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What is Japanese Mizunara Oak and is it Worth It?

What is Japanese Mizunara Oak and is it Worth It?

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Mizunara oak. It has a curious ring to it. Scarcer than European and American oak, and far more costly, its story is deeply rooted in Japanese historical past.

On the finish of World Battle II, Japan confronted shortages of medication, meals and different every day requirements. The shortage of imported casks to age whisky was the least of the nation’s issues. However the spirit was standard with the occupational armed forces, so whisky makers needed to do one thing. Distillers started to make use of the native oak, mizunara.

At present, many whiskies from Japan, the U.S. and even Scotland use mizunara. Add the phrase to any label, and odds are these bottles received’t final lengthy on cabinets. But, many of those whiskies spend mere months in these casks. So is the attract of mizunara merely a advertising technique, or does it make for a greater spirit?

Dark shot of barrels with a door in the background
Photograph courtesy of Yamazaki Distillery

Behind mizunara’s rarity

Hirotsugu Hayasaka, the earlier head cooper of Nikka and one of many trade’s most revered figures, says that there are a lot of difficulties working with mizunara.

The oak doesn’t develop straight, it has a excessive moisture content material and it’s far more porous than different varieties, he says. These points make the casks susceptible to leaking. Its identify, in any case, interprets to “water oak.”

Hayasaka says that whereas Japanese oak from Hokkaido stays collectively higher due to the world’s colder local weather, it’s nonetheless not nice. He believes that American oak is healthier each in utilization and the stability of flavors imparted to the whisky.

Mizunara must be round 200 years previous earlier than it may be lower and used for casks. Whereas some bigger distilleries have entry to forests, rights are sometimes suspended to permit them to regrow.

Throughout these occasions, the accessible wooden is bought at public auctions. The massive demand may cause costs to skyrocket. A single cask now prices greater than $6,000.

Distillers each in Japan and overseas have a tough time getting their arms on a cask. It’s a aggressive enterprise, and bigger producers typically get first decide.

The massive demand may cause costs to skyrocket. A single cask now prices greater than $6,000.

Whereas maturation time doesn’t outline the standard and depth of whisky typically, it’s extra essential with mizunara. Many distillers and specialists declare that whisky should mature within the casks for at the least 15 to 20 years for the “proper” flavors to be imparted. Any much less, and the surfacing notes are too intense and sharp. Harsh woodiness overwhelms subtler flavors.

Backlit worker sampling from a whisky barrel
Photograph courtesy of Yamazaki Distillery

The mizunara distinction

When left to mature accurately, a mizunara-aged whisky affords advanced notes of sandalwood, coconut, spice and Japanese incense.

A stellar instance is the Yamazaki Mizunara collection, with the newest being the 2017 version. Aged 18 years within the oak, the whisky’s immense stability delivers a burst of coconut and banana, fragrant incense and summer season spice.

Suntory’s Yamazaki distillery is well-known for its administration of mizunara, and lots of of its famed expressions characteristic the oak’s affect.

The Chichibu distillery, Japan’s most well-known and beloved small distillery, goes additional with its use. All the website’s washbacks, the container the place wort is fermented, are constituted of Japanese oak. It’s mentioned to present Chichibu whisky its character.

Forested landscape stock photo and an Irish whiskey bottle
Glendalough launched its 13-year-old Mizunara End Single Malt Irish Whiskey in 2017 / Photograph credit score: Getty and Glendalough

Pernod Ricard’s 2014 launch of Chivas Regal Mizunara, a mix completed within the oak, was initially unique to the Japanese market. It took 4 years earlier than the bottling can be launched globally. Whereas the expression is clean, drinkable and really nice, its quick time spent within the Japanese casks has imparted virtually not one of the identified mizunara notes.

Equally, the sought-after Bowmore Mizunara launch, which bought out rapidly and now sells for double its authentic $1,000 retail value, spent mere months within the casks.

The Yama whiskey from Bainbridge Natural Distillers on Bainbridge Island, Washington, is aged in 10- and 15–gallon casks, very completely different to the a lot bigger puncheons (70–100 gallons) utilized in Japan. The smaller measurement implies that the whiskey comes into better contact with the wooden, so notes are imparted sooner.

The unique use of Japanese oak within the Bainbridge bottling has created a singular American expression, which brings forth many refined flavors of coconut, grain and spice.

Distilleries like Bainbridge and Chichibu in Japan are experimenting with smaller casks and completely different manufacturing strategies to extract essentially the most from mizunara. Distillers additionally seek for sooner, simpler methods to make use of the wooden. Within the meantime, one of the best plan is to look to prime distilleries identified for his or her well-aged mizunara expressions.

Top of a barrel and staves
Cask elements at Yamazaki / Photograph by George Koutsakis

Mizunara: how does it have an effect on whiskey?

So, how do mizunara-finished whiskies style? We sampled three bottlings completed in Japan’s mizunara oak—a smoky Islay single malt, a mellow blended Scotch and a fruity Irish whiskey—to see how the cask end remodeled these spirits. Spoiler alert: Every is superb in its personal method, just like the silkiest model of every base spirit.

For many who favor brandy to whiskey, later this yr Cognac Park will likely be releasing a mizunara-finished Cognac, the primary such bottling of its type. –Kara Newman

Bowmore Mizunara Cask End Single Malt Scotch Whisky

The primary single-malt Scotch completed in uncommon Japanese oak, this restricted version was launched in 2015 with solely 2,000 bottles produced. Total, the cask end serves to mellow this Islay whisky’s smoky core, making a harmonious mixture of candy spices, vanilla and delicate peat, plus the barest trace of mouthwatering salinity. abv: 59.three%

Chivas Regal Mizunara Blended Scotch Whisky

Typical of Chivas, this blended Scotch whisky is designed to be mellow and clean. The mizunara end pushes that attribute even additional: The palate sinks into velvety, palate-coating layers of honey, Sherry and almonds, ending lengthy on clove and ginger sparks. Launched in 2014 and supposed for the Japanese market, it’s now exceedingly troublesome to search out however definitely worth the search. abv: 40%

Glendalough Mizunara End Single Malt Irish Whiskey 13

This gentle, fruity Irish whiskey dries out a bit, morphing from typical contemporary apple and pear to an intriguing mixture of plum pores and skin, unsweetened chocolate and coconut. This explicit bottling is aged 13 years in former Bourbon barrels, then completed in mizunara oak. New launch for 2018. abv: 46%

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