Bainbridge Yama Ties Japanese Oak, American Whiskey Together

Bainbridge YamaMizunara is a favored type of oak among Japanese distilleries, where it’s frequently used to age various single malt expressions. Outside of that island nation, however, its use is is virtually unheard of. All things change in a ever-changing whiskey world, however, as we recently saw with Bowmore’s use of Mizunara to finish some of its Scotch. Now word comes from a craft distillery in Washington State of what’s being called “the world’s first non-Japanese whiskey aged exclusively in virgin Japanese Mizunara casks.”

Bainbridge Organic Distillers, known for its Battle Point expression, is the whiskey maker at the heart of this new bottling, which is called Bainbridge Yama American Single Grain Barley Whiskey. The whiskey is said to take its inspiration from “the small village of Yama founded on Bainbridge Island by Japanese immigrants in the late 1880s.” A historic site now exists where this village stood, and profits from bottle sales are intended to go towards preservation.

With regards to the actual contents of the bottle, here’s the complete story provided to us by Bainbridge:

Bainbridge Organic Distillers’ Mizunara casks begin their life in the forests of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Mizunara oak trees (Quercus crispula) are hand selected for harvest based on the vitality of the tree and the quality of the wood. After harvest the Mizunara oak is quarter-sawn and then air-dried in Japan for at least 3 years. When the rough wood has fully seasoned Bainbridge Organic Distillers imports the wood to the United States.

Once the Mizunara oak arrives in the U.S. it is inspected by master distiller Keith Barnes, and then transported to a family-owned 4th generation custom barrel cooperage where the talented and dedicated team of coopers patiently transforms the wood into barrels designed to meet Bainbridge Organic Distillers’ unique requirements.

4000 miles away the whiskey that will become Yama begins its journey from grain to glass in the fertile fields of Washington state’s Skagit Valley where organic Full Pint and Alba barley is grown on a small 3rd generation family farm near the saltwater confluence of the Skagit River and the Puget Sound. After harvest the barley is trucked 77 miles to Bainbridge Organic Distillers facility, where the un-malted grain is milled and mashed. Fermentation takes place in one of the distillery’s four 550 gallon stainless steel fermentation vessels. Yeast used in the production of Scottish malt whisky is used to develop the set of flavor notes that makes this whiskey so special and unique.

After fermentation the mash is distilled on the grain where small head and tail cuts are made, and then a second time where the distilling team monitors the run continuously so they can make the cuts at precisely the right moment. As with all of Bainbridge Organic Distillers’ spirits, cuts are made “by hand” and based on the qualities of the spirit as it flows into the spirit receiving tank, no computers or electronic equipment are used.

After the second distillation the whiskey is diluted to 126.5 proof and allowed to marry with the water for a period of 1 to 2 weeks. While this is happening the virgin Japanese Mizunara oak barrels are readied for filling. The casks are filled with hot water to allow the wood to swell sufficiently to achieve a watertight state and any leaks are addressed before whiskey is introduced into the barrels. Mizunara oak has a well-earned reputation for being brittle and prone to leakage and this is especially true when working with barrels that have never been used. Once the Bainbridge team is satisfied that the barrels are tight and sound the casks are filled with the new-make Yama whiskey. The Yama whiskey will rest in 100% virgin Japanese Mizunara oak cooperage until it is mature and ready for bottling.

The final bottling, clocking in at 90 proof and aged between three and four years in 10 and 15 gallon size barrels, is set to be available this spring at select retailers and the distillery itself. Only 200 bottles from the inaugural release will be hitting retail, each pricing at a collector level of $495. Official tasting notes for this unique American whiskey meets Japanese cask experiment are below.

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