Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Honkaku Spirits. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
Mold is expected to be in cheese and cured meats, but whiskey? Well, Honkaku Spirits has released a koji-fermented eight-year-old whiskey. Koji is Japan’s national mold, with applications in sake, soy sauce, and miso. When koji is carefully cultivated on barley, or any grain, it makes amylase enzymes to convert starch into sugar. In layman’s terms, it amplifies fermentation.
Dr. Jokichi Takamine, a Japanese chemist living in Illinois, first applied koji fermentation to American whiskey in the 1890s. While American whiskey using the Takamine Method never made it to market, Shinozaki Distillery has revived the process to make whiskey. After multiple experiments to find the right balance and taste, Takamine Whiskey was born.
The Takamine 8-Year-Old has a mash bill of 100 percent pearled two-row barley. The whiskey uses 40 percent koji-fermented barley and 60 percent steamed barley. It takes four days to process; two days for the koji propagation and two days for a two-stage open fermentation. As you can see, koji fermentation is faster than traditional malting. It then goes through double pot-still distillation to a barrel proof of 86.7% ABV. Finally, virgin American oak and ex-bourbon casks are used for maturation.
Koji mold gives off the aroma of citrus and floral notes in its natural state. It also delivers the taste of umami, which is the savory aspect of our palate. Because the koji-fermented liquid goes into barrels at a lower proof, it can pull more flavors from the cask. In rice based spirits, the distillate gets a soft and elegant texture and flavor due to the koji interaction. Since the Takamine 8-Year-Old is solely barley based, lets see how the koji affects the whiskey.
Tasting Notes: Takamine 8-Year-Old
Vital Stats: 40% ABV. Japanese whisky made of 100% pearled two-row barley in a koji fermentation process. Aged in new American Oak and ex-bourbon barrels. 750ml $99.
Appearance: Light blonde
Nose: When inhaling, I picture standing in a garden. The whiskey is herbaceous with fresh garden mint, lemon verbena, and thyme. Jasmine and baby powder linger in the background. Near the end, Werther’s Original candies come to mind. Overall, the nose has layer upon layer of aroma.
Palate: The mouthfeel is incredibly soft and light. The taste is earthen with mushroom, grass, and umami. The whiskey has a touch of smoke amidst a small amount of vanilla. In the middle, I find lots of citrus in both peel and oil form. Sprinkled throughout the dram is a mix of pink and black peppercorns.
The Takamine 8-year-old koji-fermented whisky from Honkaku Spirits is one of the best Japanese whiskies I have tasted. At the price point, you really can’t go wrong with getting a bottle. The flavor is a beautiful melding of umami and delicate sweetness. The koji fermentation process really affects the whiskey’s turnout and for the better. Play with it in a Japanese whisky flight, or even a highball.
User Review4.33 (3 votes)
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Courtney Kristjana is a leading whiskey taster in the country. She left a career in Gerontology after an article on Heather Greene inspired her to follow her passion for whiskey. She is studying to become a Master of Scotch and someday hopes she is nominated for the Keepers of the...