Whisky on the Red Dot #02

FEATURE

The craftsmen want everything to be made in Akkeshi, from the peat to the barrels.

The owner of Akkeshi Distillery, Kenten Co. was originally a domestic seller of imported raw ingredients for foodstuffs. Company president, Keiichi-san, recalls a day about 20 years ago when he received a shock from some whiskey that he tried at a local bar. It was a famous single malt brand from the Isle of Islay in Scotland, the holy land of whiskey: 17 Years Old Ardbeg.

“It had that fragrance from the sea that you get from Islay malts along with a strong smoky flavor. I started to think about how I would like to try to make a whiskey like that here in Japan.”

One factor to bringing out that distinctive Islay malt taste lies in the ground water that has moved through – and been treated by – the peat. This type of peat is only distributed in the wetlands of Hokkaido and is known as “deitan” in Japanese. An abundant amount of water and peat. Inevitably, the area around Akkeshi turned out to be the area that could fulfill these conditions.

There is more than one reason why Akkeshi Distillery is getting so much attention. The second key to understanding their popularity lies in the creation of whiskey that “follows in the footsteps of the royal road of Scotland’s whiskey industry”.

The equipment at Akkeshi come from Forsyths, one of the oldest and most trusted makers of distillery equipment among many of Scotland’s famous distilleries. Not only do they provide pot stills, the symbolic equipment of whiskey distillation, Forsyths makes a complete line of equipment, from mashtuns for extracting wort to washbacks that are used in the fermentation process.

However, Tatsuzaki-san reminds us, “no matter how incredible your equipment is, people still have to operate it.” When inquiring about this process that they pay such careful attention to, the answers you get are surprising.

“Aside from the maturation of the whiskey, the most important aspect in whiskey making is thought to be the distillation process, but we’re actually particular about saccharization, or the mashing process. The degree to which that process is completed ultimately determines the final product.”

The process of making whiskey includes saccharization (mashing), fermentation, distillation, and maturation in that order. Mashing is a process that involves mixing crushed malt with warm water to create sugar that melts into the wort. Why does this particular process have a special meaning for Akkeshi Distillery?

“There is a saying that goes, ‘Man proposes, God disposes.’ Success or failure is easily influenced by the environment at the time during the fermentation process, so this is when ‘God disposes’. Then ‘Man proposes’ must be during the mashing process. You can’t be complacent about the hardware. The spirit to create something even better is what drives us to make high quality whiskey.”

The outlook for the future of Akkeshi Distillery is magnificent. The concept of creating whiskey by using barely grown in Akkeshi that is then dried in Akkeshi peat and finally matured in Japanese oak barrels made in Akkeshi is already a reality. The day that the world is pleasantly surprised by “All Akkeshi” single malt whiskey is almost here.

Words: Pen Editorial
Photography: Kitchen Minoru

It’s not uncommon for the bottom part of the pot still to be partially hidden by the furnace beneath it. At the Akkeshi Distillery, the heating system is an internal radiator which makes it possible to see up under the pot still.

Equipment from Forsyths, one of the oldest makers of distillery equipment. Almost every distillery in Scotland uses their pot stills.

It’s not uncommon for the bottom part of the pot still to be partially hidden by the furnace beneath it. At the Akkeshi Distillery, the heating system is an internal radiator which makes it possible to see up under the pot still.

Equipment from Forsyths, one of the oldest makers of distillery equipment. Almost every distillery in Scotland uses their pot stills.

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