used for fermentation and in the distillery leverages different sizes and shapes of pot stills for the distillation process, all of which are directly fired. For the maturation, Hakushu mainly relies on Hogshead oak barrels based on the Scottish model with a capacity of around 250 liters. The Hakushu production is very intelligently structured to be able to generate diversity and to show traditionality.

The distillery is located in a climate that is mild and cool by Japanese standards, with temperature fluctuations between 4°C and 22°C. The region is very fertile and is also used for viticulture. Hakushu is one of the largest distilleries in the world. The plant has two stills - one in the west (24 stills) and one in the east (16 stills - expanded in 2014). After a whiskies boom during the 1970s and 1980s, Japan experienced a major crisis in the 1990s. During this time, production in the larger of the distilleries was shut down and since then only the eastern distillery has been produced. This originally had 12 stills, but was expanded by Beam-Suntory by 2 more pairs in 2014 to meet the increased demand for Japanese single malt whiskies. The current annual production is an estimated 4 million liters.

Similar to Suntory’s first malt distillery Yamazaki, Hakushu also paid attention to the fact that the distillery can be used in a variety of ways. As a result, each pair of stills looks a little different and can be partially transformed. In addition, four different types of malt (from unpeated to heavily peated) are used. Two different yeasts are used in the wooden washbacks. Hakushu has huge, multi-story warehouses in which more than 450,000 barrels are believed to be waiting to mature. The oldest are probably from the 1970s.

History

40 years after founding the Yamazaki Distillery in 1932, Keizo Saji, the son of the founder Shinjiro Torii (1879–1962), was looking for a suitable location for a second distillery. The choice of Keizo Saji, at that time president and master blender of the company renamed “Suntory” in 1963, fell on an 825,000 square meter area between the two cities of Hokuto and Chino on the Kamanashi River near the Kaikomagatake mountain. He chose Hakushu (pronounced: “Hak-schu”) as the name for the distillery, which means “white sandbar” in Japanese and refers to this in the nearby Ojira and Jingu rivers. The location was chosen on the one hand because of the availability of first-class water from the sources of the Kaikomagatake mountain and on the other hand because of the local climatic conditions. While the Yamazaki distillery is 25 meters above sea level, Hakushu is at 708 meters. The annual average temperatures are 5 ° C lower than in Yamazaki, the whisky matures more slowly. The desired effect: The style of the whisky produced here is noticeably different. The Hakushu single malt is stronger, slightly smoky and has a fresher taste, while the Yamazaki malts, which are often stored in sherry barrels, appear lighter, finer and rounder. 83 percent of the site has been a nature reserve since the distillery was founded, most of which is used for bird protection. The dedication of the area was even carried out at the instigation of Suntory. Untouched landscape and the possibility of bird watching offer additional recreational value for visitors. Birds are also sensitive to a deterioration in water quality, so the distillery benefits from appropriate protective measures in the form of a long-term supply of consistently good spring water.

In February 1973 the new plant was put into operation. Later also known as “Hakushu 1”, it initially had six wash stills with 30,000 liters each and six spirit stills with 20,000 liters each. As early as 1977 with the expansion “Hakushu 2” the number of wash and spirit stills and thus the total capacity was doubled. “Hakushu 3” was built in 1981 and has been operating under the name “Hakushu East” since 1988. With this expansion, smaller pot stills were built in to produce a greater variety of whisky, in smaller batches and with different malt blends. The malted barley - peated or unpeated - is imported from Great Britain. Previously, the large kettles made from Hakushu 1 and Hakushu 2 covered their own need for component whisky for everyday blends such as the Suntory Old Whisky or the Suntory Kakubin Blend. Before single malts became popular in the 1980s, Hakushu’s focus was simply not on such premium products. In 2006, Hakushu 2 was largely demolished and Hakushu 1 - known as “Hakushu West” since 1988 - decommissioned. In the 2000s, there was a noticeable drop in demand for Japanese whisky, so that the quantities that could be sold no longer used the production capacity. The logical - even if, in retrospect, perhaps not the best - measure was to reduce the system to the size required at the time. In 2010 a column still was installed for the production of grain whisky. The setup and experimentation phase lasted until May 2013, when it was integrated into regular operations. Since production of this type of whisky in Yamazaki was discontinued in the early 1980s, all the grain whisky for the Suntory blends came from the Chita Grain Whisky Distillery near Nagoya, which was also built by the group in 1972. The new Hakushu column opened up a wider range of different grain whiskies and at the same time increased Suntory’s capacities in this sector. The in-house whisky range grew and Hakushu was now able to offer so-called single blends (malt and grain content from a distillery). In 2014, Hakushu East was expanded to include two spirit and two wash stills to eight each. Today 16 pot stills, 18 wooden washbacks (75,000 liters each) and a steel mash tun (130,000 liters) are operated, which enable a maximum annual output of three million liters of pure alcohol. There are currently 17 warehouses on the site that can hold up to 600,000 barrels. The large steel shelves are designed for hogsheads or barrels up to around 250 liters. All other barrel types, for example those made from Japanese Mizunara oak or imported sherry casks, which are usually larger, are brought to the Ohmi Aging Complex 70 kilometers northwest of Yamazaki or to the Yamazaki Distillery itself. The Aging Complex was commissioned in 1972 to add to the very limited capacity of the Yamazaki distillery. Consisting of 72 warehouses, it is the largest whisky storage facility in Suntory in Japan. The Hakushu Distillery has its own cooperage, which, however, only produces hogsheads suitable for its own storage system. All other barrel sizes are made in the Ohmi Aging Complex. The majority of the barrels are made from fresh American white oak or they are Bourbon Casks from Jim Beam.

Distillery Factsheet

Name Pronounced AKA Region Country of Origin
Hakushu Forest Distillery Yamanashi Japan
Status Active Whisky Type Website Tours Available
Active 1973 - Present Malt, Grain Hakushu Tour Link
Manager Distiller Blender Owned by Parent Group
Hakushu And Yamazaki Suntory