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Yuza Distillery: Monozukuri for the Soul

Yuza Distillery: Monozukuri for the Soul

Monozukuri: Mono = thing, tsukuri = produce. Put together, the word evokes not just the production of things, but a work ethic based on extensive skill, knowledge and passion, a respect for the primary material and pride in the work undertaken.

Yuza Distillery was recommended to us by none other than the pinnacle of Japanese craft Whisky, Chichibu Distillery. This meticulous new project was established in 2018 and to date has released just two single malts (The First Edition has already picked up Gold at the San Francisco International Spirits Challenge) and is well on the way to becoming one of the country’s newest cult distilleries.

Sitting at the base of Mount Chōkai in the heart of Japan’s snow country, Yuza is the first Whisky distillery in the country’s Yamagata prefecture. Operational since November 2018, from day one, Masaharu Sasaki and his young team have drawn on the example laid down by Chichibu’s Ichiro Akuto, to perfect an authentic Japanese Whisky that could compete with the world’s best, while remaining true to their sense of monozukuri and producing Whiskies that are uniquely Yuza. It’s early in the piece and yet all the signs — not least the meticulous attention to detail and limited production — point to Yuza becoming one of the brightest stars in Japan’s Whisky firmament.

To this end, it took three years and 17 visits for the company to finally sign off on the chosen site. Yuza sits on the flats near the Sea of Japan and enjoys an abundance of soft water from snowmelt and underground springs fed by the sponge-like crevices of lava of the nearby volcano. Chosen for this purity of water and access to the port for their specialised equipment, the area also experiences a massive 40°C average temperature difference over the year. This is projected to super-charge the maturation of the Whiskies in barrel; Masaharu Sasaki estimates eight years maturing in Scotland will equate to just five years in Yamagata.

To hone their craft, the Yuza Distillery team partnered from the start with Forsyths, world leaders in distillation equipment. Yuza’s entire distillery team is fresh to Whisky but nurtured and overseen by the Scottish still-makers, providing an essential blank slate to be moulded to a completely new formula, key to Yuza’s dedication to an unfettered style. Facility equipment is centred around five Canadian Douglas Fir washbacks and two stills, including a Glendronach-inspired spirits still with an extended line arm, designed for more surface contact to give cleaner flavours with fewer sulphites.

Dedicated only to Single Malt production, this small operation (the distillery covers just 620 square meters) has passed up the opportunity to release any ‘newborn’ expressions. The wash is currently 100% barley from Crisp Maltings with plans to eventually include a local option. Early bottlings point to a non-peated house style, but several heavily-peated batches have also been laid down. Speaking of the style, Stefan van Eycken of Whisky Magazine has this to say on the Yuza new make: “Full-bodied but chiselled with beautiful barley sugar, tempura batter and under-ripe fruit notes, it’s got just the right amount of sweetness and a touch of salinity, as well. Beginner’s luck? Don’t think so.”

While Yuza’s barrel program remains secretive — even when touring the facility, you’ll find all the barrelheads are painted over — the early signs pointed to a preference for ex-Bourbon barrels. Now there is a portion of Sherry cask in the mix and Masaharu Sasaki has spoken of his desire to increase his inventory, picking up stock whenever he can.

Yuza Whisky is extremely rare an available only as part of our allocation program. Please contact us for more information. 

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