With the huge boom in interest in whisky these days, there has been an increase in distilleries and demand. But the number of distilleries that exist already are struggling to meet that demand, especially Japanese distilleries. This has led to many of the best brands having to discontinue releases of certain bottlings, simply for the fact that they don’t have any more malt left, or it hasn’t matured.
The most notable example is Hakushu 12 Years Old being discontinued in 2019. This year we have also seen more discontinuations, such as bottle sizes of Shirokaku, Chita single grain and blended whisky Kakubin. There is the threat that many more will come as well.
On the bright side of this, there are also a number of new Japanese whisky brands that are introducing new and exciting malt to the market.
Japanese whisky has always been known as some of the best, so new brands coming on board is a really great chance for us to experience a wider range of Japanese whiskies.
This is where Bushido Whisky comes in. They are a recent brand from the Kumesen Distillery that is churning out award winning drams.
Andrew Koz, marketing and social for Bushido Whisky, Aiko Importers Inc., notes that “Japanese whisky is a white-hot category. The demand is extremely high, thus demand swept all of the shelves of all age statement Japanese whiskies. And with Japanese distilleries discontinuing many of their whiskies, both pure malts as we’ve seen this month from Nikka, and all age statement whiskies, we knew that if we could source tremendous whiskies we could fill this giant hole in the market. And we did just that”.
The Kumesen Distillery was founded in the Okinawa Islands in 1952. Back then, when they first started, they were producing Awamori, which is made from Indica rice and is made exclusively in Okinawa. They have always been known as an innovative and forward thinking distillery, having started to age their Awamori in oak barrels in 1989.
This created a hybrid kind of spirit that was named Ryukyu Whisky at the time (the Okinawa Islands are also known as the Ryukyu Islands). This is when rice whisky was really first focussed on and Ryukyu whisky was a leader in the category.
So it is no surprise that the creations coming out of the Kumesen Distillery are being hailed as some of the most exciting on the market. With this in mind, Aiko Importers have recently started the Bushido range, which is a range of grain and single malts that are very fresh and exciting.
The name derives from Bushido, which is the code of conduct followed by the Samurai warriors.
Koz explains that “the distillery has been making whiskies for the Japanese market, and never sold to the US before we came in. We approached the distillery and bought all of their 23 year old barrels, along with all of their 17 year old barrels that we turned into our first two editions of the Bushido Series, with only 3,600 bottles of each ever made. Once these are gone, they are never able to return which makes this project so special because it is an amazing award-winning whisky, that once depleted is gone forever. But we will continue to source and bring to market the best and rarest whiskies from Japan.”
The Seven Virtues
With each bottling of the Bushido Series, the creators are looking to reflect one of the seven virtues of the Samurai warriors. These include integrity (Gi), Respect (Rei), Heroic Courage (Honour), Compassion (Jin), Honesty and Sincerity (Makoto),Duty and Loyalty (Chu). So far, Bushido have released three of these; Meiyo, Rei and Makoto. Each of these bottlings will be a blend made up of seven whiskies from seven different distilleries
The Bushido Range is made up four different bottlings; the Meiyo 15 Years Old and 17 Years Old Pure Malt, the Makoto 23 Years Old Single Grain Whisky and the REI Pure Malt. Each one is unique and brilliant. For those unaware, Pure Malt is another way of saying Blend, that has not been used in Scottish whisky terminology for a while.
What is perhaps most exciting about the Bushido range is that they are able to offer whiskies with age statements that other Japanese brands just can’t these days. As we explored, the Japanese whisky market is struggling to meet demand and this means that malts with higher age statements are being discontinued. This is because the higher the age statement, the long it takes to mature and that means the brands would have had to be preparing to meet such high demand back when they were first laid down to mature.
Other brands (lesser known ones that are not on the international stage) have resorted to bottling Scottish malt and labelling it Japanese as they wait for their stocks to mature.
The Bushido Series, because it has been created by the Kumesen Distillery, already has that mature stock, which is just now being released to market.
The relative obscurity of Kumesen, having only really been famous in Japan up until this point in time, means that they can more easily meet demand for their product. It also helps that the malt is simply excellent.
The Bushido Series has have been collecting awards relatively regularly since their release. This is nothing new for Japanese whisky as a category, which is well known to be high quality, but for Bushido, this is new.
They have won multiple gold, silver and bronze at various competitions, including Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America Awards, International Spirits Challenge, International Wine and Spirits Awards and the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. They were also given 93 points from Whisky Advocate and have been featured in multiple publications as their top picks for best whiskies in 2019. The Meiyo 17 Years Old is being picked up as one of the most impressive grains especially.
So it’s safe to say that Bushido has been released to a good start. It is loved by critics and fans all over.
The future for Bushido and Japanese whisky
The future is looking pretty bright for Bushido. With the Meiyo 17 Years Old performing the way it is, 2020 is looking like it might be a good year for the brand. The other releases from Bushido Series are performing well too.
As for the Japanese whisky market as a whole, this is also a really exciting time, despite the disappointments and discontinuations of late.
There is a lot of hope moving forward for the market, with innovative malts such as the Bushido Series and things like Ao from Suntory. It might feel like a time of adversity, but there is a lot that can be done. We’re also looking forward to seeing what other brands have whisky maturing away that we might not have heard of it.
“The future for Japanese whisky is very bright, in our opinion, it’s rise to be one of if not the best whisky has just begun to get mainstream in the past seven years starting in 2013. So with continuous innovation within the category like our editions and others we believe Japanese whisky will continue to win top whisky awards around the world and will remain a prestigious place to make the world’s best whiskies”, says Koz.
The Japanese whisky market is always one to keep an eye on, and there has never been a better time.
A guide to the series
A look at the REI blended malt
The range’s 15 Years Old blended malt