The Okinawa Japanese islands slinks down south from Japan toward Thailand. It’s a hot climate, and the home of Awamori, a traditional distilled rice spirit unique to the region. Awamori is thought to be the predecessor to Shochu, a more popular fermented and distilled product made in many parts of Japan.
Like Shochu, both are made of rice, though Awamori is made of long-grain Indica rice from Thailand, and black Koji (mold that’s grown on rice) is used during fermentation to convert starches into sugars to aid the yeast. Awamori is barely aged, and bottled anywhere between 30% and 43% alcohol-by-volume.
Kumesen Shuzo distillery has been operational since 1952, and it’s primary product is Awamori. Back in 1989, though, the distillery started experimenting with aging Awamori in American bourbon barrels. No doubt, at least back then, the barrels came cheaply since bourbon sales was in the middle of a depression.
Kujira 20 Year Old Single Grain is a product of that experiment, and it’s made fully of rice. It’s sold for around $350, and is labelled as single grain whisky. It’s a high price point for rice whisky. Aged for twenty years, the rice notes are faint and secondary. Primarily, you’re getting a spirit aged in a hot climate for an extended period of time.
Let’s have a look at the tasting notes:
Kujira 20 Year Old Single Grain Whisky (43%)
Kumesen Shuzo Distillery
Category: Japanese whisky, Awamori, American Barrels
Nose: Great brown sugar sweetness, nice malty notes, some faint red apple notes. It’s a steady nose, without too much complexity, but otherwise quite tempting.
Palate: Ginger, spice, terrific woody notes, and a nice distant buttery caramel that comes through to the middle and end. Dark chocolate, touches of cinnamon, some hard lemon candy, and a melted caramel sweetness. The finish is heavy in sweetness, with lasting notes of licorice (those same notes that started as dark chocolate).
Conclusion: Whisky made of rice. This whisky really tells a terrific story. On the nose, it has a mystique to it, with some sweetness and malty notes. The only signs of age is the red apple notes. On the palate, it sparks the palate with ginger and spice notes, but on further sips, you’ll get the dark chocolate and cinnamon and lemon candy notes. Layers of soft caramel and buttery notes are a terrific base for all that spice. It’s a stunner of a whisky. It’s $350 for a bottle. It’s made of rice. These last two points are likely to garner more attention, but the liquid inside is terrific.
Thank you to Reece for sending me a sample! Have a read of her website, Whiskey Muse.