*Thank you to SF and GRC Imports for the sample.
The Ohishi Sake Brewery and Distillery is located on the Japanese island of Kyushu, well south and east a bit from the island’s largest city of Fukuoka. According to most sources, Ohishi was founded in 1872, and has remained a family owned business from the beginning. The island of Kyushu is generally regarded as the birthplace of the Japanese spirit called shōchū, so it makes good sense that Ohishi is best-known for its nihonshu (sake) and shōchū production. However, the company has recently received a bit of attention for its exported rice whiskies, which borrow from the world’s of both nihonshu and shōchū, and from western whisky.
Sake, or I should more accurately say, nihonshu (Sake means simply “alcohol” in Japanese,) is produced by fermenting polished rice. Unlike barley or corn, rice does not include the enzyme to convert its starch to sugar. To aid in this process, a mold called koji (Aspergillus oryzae) is added prior to the introduction of the yeast. The production of shōchū is similar in its pre-distillation stages to that of nihonshu, even going a step further by using three different styles of koji to produce different styles of shōchū. As with western whisky, shōchū comes in a range of qualities, with the least expensive and basic being distilled multiple times in column stills, and the higher-quality products being distilled only once in pot stills. Most shōchū is bottled clear and unaged at around 25% ABV. There are a few barrel-aged shōchūs that clock in at a more whisky-ish 40-45%, and it’s here that things become even more fascinating than they’ve already gotten, and they’ve gotten pretty damn fascinating, haven’t they?
The Japanese government seemingly regulates shōchū a little haphazardly, but the defining regulatory characteristic seems to be based on the spirit’s color. If a shōchū picks up too much color during maturation, it must be filtered down to a much lighter color. This filtering also tends to strip away much of the flavor gained in maturation. Japan’s regulations for whisky apparently don’t include a mature spirit made with rice, so a producer either filters the product down to qualify as a shōchū or tries to sell a un-categorized, less marketable spirit. In an interesting recent article from Wine & Spirits, the importers of two other rice whiskies on the US market, Kikori and Fukano, apparently realized that while these matured shōchūs didn’t qualify as whisky in Japan, they would be considered so in the USA. Lo and behold, fairly a newish style of whisky has emerged.
The Ohishi whiskies are distilled in a fairly shōchū-esque manner, though I haven’t found whether they are column-distilled or pot-distilled. They are produced from a mash made up mostly of glutinous rice called Moshigome, with roughly a third being Gohyakumangoku, a common sake rice, grown on the distillery’s estate. The Ohishi Sherry Single Cask Whisky has been aged for an unspecified amount of time in ex-sherry casks, most likely American oak, but that, too, is not specified.
The Nose: Very nice, vibrant, sherried nose. This is redolent of darker sherries, Oloroso, and Palo Cortado. There’s even a bit of PX, and Vin Santo. Lots of raisin, sticky dates, caramel, and chocolate covered cherries. Youthful rancio notes of candied almonds and peanut-y toffee, with just a hint of fruitcake. Subtle polished oak with strong, dense cinnamon, and a faint whiff of sandalwood.
The Palate: A little thinner than the nose lets on, but still full of rich sherry notes, dried fruits, nuts and spice. The fruit is much less juicy here, darker and more concentrated. Likewise, the nuttiness is more toasted, with hints of burnt sugars. That sandalwood incense quality from the nose is here as well, though subtle, just a faint perfumed dryness that swirls around. The oak is more prominent, swelling towards the end with mouth-watering tannins, hot cinnamon, clove, and a tinge of mint.
The Finish: Lingering and more-ish. Dusty, tannic oak, burnt sugars, sandalwood, hot cinnamon, and clove.
Thoughts: Very nice, at once expected and straightforward, and subtle and exotic. Not being sure of the age of this one, it strikes me as being on the younger side, though the sherry cask influence is fairly strong. From start to finish, the profile is somewhat upfront and simple, but there’s that subtle complex shading to the nuttiness and spice – that incense quality – that makes it an easy pleasure to sit and sip. Any rice influence here is very subtle. Perhaps there’s a faint bit of sake on the nose, but mostly this is all about the sherry cask’s influence on the spirit…and it influences it well. Recommended.
- Mackay, Jordan. “Wine & Spirits Magazine | Rice Whiskey.” Wine & Spirits Magazine . N.p., 02 Dec. 2016. Web. Jan. 2017.
- “Ohishi Distillery.” Skurnik Wines. N.p., n.d. Web. Jan. 2017.
- “Sake.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. Jan. 2017.
- Samuels, Monica. “Sake School: Koji, The Miracle Mold.” Serious Eats. N.p., 01 Feb. 2011. Web. Jan. 2017.
- “Shōchū.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, n.d. Web. Jan. 2017.
- Wilson, Jason. “Becoming fluent in shochu, Japan’s answer to vodka.” The Washington Post. WP Company, 05 May 2010. Web. Jan. 2017.